I have decided to violate my professional and personal ethics by doing something I’ve never done before: outing an entire family.
Yes, outing them, revealing to the world what they really are.
The Asteraceaes are the deceivers—the glamour girls, the dream girls, many of the drag queens, and the Hollywood sparkle—of the gardening world, their spectacle always an ostentatious Moulin Rouge production designed for Victorian prudes, a dazzling and daring Broadway to pedestrian and staid Main Street.
How could they not be, with personalities like dahlias (and dinner plate sized dahlias!), sunflowers, daisies, chrysanthemums, asters, marigolds, zinnias, heleniums, and yes, Taraxacums, better known to us as the nemesis of the suburban manicured lawn, the dandelion.
Like any large family, the Asteraceaes fragment into tribes, and between the tribes we see a constant, if somehow always an improbably congruous, bickering. This is showmanship—or show-womanship—at its best! As if Phantom of the Opera were pitched against Wicked (when in fact they really are sui generis), and the one is always trying to outdo the other. Ah, sibling rivalry.
Truth be told, appearance and essence diverge in the House of Asteraceae—and it is this deceptive trait, modified by attendant flamboyance, they all share. If those in the family know how to do something really well besides daze and dizzy, it is their mastery of the art of inflorescence. It’s as if the Asteraceaes choose to reside in the Platonic cave, enthralled by their own skill of deceit. What looks to be a flower in the singular (technically, the capitula) is in essence an orgy of sessile flowers sharing the same receptacle, which, when you think about it, is rather akin to a dressing room at a Broadway show—or prostitutes sharing the same pimp-daddy. Whichever metaphor works for you, I suppose…
The Greeks in their infinite wisdom revealed the M.O. of the House of Asteraceae ever so long ago—“Pseudoanthium, Pseudoanthium ,” the Greeks declared, “False Flower! False Flower!” Long before Hester Prynne and her prickly Puritanical contemporaries, we have evidence that the original scarlet letter was not “A” but π (no wonder I hate math). False eyelashes, false boobs, false flowers: whatever is a girl to do?! Occasionally we do ignore ancient knowledge (really, we moderns, or posties for some of you, are often, incorrigibly, blinded by our arrogance); we persist in calling that capitula a flower; we persist in deceiving ourselves.
The optimist will simply declare, “No matter:” now is the time to wear your scarlet π, or, for that matter, your autumn russet, harvest gold, burnt sienna, or burgundy π, and relish this last dazzling display from the House of Asteraceae, this time by the dahlias and the chrysanthemums, for soon the frosts will come and we will only have our memories to fill the barren garden spaces before us.
Ah, deception: modernity’s perennial promise, our gift to ourselves.
Or is it?