Historical Festival of Blossoms II

Azalea Blossom after a Spring Shower
Azalea Blossom after a Spring Shower
Leaves of Neuropteris (Seed Fern Fossil)
Leaves of Neuropteris (Seed Fern Fossil)

The question this article answers in part is "Who first discovered our coveted landscape floras and when"? Did our ancestors love them as much as we do and how far back does our relationship with shrubberies extend? Calling myself the fossillady and all, I did some digging around and want to share with you some amazing discoveries.

In my earlier article of "Historical Festival of Blossoms" I highlighted histories and cultural references as well as long celebrated festivals from my landscape of popular flowering trees and shrubs including: the Forsythia, Sand Cherry, Apple Blossom and Lilacs. In this article "Historical Festival of Blossoms II", I will be presenting to you the beautiful Azalea, Red-twig Dogwood, Rose of Sharon and Hydrangeas in that order according to their timeline of blooms.

But first, I feel the need to provide you with a brief background about the history of plants in general. Some scholars believe plants first appeared in our ancient oceans some 700 million years ago, but only in the simplest forms i.e. single celled organisms. It wasn't until the Devonian Period around 420 million years ago that plants, the way we think of them today, really exploded onto the scene. That's when the first vascular plants appeared such as simple ferns and lycopods. Later, around 240 million years ago the simplest seed plants evolved such as conifers and seed ferns scientifically called gymnosperms. They were the bridge between simple ferns and flowering plants called angiosperms. Flowering plants or angiosperms are actually seed plants encased in an ovary such as fruits or flowers. They had finally appeared during the Cretaceous Period around 150 million years ago and are the most diverse group of land plants today.

Interesting note - grasses, lilies, orchids, mustard, palms and more are all a type of flowering plant called "monocots" that resulted in the evolution of grazing animals.


* All photos are taken by myself from my garden landscape unless otherwise source shown

Azalea Festival on the grounds of the Nezu Shrine, Bunkyo, Tokyo
Azalea Festival on the grounds of the Nezu Shrine, Bunkyo, Tokyo | Source

Azalea Origins and Part of Asian Culture

Azaleas are members of the Ericaceae family which are an ancient group of plants dating back 70 million years. Rhododendrons and blueberries are close cousins from the same botanical family. Most azaleas today descended from Asian shrubs originally cultivated by Buddhist monks. Seeds from the Rhododendron were sent to England from the shores of the Black Sea and became the parent to many azalea hybrids. From England they traveled to the United States in 1848.

The azalea is the national flower of Nepal.

Bai Juyi, a Chinese Tang Dynasty poet born 772 A.D. referred to the plants as "a beauty amidst all flowers".

In Chinese culture, the azalea is known as "thinking of home bush" (sixiang shu).

Japan holds an annual Azalea Festival on the grounds of the Nezu Shrine established nearly 2000 years ago located in Bunkyo, Tokyo.

Japanese azaleas made their first appearance in Holland in 1680 soon spreading to Germany, Belgium, England and France. Today, hundreds of year old plants remain shrub size with trunks less than 12 inches in diameter.

The Japanese traditionally divide the azalea into two classes according to those that flower 30 days after the spring equinox known as the tsutsuji, and those that flower 30 days following the tsutsuji known as the satsuki type.


ADDITIONAL FACTS

The azalea is also one of the symbols of the city of Sao Paulo, Brazil.

In addition to being renowned for its beauty, the Azalea is also highly toxic—it contains andromedotoxins in both its leaves and nectar.

Callaway Garden Azaleas
Callaway Garden Azaleas | Source

Worlds Largest Azalea Garden

The worlds largest azalea garden flourishes in the Pine Mountains of Georgia (USA) founded by Cason and Virginia Callaway in order to protect and preserve native azaleas. In 1930 when the couple was picnicking near their home, they discovered a bright orange-red azalea. The couple's appreciation of its beauty led to the establishment of what would eventually become a 14,000 acre tourist center with more than 3400 hybrid azaleas.

Azalea Trail Run

The Azalea Trail Run is a sanctioned premier race held annually during a four day festival since 1977 in Mobile, Alabama (USA) during the March springtime bloom! Turning out for the event are runners, walkers, and wheelchair athletes from around the world and at all levels.

Azalea Trail Run

Azalea Trail Maids

The Azalea Trail Maids are fifty high school seniors from around the Southeast whose humble beginnings was established in 1929 as a small group of 10 girls to help greet visitors for the opening of the Azalea Trail held every year in Mobile, Alabama. It first began as a project by Mr. Sam Lackland and the Mobile Junior Chamber of Commerce to encourage citizens of Mobile to plant azaleas that would aline local streets. Today, the maids are chosen yearly as greeters and ambassadors for the entire Southeast during many varied, often prestigious, events. The maids wear extravagant "antebellum" style dresses and embody ideals of "southern hospitality". They appeared at the inauguration of President Barack Obama.


Azalea Trail Maid Court
Azalea Trail Maid Court | Source
Showy Winter Branches of Redtwig Dogwood Shrub
Showy Winter Branches of Redtwig Dogwood Shrub

Namesake of Redtwig Dogwood

One might agree Redtwig Dogwood (Cornus, sericea) known best for its colorful branches lasting through winter has inherited a peculiar name. The origins of the term "dogwood" is yet to be settled. One theory suggests it may be derived from the Old English word "dagwood", from the use of its slender pointed stems used for making "dags" or "daggers". Alternatively, there is evidence 17th century Englishmen used the wood of (Cornus, sericea) as an herb for treating "dog" mange, an irritating skin disease, thusly deriving the term.

Interesting, another earlier English name for the dogwood is "whippletree" because of its lengthy flexible stems. In Chaucer's Canterbury Tales he refers to the whippletree as the draw pole attaching the cart to the harnesses of the horse-drawn carraige.

Cornus comes from the Latin word for horn, like a unicorn, referring to its woody stems which come to a point; and sericea is Latin for the word silky in reference to the fine hairs covering its leaves.

Other names for the redtwig dogwood: redosier dogwood, red willow, hound's tree, bloodtwig

Summer Bloom of Redtwig Dogwood Shrub
Summer Bloom of Redtwig Dogwood Shrub

Interesting Uses of Redwood Dogwood

The dogwood shrubs have had many uses throughout history in addition to the several mentioned above, including:

Extract from the leaves and stems for treating fevers and coughs and numerous other ailments

Dyes derived from the red stems

Basket weaving using the colorful flexible stems

White Berries of Redtwig Dogwood
White Berries of Redtwig Dogwood

While the white flowers of redtwig dogwood possess a strong sweet fragrance, the white berries, although edible, are quite tart and bitter. Birds, particularly blue jays, which I've observed in my own landscape, devour them before they have a chance to darken.

Hibiscus "Rose of Sharon"
Hibiscus "Rose of Sharon"
Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus, syriacus)
Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus, syriacus) | Source

Confusion over biblical reference of "Rose of Sharon"

The name "rose of Sharon" first appeared in the English King James Version of the Bible in 1611 stating that Jesus Christ referred to himself as the "Rose of Sharon". But, according to the New Revised Standard Version from an annotation of the Song of Solomon 2:1, that is an error of translation of a more general Hebrew word for Crocus.

Various scholars have suggested that the biblical rose of Sharon may instead be one of the following plants:

  • A kind of crocus called Sharon (Ha-sharon in Hebrew) or a crocus that grows on the Mediterranean coastal plain of Sharon in Israel.
  • A bright red tuplip-like flower prolific today in the hills of Sharon
  • The Sharon tulip, a species of tulip
  • The Madonna lily, a species of lily referenced to the lilies of the valley mentioned in the second part of Song of Solomon 2:1

Nevertheless as to the accurate identity of the rose of Sharon in biblical references, there is no doubt it is used as a symbol for beauty. In the book of Song of Solomon it's used to describe the beauty of King Solomon's lover.

Verses from Song of Solomon 2:1

She

I am a rose of Sharon,
a lily of the valleys.

He

Like a lily among thorns
is my darling among the young women.

She

Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest
is my beloved among the young men.
I delight to sit in his shade,
and his fruit is sweet to my taste.
Let him lead me to the banquet hall,
and let his banner over me be love.
Strengthen me with raisins,
refresh me with apples,
for I am faint with love.
His left arm is under my head,
and his right arm embraces me.
Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you
by the gazelles and by the does of the field:
Do not arouse or awaken love
until it so desires.

Listen! My beloved!
Look! Here he comes,
leaping across the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag.
Look! There he stands behind our wall,
gazing through the windows,
peering through the lattice.
My beloved spoke and said to me,
“Arise, my darling,
my beautiful one, come with me.
See! The winter is past;
the rains are over and gone.
12 Flowers appear on the earth;
the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
is heard in our land.
The fig tree forms its early fruit;
the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
Arise, come, my darling;
my beautiful one, come with me.”

He

My dove in the clefts of the rock,
in the hiding places on the mountainside,
show me your face,
let me hear your voice;
for your voice is sweet,
and your face is lovely.
Catch for us the foxes,
the little foxes
that ruin the vineyards,
our vineyards that are in bloom.

She

My beloved is mine and I am his;
he browses among the lilies.
Until the day breaks
and the shadows flee,
turn, my beloved,
and be like a gazelle
or like a young stag
on the rugged hills.

Rose of Sharon Festival

Hibiscus, syriacus may be a native plant of China and India, but South Korea reveres it as their national flower known to them by name as "mugunghwa", literaly meaning immortality for the Korean people's undying strength and spirit.

Which rendition of Eliza Gilkyson's song

  • Joan Baez
  • Sophia Sebastian
  • Eliza Gilkyson
  • All three versions are equally beautiful
See results without voting

Cultural References O'plenty

Rose of Sharon is a song sung by Joan Baez on the album "Day After Tomorrow" and written and perfomed by Eliza Gilkyson on her 1997 album "Redemption Road"

In the Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck "Rose of Sharon" is a major character often called Rosasharn.

In Leonard Bernstein's Kaddish Symphony it's referenced as "Chavatzelet HaSahron", the lily that man has picked and thrown away.

In Canada "Rose of Sharon" is a charity that focuses on helping pregnant and parenting young women.

In the USA, the rose of Sharon is the official flower of Phi Beta Chi, a national Greek sorority.

The Rose of Sharon is referenced in the Bob Dylan song "Carribbean Wind" appearing on his albums "Biograph" and "Shot of Love".

Rose of Sharon is a song by Robert Hunter of The Grateful Dead in his solo album "Tiger Rose".




Close up of Hydrangea with Morning Dew
Close up of Hydrangea with Morning Dew
Hydrangea in a Blue Mood
Hydrangea in a Blue Mood
Hydrangea First Changing Colors
Hydrangea First Changing Colors
Fall Display
Fall Display
Hydrangea Bloom in Fall Colors
Hydrangea Bloom in Fall Colors

Beloved Hydrangeas

During a leisurely drive through the countryside, the popular flowering bush of hydrangea can be recognized from landscape to flourishing landscape. Originating from Japan, hydrangeas have been cultivated in western gardens since the first American species were brought to England in the early 1700's. The big-leaf hydrangeas, "Hydrangea, macrophylla" has been known by gardeners in its native land of Japan for many hundreds of years and grown in many varieties.

Breaking down the Japanese name "ajisai" meaning "gathering of blues" suggests the earlier flowers were mainly blue. Common knowledge today is that the colors of hydrangeas petals change according the the chemical make-up to the soil. The more acidic, the more blue, otherwise they can be pink unless from centuries of breeding one has acquired another variety such as white or cream.

Another Japanese name for hydrangea is "nanahenge" meaning seven transformations. Not only do their colors change according to the chemical make up, but according to seasonal weather patterns. My hydrangea can go from pink or blue in early summer to green in late summer then a crimson pink and green during fall; all very beautiful, I might add.

During Japan's (1400-1600) feudal period the hydrangea was shunned by the warrior class because of its changing characteristics as a symbol of changing loyalties.

Today, the flower is revered in Japanese art and poetry to represent a fickle and changing heart.

Douglasville, Georgia Hydrangea Festival
Douglasville, Georgia Hydrangea Festival | Source

Festival of Hydrangeas

The Penny McHenry Hydrangea Festival of Douglasville, Georgia is named in honor and memory of Penny McHenry, founder of the American Hydrangea Society. Penny has been featured on TV shows and many magazines. Her love for hydrangeas grew as a result of a friend sending her a hydrangea when she lost her daughter. She propagated that hydrangea and the rest is history.

Japan holds several hydrangeas festivals displaying thousands of plantings and marking the beginning of the rainy season. One for example is held at Kyoto, a 1300 year old Gansenji Temple (www.pref.kyoto.jp/yamashiro/no-hana/gansenji.html) in the southern city of Kizu, founded by prominent Buddhist monk Gyoki, and is famous for its hydrangea garden.

Hydrangea Festival in Japan
Hydrangea Festival in Japan

Hydrangeas and Weddings

Hydrangea flowers have more recently become a big part of wedding ceremonies. The "mophead" variety can be held by the bride and wedding party or used as beautiful decorative displays. According to the language of flowers, hydrangeas stand for preservation - preservation of love that lasts forever, perfect for weddings.

The photo below is perhaps of one of the most lovely flowers of all time. It's my beautiful niece, Katie, who chose hydrangeas for her bouquet as well as decoration at her glorious outdoor tropical wedding!

Bride Katie holding Hydrangea Bouquet (Photo taken by her grandfather and my dad, Kingsley Zerbel)
Bride Katie holding Hydrangea Bouquet (Photo taken by her grandfather and my dad, Kingsley Zerbel)

© 2013 Kathi

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12 comments

Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 3 years ago from The Beautiful South

Wow, this is something else. Guess we never outgrow our love of flowers. I have the white hibiscus Rose of Sharon with the burgundy center but for some reason it did not bloom this year for the first time in years. ^ and sharing.


cam8510 profile image

cam8510 3 years ago from Columbus, Georgia until the end of November 2016.

You have hit one out of the park with this article, Kathi. You have given a wealth of information and made it very entertaining to read. By the way, Joan Baez has the best rendition of the song.


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 3 years ago from England

Wow kathi, this was amazing! the information was fascinating, and I hadn't heard of the Rose of Sharon for years, I never realised it had so many meanings. The photos are awesome too, voted up and shared!


rebeccamealey profile image

rebeccamealey 3 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

Great explanation of the flora world! I love all the flower samples you shared. Voted awesome and beautiful!


nArchuleta profile image

nArchuleta 3 years ago from Denver, Colorado

What beautiful images you include with your well-written article. You have such excellent information about flowers. (who knew they ahd an entire race dedicated to them?) Thanks --voted up!


Ilona1 profile image

Ilona1 3 years ago from Ohio

Beautiful photography and interesting facts made for a nice interim.


Mhatter99 profile image

Mhatter99 3 years ago from San Francisco

Thank you for this.


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 3 years ago from Wales

A brilliant hub and thank you for sharing.

Here's to wishing you a great day.

Eddy.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

This is a beautiful and very interesting hub, Kathi! I loved reading it and looking at all the great photos.


Fossillady profile image

Fossillady 3 years ago from Saugatuck Michigan Author

Hi Jackie, good to see you! I wonder why your white rose of Sharon didn't bloom this year? We had a lot of rain this year and maybe the roots got too soggy where you are. Thanks for the vote my friend.

Hi Cam, thanks for the great compliment, glad you enjoyed the article! Joan Baez is awesome, her tone is so soothing with a divine quality for sure! Cheers, Kathi

Hi Nell, awesome to see you girl, thanks for the vote of approval! Miss you and the hub, I know I haven't been around much lately, but am trying to touch base now and then until I have more time xo, Kathi

Hi Rebecca, so living in Georgia and all, had you ever heard of the Callaway Azalea Gardens? I would love to go there some day and stroll through the trails! Thanks for stopping by, Kathi :O)

Hi nArchuleta, Thanks for the nice comment. Yes, I know what you mean by whoever knew they our plant loving society stretched back for far! Take care, Kathi :O)

Hi Ilona, nice to see you, glad you liked it, Cheers, Kathi

Hi, Eiddwen, Mhatter, poets O'wonderment . . . thanks for stopping by and for your well wishes! Good to see you both! xo Kathi

Hi Alicia, Thanks for your lovely comment, good to see you friend!


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 3 years ago

What a beautiful post. The flowers are so lovely. I remember when I lived in Virginia, my front yard landscaping was covered in Azalea bushes of bright pink. The Rose of Sharon was my mother's favorite flowering bush and I do miss seeing them bloom. I know I would enjoy attending the festival of blossoms.


Fossillady profile image

Fossillady 3 years ago from Saugatuck Michigan Author

Hello Teaches . . . sorry so late to respond, thank you for the lovely comment! I'm glad the Rose of Sharon reminded you of your mom! Will stop by to see what you've been up to! Kathi :o)

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