Cathy Wittmeyer

Three Species Threatened in Maryland

1. Carex hirtifloria


There is no photo of pubescent sedge in the plant database of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower center. It just says, “no images of this plant,” like Dad in the photo album—the reliable family photographer, pre-selfie-era Dad—his image is on the watch list too. Sedge would have been a great nickname for Dad. It sounds like a hard-ass (hirti means rough) but has really cute flowers from May to July when there is garden work. Its stems are pubescent like Dad’s stubbly cheeks in hunting season. Sedge is busy in wetlands feeding dragon and butter and horse and deer flies, sheltering loons and mink and the song of the upland chorus frog. Hirtifloria’s roots clean toxins and water pollutants of all sorts. Dad was a janitor for a while, a snowplow driver and always a farmer of corn and beans and cows and strawberries. This reliable sedge disperses large crops of fruits into its wet food web. Dad is vulnerable too: his occurrence critical to long-term security. (See sedges mentioned in Phytosanitary remediation of explosives-contaminated groundwater. See also, Dad.)


O vulnerable sedge in a vulnerable pond, its plug pulled, and maybe we have a photo but maybe we don’t. Maybe the government protects wetlands but maybe word got out that you’d better not let water pool in your field too long or you’ll lose it, so it all got plowed under and paved over—sedge and all. There is no memory long enough, photo or no photo, to recall what stood in the vast hole visible in the pre-dawn moonlight only by its outline of crushed stone and blinking construction barriers. The mind cannot make the walls of this barn or barbershop or local bar rise again. What was it? It will never know what stood at the corner you passed daily. But if the house over your head were to come down with a wrecking ball, you could fold it up into a small box with instructions in eleven languages to build it anew in your memory’s view. You might put it together in a new yard but it wouldn’t belong there. So many houses on this road didn’t used to be here and now there is an impermeable sidewalk where the side-of-the-road used to be and maybe a ditch with sedges and frogs and maybe a soggy field at the edge of a forest. There are no images of this plant, vulnerable to forgetting, indeed.

2. Perimyotis subflavus

Tricolored bats are endangered in Maryland. 90% of them in the Eastern US are dead from a repulsive fungus, poor tiny creatures. In 1897, they called it the Eastern Pipistrelle, like the bats in Kathleen Jamie’s vase poem but someone in 1984 discovered it’s not really a Pipistrelle and named it for the three shades of blond on its back. Perhaps it liked having its own poem.

A young bearded drywaller sleeps opposite. His head leans against the train window. Dripped-on boots crossed at the ankles and extended, his lips slightly parted. If you look at the tricolored bat long enough, you will find it cute, a squirming gargoyle in your clutch. Its own mother abandons it at night as she hunts down moths, beetles, cicadas to nurse him naked and sightless. Three weeks of this. Someone might watch this drywaller doze—his mother once or a lover this morning—and be moved by a fond affection, enough to leave him asleep and helpless. They call her flighty and erratic as she echolocates sustenance, dodging leopard frogs, raptors, snakes and raccoons, hoping the white nose syndrome won’t infect their hibernacula this winter. That’s not erratic, that’s life-or-death, fight-or-flight, sympathoexcitation.

The drywaller startles out of his state of torpor, sucks in his drool and rubs his eyes to check the schedule. If you look at a stranger long enough, you might understand that someone could love them.

3. Michaux’s Stichwort

Sabulina michauxii was named by André Michaux, for himself, in his 1803 compendium, The Flora of North America. Michaux, Royal Botanist of Louis XVI became the precursor to Lewis and Clark, only getting as far west as Missouri in his discoveries that Thomas Jefferson rallied, before returning to New Jersey where slaves grew gardens of his specimens.

Why name the stichwort for oneself? Its woody taproot grabs at rocky summits, forest edges, ledges and crevices. Its simple leathery leaves frame delightful saucer-shaped 5 petal white flowers—striking brightness in terrain that makes them feel out-of-place, malapropos, like throwing a parade for an unwelcome guest.

Cathy Wittmeyer hosts the Word to Action retreat in the Alps where poets unearth connections between climate wreckage and human frailty. She edited the upcoming anthology: Tidal Gauge: Climate Poems from Word to Action from Eupolino Verlag. Her work has appeared in Isele Magazine, Superpresent, Tangled Locks Journal and Book of Matches among others. For more on this engineer-lawyer, mom and poet from Buffalo, NY, see Cathy's website.


Tile: Teodoro Filippo di Liagno, called Napoletano, Skeleton of a Bat, 1620-1621, Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington