The Star-Herald

A most marvelous rhubarb leaf

Olof Nylander was self taught in many branches of science, including botany. For example, his knowledge of local wild orchids of Aroostook County is well documented.

Unfortunately, plant materials are not conducive to lengthy lives in museums except as fossils. Although the Nylander Museum does not contain many plant samples, there are many of Nylander’s writings on the plants he studied.

Just for fun, and in keeping with the season, following are Mr. Nylander’s words describing a rhubarb plant in a local garden. 

“On June 16, 1936, Mr. Robert Taylor invited me to come see his garden at his home on Academy Street in Presque Isle. There is no greater pleasure for me than to look over the gardens with their spring and summer flowers, and after the heavy rains and the few days of sunshine that we have had, the growth of our gardens is something astonishing. 

“After a somewhat careful survey of the growing plants, I noticed at the rear end of the lot along the fence a row of rhubarb with very large leaves, yes unusually large. I had nothing at hand to take the exact measure so I applied my cane and alas: one leaf was nearly as wide as my cane was long. 

“I stayed in Presque Isle overnight and that night I had a very pleasant dream of going through a flower garden with Mr. Taylor’s large rhubarb leaf making comparisons with plants that I have read about in Prof. Carl Skottsberg’s botanical explorations in the Tropics, and Dr. Gilbert Crosvenor’s in the Hawaiian Islands. 

“The next morning I went to a store and bought myself a tape measure and started for Mr. Taylor’s place, but I found nobody home so without permission I went and measured a large number of those large rhubarb plants, and near the end of the row I found one leaf of such great size that I think it should be recorded. The stem was fourteen inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide, the leaf itself was twenty-six inches long and thirty-one inches wide, and in order to get more proof for my observations I went over to the State Farm and one of my friends accompanied me in the afternoon, and with Mr. Taylor’s permission we had the pleasure to look over the garden and my friend Mr. Hanson made the statement that is was the largest that he had ever seen. 

“In the morning of the 18th, we returned to Caribou taking this large leaf with us. I exhibited it to the Caribou High School, and to friends on the street and in several public places, and they all expressed that it was the largest leaf that they had ever seen.” 

June is rhubarb season in The County. If you feel you have bragging rights to an exquisite plant, share a picture on the Nylander Facebook page. Details not required, except for the size of your largest leaf. 

Let’s see how large 2020 rhubarb grows.

This column is the work of members of the Nylander Museum’s Board of Trustees.

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