The Sand Jointweed, a Tiny Miracle | WCAI

The Sand Jointweed, a Tiny Miracle

Apr 16, 2019


Credit Thomas H. Kent / Flora Finder / Creative Commons /

I sing the praises of the lowly Sand Jointweed (Polygonella articulata).

It grows primarily in the sandy area north of the Old Colony Nature Trail, in the East End of Provincetown, right where my dog and I hike every day.  It is lowly- just a few inches tall- and almost always recumbent or absolutely prostrate on the sand.  


Most of us will walk right by them- they are that unobtrusive.  They bloom in September- pale pink and white racemes (another great word: botany is full of delicious nomenclature) of tiny flowers.  I mean tiny- I have to get on my hands and knees and put my face up to them (no, I will not pick one, not for Science, not for this essay: I will not “murder to dissect”), and still I could not tell you the number or nature of their petals.  It makes me wonder what minute creature is down there pollinating, crawling or flying, damp and delirious- an ant, a beetle?  We have no ability to visualize the world about us at either extreme of size- the galaxies, the Grand Canyon, the atom…

A hundred years ago this area was occupied by the Old Colony Railroad line, whose tracks brought the behemoth railroad cars from Truro all the way down to Railroad Wharf in the center of Provincetown.  The nature trail itself is full of cinders, and here and there in the woods and clearings are remnants of concrete bunkers or outbuildings, rusty rolls of wire and pipes.  I think the railroad operation ended in the 1950s, a victim to the modernity of Route 6.  Like so much of Cape Cod, as Robert Finch often points out, human history and natural history are intertwined.  Yes, Nature abhors a vacuum, and its hardy pioneers come creeping in our wake.  We have to delineate our wilderness, with the help of signposts, ambassadors…like the lowly Sand Jointweed.

I love this plant for its stubbornness, its natural modesty and hardiness.  It thrives in this poor sandy soil.  Thrives? I suppose yes: if it flowers it thrives- just as zoo and aquarium managers consider an animal thriving and somewhat adapted to its confinement if it reproduces.  

Perhaps I love it because in its own quiet way it celebrates the sand it grows in- the sand we all exist upon.  It is unapologetically diminutive, easily overlooked or stepped upon, and yet a miracle.  

I praise the ordinary because it is not.