It’s summer, so maybe I’ve begun to take things slow. Forgive me, then, for the slow-as-molasses posting of your June Convivio Book of Days calendar. The month, as Book of Days ceremonies go, has a slow start, with nothing much going on until the 13th. Once things get rolling, though, they do get pretty exciting. We start with the feast of St. Anthony, progress to Flag Day and Father’s Day. There are a couple of literary holidays in there, too: Bloomsday on the 16th honors James Joyce and his novel Ulysses, while St. John’s Eve on the 23rd is the night that William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream takes place. It is the month of the solstice, and it is St. John’s Day on the 24th that is that Old Midsummer Day.
Midsummer? When summer’s has just begun? Yes, the almanac tells us that summer begins in the Northern Hemisphere with the solstice, but if that is the longest day, wouldn’t that day be the height of summer? Anyway, our ancestors thought so, hence that traditional monicker of Midsummer. There is some sense to their way of thinking, and we will explore that world view as the solstice gets closer.
Cover star on this month’s calendar: another of our native Florida plants, the Coontie, also known as Florida Arrowroot. Coontie is more the more common Seminole name. The leaves are just coming in as June arrives, bright green.
Even the coontie plants we thought were long dead in our yard (like the one beneath the bamboo, near the outdoor shower) have new growth. The plant is the source of an edible starch called arrowroot (as in arrowroot cookies) and is of supreme importance to the atala butterfly, for the atala lays its eggs on the coontie, and when the caterpillars hatch, the coontie leaves are what they eat. The plants get decimated by the caterpillars each year, but then they spin their cocoons on the same plants, and before you know it, atala butterflies are everywhere in the yard. The atala, a small black butterfly with irredescent blue spots and an orange tail, was thought extinct until not all that long ago, and I love that all of this goes on right here under our noses in our sandy Lake Worth yard. Circle of days, circle of life. That’s what this month’s Convivio Book of Days calendar is all about.
Top image: the lovely prehistoric looking seed cones of the coontie. Middle image: new growth on the plant. By the way, if you, too, have coontie plants in your yard, don’t go harvesting the roots to make arrowroot cookies; coontie is one of those plants that is poisonous until the extracted starch is prepared just right. It’s a complex process and an old Florida industry perhaps better left in the past. My advice? Buy your arrowroot cookies at the supermarket. Enjoy the coontie for what it is: lovely plant and host of the atala.