Wildwood Flower
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Wildwood Flower
"Wildwood Flower"
Joseph Philbrick Webster
Maud Irving

"Wildwood Flower" (or "The Wildwood Flower") is an American song, best known through performances and recordings by the Carter Family. It is a folk song, cataloged as Roud Folk Song Index No. 757.


Wildwood Flower Drive at the Carter Family Fold at Maces Springs, Virginia now Hiltons, Virginia. The Drive is named after the Carter Family hit song.

"Wildwood Flower" is a variant of the song "I'll Twine 'Mid the Ringlets",[1] published in 1860 by composer Joseph Philbrick Webster, who wrote the music, with lyrics attributed to Maud Irving. Other versions of the song have evolved, including "The Pale Amaranthus" (collected in Kentucky and North Carolina, reported in 1911),[2] "Raven Black Hair" and "The Pale Wildwood Flower" (collected 1915–1919), and "The Frail Wildwood Flower".[3]

The original Carter Family first recorded "Wildwood Flower" in 1928 on the Victor label. Maybelle Carter leads a rendition of the song on the 1972 album Will the Circle be Unbroken, and frequently performed the song in concert with Johnny Cash and on his The Johnny Cash Show. The Carter version of the song is considered the premier example of "the Carter Scratch", a form of acoustic guitar playing in which the musician (in the case of the Carters, most notably Maybelle herself) plays both the melody and rhythm lines simultaneously.

Woody Guthrie used the tune of "I'll Twine 'Mid the Ringlets" for the verses of his song "The Sinking of the Reuben James", although he added a chorus to the song.[4]

The original poem (if any) from which the lyrics derived has been lost. Other poems attributed to the reputed author of the lyrics, Maud Irving, may be found in periodicals of the time,[5] including Godey's Lady's Book[6] and Home Monthly. Several of the poems in the latter periodical carry bylines indicating that the Maud Irving of those poems was a pseudonym for poet and spiritualist J. William Van Namee.[5]


The original lyrics to the 1860 song "I'll Twine 'Mid the Ringlets", taken verbatim from the published sheet music (italics, recognized punctuation, and capitalization as in the original), are as follows.[7]

I'll twine 'mid the ringlets
Of my raven black hair,
The lilies so pale
And the roses so fair,
The myrtle so bright
With an emerald hue,
And the pale aronatus
With eyes of bright blue.

I'll sing, and I'll dance,
My laugh shall be gay,
I'll cease this wild weeping
Drive sorrow away,
Tho' my heart is now breaking,
He never shall know,
That his name made me tremble
And my pale cheek to glow.

I'll think of him never
I'll be wildly gay,
I'll charm ev'ry heart
And the crowd I will sway,
I'll live yet to see him
Regret the dark hour
When he won, then neglected,
The frail wildwood flower.

He told me he loved me,
And promis'd to love,
Through ill and misfortune,
All others above,
Another has won him,
Ah! misery to tell;
He left me in silence
No word of farewell!

He taught me to love him,
He call'd me his flower
That blossom'd for him
All the brighter each hour;
But I woke from my dreaming,
My idol was clay;
My visions of love
Have all faded away.


Although originally a parlor song, the song had undergone the folk process by the time the Carter Family recorded it. For example, the first verse of "I'll Twine 'Mid the Ringlets" is

I'll twine 'mid the ringlets of my raven black hair,
The lilies so pale and the roses so fair,
The myrtle so bright with an emerald hue,
And the pale aronatus with eyes of bright blue.

whereas the Carter Family's "Wildwood Flower" begins

Oh, I'll twine with my mingles and waving black hair,
With the roses so red and the lilies so fair,
And the myrtle so bright with the emerald dew,
The pale and the leader and eyes look like blue.[8]

Several mondegreens and malapropisms are evident between the two songs (for example, "and the crowd I will sway" in "I'll Twine 'Mid the Ringlets" became "in his crown I will sway" in "Wildwood Flower"), and later musicians produced further variants. For example, Iris DeMent sings "...the pale emanita and hyssop so blue". Roger McGuinn sings "...the pale amaryllis and violets so blue".

Gardening author Ed Hume is unaware of a plant known as aronatus, although he does reference Aronia, a genus of bushy plants which are native to the southeastern United States and commonly known as chokeberry.[9]

In 1955, Hank Thompson and Merle Travis recorded an instrumental version of the song that reached number five on the Country charts.[10] In 1960, Joan Baez included the song on her debut album. In 1961, country instrumentalists Gerald Tomlinson and Jerry Kennedy recorded a version called "Golden Wildwood Flower", which reached number 93 in the Music Vendor pop chart.

In 1964, Don Bowman appropriated the tune as a background for "Wildwood Weed", a comic monologue about marijuana.[11] Ten years later, performed by Jim Stafford, it peaked at number 7 on the Billboard Hot 100.[12]

In 1967, Bob Dylan and The Band recorded the song, finally released in 2014 on The Bootleg Series Vol. 11: The Basement Tapes Complete.

In the 2005 film Walk the Line, Reese Witherspoon, playing June Carter, sings "Wildwood Flower" solo while strumming her autoharp. The film also features an instrumental version performed on guitar by Bill Frisell.

Robin & Linda Williams recorded a version of the song, with the original title and lyrics, for their album Visions of Love. The title of the album is taken from the last line, "My visions of love have all faded away."


  1. ^ "I'll Twine 'Mid the Ringlets". Mudcat Cafe..
  2. ^ Shearin, Hubert G.; Combs, Josiah H., A Syllabus Of Kentucky Folk-Songs, pp. 24-25.
    The underlying Shearin and Combs texts with the full lyrics have been lost.
  3. ^ "Wildwood Flower - Version 3 Brown Collection", Bluegrass Messengers, retrieved 18 September 2013.
  4. ^ Smith, Rod, Rod's Encyclopedic Dictionary Of Traditional Music, archived from the original on December 1, 2002, retrieved 2002 via the Internet Archive.
  5. ^ a b Bram, Eric M., The Mystery of Maud Irving, retrieved 20 September 2013.
  6. ^ Irving, Maud, "Mildred", Godey's Lady's Book, LXI (July-December 1860): 416.
  7. ^ Taken from a compilation published in 1862 showing the 1860 date, located in the William R. and Louise Fielder Sheet Music Collection, Stanford University Libraries: I'll Twine 'Mid the Ringlets. Words by Maud Irving. Music by J.P. Webster. Copyrighted and Published (1860, 1862) by H.M. Higgins, 117 Randolph Street, Chicago. Pearson, engraver.
  8. ^ Dorothy Horstman, Interview with Maybelle Carter, Nashville, Tennessee, September 6, 1973; also two versions of the song. Reprinted in Sing Your Heart Out, Country Boy, New York, 1976, pp. 201-202. Lyrics as reprinted ibid., p. 202.
  9. ^ Ed Hume, Finding Rare Flowers, retrieved 22 December 2005.
  10. ^ Dick Spotswood, Wildwood Flower, audio commentary from The NPR 100, 14 December 2000.
  11. ^ Michael Allen, I Just Want to be a Cosmic Cowboy: Hippies, Cowboy Code, and the Culture of a Counterculture, in The Western Historical Quarterly, Vol. 36, No. 3, Autumn 2005.
  12. ^ "Billboard Hot 100 Entry for Wildwood Weed". Retrieved 2012..

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