New bloom leads to Milton's Paradise Lost

Triteliea 'Rudy'
I can not tell a lie. Not with Triteleia ‘Rudy’ beginning to bloom in my garden.

I’ll admit when I first saw Triteleia’s blue and white striped bloom, I did not know what it was, but after the whole Star-of-Bethlehem scare earlier this spring, the sight of it sent me straight to the lists of bulbs I ordered last fall to find out what it could be.

Narcissus? Tulipa? Iris? Nope, nope, nope…


Yes, that’s it!

I had never heard of Triteliea before I ordered it and then I forgot I ordered it. I must have been taken in by its picture. And that’s the truth. It has to be the truth because I found out that Triteleia’s common name is Ithuriel’s Spear.

When I looked up Ithuriel’s Spear, it led me to this quote from Milton’s Paradise Lost:

“Him [i.e. Satan], thus intent Ithuriel with his spear
Touched lightly; for no falsehood can endure
Touch of celestial temper, but returns
Of force to its own likeness.”

Milton: Paradise Lost, iv 810-813.

I don’t want to go too far down the rabbit hole of Paradise Lost, but many references point out that “the slightest touch of Ithuriel’s Spear exposes deceit”. In Paradise Lost, Ithuriel is an angel sent by Gabriel to the Garden of Eden to expose Satan. The National Forest Service has a nice write up about Triteleia laxa, if you would like to read more about this native California and Oregon wildflower and the reference to Paradise Lost.

I did, of course, go down the rabbit hole of plant taxonomy to discover that Triteleia is one of those plants that is “problematic” to botanists and could be placed in the Asparagaceae, Liliaceae, or Alliaceae plant families.

I think most botanists place it in Asparagaceae now. But what does it matter, except to botanists? It is not as though you are going to call up your gardening friends to debate this because as soon as you run the debate through to whatever logical or illogical conclusion gives you an answer that everyone may or may not agree with, the botanists will likely change the family again.

(Notice I didn't question that you would want to debate it, but why you would debate it.)

I reached down and touched Ithuriel’s Spear earlier this evening before I knew what it was, which is why I remain convinced that any lie I might even consider telling now would be exposed.

I’ve gone from not knowing what this flower is to feeling like I must be truthful around it.

Ithuriel’s Spear, growing in my garden now, is nature’s own truth serum.


  1. I have 'Rudy' too! And now I'm afraid to go out and touch it.

    Thanks for looking that up; it was fascinating. And I didn't know about the family issues, but I do know you can buy other Triteleias under Brodiaea in some catalogs. Then there are the Dichelostemmas...

  2. Interesting, Carol! I've got a yellow Triteleia that I've long forgotten the cultivar name of. Mine finished blooming last week. I actually lost most of them the second winter, but one lone bulb keeps coming up and blooming each spring. I told Romie that I'm buying more this fall, because I love its yellow stars that follow the Chionodoxas in the same location.

  3. Ithuriel's Spear is reaching out through cyberspace to me: I cannot tell a lie--I never much cared for "Paradise Lost," but the Triteliea is quite pretty. I'm also glad to know I'm not the only one who not only forgets something she ordered, but also forgets planting it:)

  4. Spent the weekend driving north/south in Idaho. Douglas's Triteleia was in bloom everywhere!

  5. Carol, that was extremely interesting. Thanks for all the info and what a pretty flower. I cannot tell a lie.~~Dee

  6. I'll bet that Triteleia is another one of the plants that won't grow for me, darn it. I love the blue and white combination.

  7. Thank you for the literature lesson in a welcome context. Reminds me I should seriously study more latin to draw out more history and meaning from all of these plant names.


  8. Truth serum in the garden, now that is a useful plant! It is also lovely.

  9. I've got to get me some of that so I can rub it on family members.

  10. Okay, weirdest of weird: I am very LATE in weeding the perennial border that faces my vegetable garden (it has rained every day that did not have a soccer game scheduled), so I only got out to Big Garden today. And, I found two of these beauties growing. Now, I do get volunteers, but after 15 years, I know the seeds I have sown. Yada yada yada. How did I get these? After reading Carol's blog, I am thinking the asparagus I added (from a new source than previous plantings) that I added last year. Was there a familiar seed in the planting material? What other plant would carry it? I grow mostly from seed and rarely add plants from nurseries; nothing else new in the families mentioned.


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