Plants are making their last (seasonal) stand. A flower here, a still-green leaf there, and twigs holding their greenery tightly give us all a bit of hope for this unusual year. Our prospects will soon be dashed, when the leaves turn brown, lose their grips on their stems, and fall to the ground as autumn turns to winter.

Flowers will be no more and, in addition, we will have to accept the loss of light. Many of us, except the hardiest (or heartiest), will retreat from the outdoors into our warmer homes.

Unfortunately, this also means leaving friends and family behind (and out in the cold), as indoor socializing is more fraught during a pandemic with an airborne menace. Trying not to go down that hole of despair, I am encouraged by the fall floral hold-outs.

Chicory’s blooming blue flower gave me some optimism today, and an inspiration for this week’s column. As I do after writing this column for almost 20 years, I checked back to see if and when I last penned a piece on this particular plant. It was in 2015, and so I felt more than enough time had elapsed since the last column of this subject. Even more intriguing was a comment on the article that came three years after the initial publication.

Alice, from points unknown, noted that chicory was “a neighborhood eyesore in New England.”

To be fair, she started off with an enthusiastic compliment, explaining “I adore the blue blossoms of all the chicory in my unkempt wild yard, the plant’s presence proving that what appears abandoned and lost, might, if let be, return to life.”  

She continued with this intriguing switchback of feelings: “When not in bloom, the plants definitely look like there is an invasion of the triffids.”

In all of my years as a naturalist and observer of nature, I had never come across a triffid. Maybe that should be the subject of an article.  However, a bit of research shows that a triffid is actually a figure of someone’s imagination. Author John Wyndham created this literal flower for his 1951 novel, Day of the Triffids, and it was described as a large and mobile carnivorous plant. The word triffid comes from “trifid,” which is Latin for split into three or threefold and describes the plant’s leglike roots.

Triffids have persisted in literature and media (if not in the wild), with a film adaptation in 1962, a television series in 1981, and another TV reprise in 2009. Each version had its own story, with the triffid being an extraterrestrial, a creation of Soviet biologists, or a naturally occurring African species altered to provide a substitute to fossil fuels that will avert global warming.

That triffid, imaginary or inspirational, could turn this whole world around and save us from ourselves through its battling of climate change.  Hope is back, though it isn’t in this case a thing with wings. It can be found not only in a fictional fauna, but also in those very real, persistent petals of blue in your own backyard.

Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown, and author of Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature and The Nature of Martha’s Vineyard.