Tag Archives: roanoke island

Summer Casualties: Milkweed and the Mother Vine

This is a story about perspective.

I’ve lost a swamp milkweed. I clearly did not swamp it sufficiently during the latest record heat wave here in Philadelphia. I planted it in the spring of 2009, and it thrived last year, fooling me into thinking it was established and did not need babying. Whoops. I’m a little sad about the loss. I paid $15 for that guy and I am cheap, so that hurts. Plus, I’ve got a bit of a hole in my back yard border now – about 1 foot around, and four feet tall.

So, by all means, feel sorry for me. But did anyone else hear the report on NPR the other day about the mother vine? This grape vine lives on Roanoke Island in the outer banks of North Carolina and is thought to be over 400 years old. Experts aren’t sure whether it was planted by the first English colonists in the 1500s or by the Croatans who lived there when the English arrived. But either way, it’s way old. John Wilson spoke with Melissa Block on All Things Considered (listen here) and described its bulk. It covers a quarter of an acre. Two adults can barely touch hands when they reach around the trunk. Remember we’re talking grape vine here, not oak tree.

Not only it this vine massive, it is apparently badly behaved. One tendril, it seems, was out of order and had started working its way up a power pole. A contractor employed by Dominion power had been charged with clearing all vegetation off the power poles and lines and sprayed that little sucker with weed killer. Systemic weed killer. Mr. Wilson’s father, who tends the vine, came out one morning in May to find his beloved vine browning at the tips. He cut off the dead sections. The next morning presented more dead sections, and the next morning, and the next morning. As if the dead were growing backward from the tips toward the roots. Just what systemic weed killer is designed to do. Enter through the foliage, poison the roots, and thus kill the plant.

Oh mercy. I would have cried. I’m whining over a 1 foot hole left by a one year old plant that cost me $15. Imagine a quarter acre hole. Left by a plant that may have survived when the Lost Colony did not.

The power company feels badly. They’ve apologized and hired numerous experts are implementing a fertilizing / watering / pruning regimen. Fortunately, it seems to be working. The Wilsons are optimistic that the mother vine will survive, even if this year’s grapes will be a loss. (More info here from WSOC Tv)

Perspective is essential. I will try to remember the mother vine when I feel like whining. Maybe that hole in the back garden is an opportunity. An opportunity that will require only one plant to fill, not a quarter acre’s worth.

Advertisements