I've been trying to reread many books that I read as a youngster, because my experience of them now is so completely different, and so much richer. The only thing I really remembered about "To Kill a Mockingbird" was Boo Radley, but I couldn't recall what that was about.
One of the things that struck me this time through the book, now that I'm a gardener and plant person, is the depth with which I understood small references that Harper Lee makes to the environment in Maycomb County, Alabama. Lee was either a gardener or did good research.
The cozy Southern characters live their lives beneath the live oaks and pecans, and prune their camelias and azaleas. But Lee also makes mention of quite a few invasive plants too.
Chinaberry makes an appearance or two. Scout and Jem Finch built their fort in a tall one in their backyard. Johnson grass grows "in abundance" in the front yard of the famous Boo Radley house, along with rabbit-tobacco (a native, I believe, that "country boys" used as a tobacco substitute).
One of my favorite references to a plant in the book is to nut grass (Cyperus rotundus) - a weedy plague to many gardeners and farmers in Central Texas and one that has obviously been pesky in the U.S. South for some time. It's one I hadn't dealt with before moving to Austin, but I've had my fair share of fun with it since.
Here's the passage, where Scout, the book's narrator, is describing Miss Maudie:
She loved everything that grew in God's earth, even the weeds. With one exception. If she found a blade of nut grass in her yard it was like the Second Battle of the Marne: she swooped down upon it with a tin tub and subjected it to blasts from beneath with a poisonous substance she said was so powerful it'd kill us all if we didn't stand out of the way.Man, can I identify with Miss Maudie this time around.
"Why can't you just pull it up," I asked, after witnessing a prolonged campaign against a blade not three inches high.
"Pull it up, child, pull it up?" She picked up the limp sprout and squeezed her thumb up its tiny stalk. Microscopic grains oozed out. "Why, one sprig of nut grass can ruin a whole yard. Look here. When it comes fall this dries up and the wind blows it all over Maycomb County!" Miss Maudie's face likened such an occurrence unto an Old Testament pestilence.