Historical Festival of Blossoms
With my combined fascination for plants and discovering the origins of things, such as fossils, of course, I began to investigate the origins of several plant varieties growing in my country landscape. Singling out several flowering shrubs and ornamental trees, I have compiled for you lots of interesting historical and cultural facts about them, including annual festivals celebrating their splendor, plus other unexpected tidbits. Beginning with nature's first spring bloomer, I present The Forsythia followed by the Purple Leaf Sand Cherry, The Apple Blossom, and The Lilac in their order of seasonal blossoming times!
Forsythia In History and Culture
A native plant of Asia, the forsythia was first recorded in the Shennong Bencoa Jin, a Chinese book of agriculture and medicinal plants written between 300 BC and 200 AD.
Tao Hongjing, a Chinese poet, calligrapher, physician, naturalist, and the most eminent Daoist of his time, described the forsythia in this famous Chinese book of agriculture: Bitter and balanced, it mainly treats cold and heat disorders.
Forsythia is listed in Chinese medicine among 50 essential herbs chiefly valued for its antiseptic effects with powerful bacteria fighting properties
The genus is named after William Forsyth (1737-1804) a Scottish botanist who was head gardener and founding member of the Royal Horticultural Society.
Botanical Smuggling: Forsyth's fellow Scotsman, Robert Fortune, smuggled forsythia plants and the know-how to make Chinese tea from them and established the production of it in India. China has only recently recovered after 250 years, now leading India in tea production.
The southern city of Forsyth, Georgia, USA, holds an annual Forsythia Festival in March to commemorate Spring, and so does Cabbage Town, Canada. Yet another forsythia festival is celebrated in Seoul, Korea where it's been mentioned that the famous Oksu Hill overlooking a local community appears as if someone painted it yellow resulting from the profusion of forsythia spring blooms.
The Victorians used the flower as a symbol to express feelings; their meaning for forsythia is "anticipation", very fitting since it's one of the first signs of Spring all around the world.
A River Tender Named After Forsythias
River tender, USCGC Forsythia, is a 114 foot vessel, one of three named after the flowering shrubs. She was built to replace the stern paddle-wheel steamers by Avondale Marine Ways in Westwego, Louisiana and entered service in 1943. She was stationed at Sewickley, Pennsylvania until 1963 and then Memphis, Tennessee, until she was decommissioned in 1977.
Like all Coast Guard cutters, she was designed to aid navigation, but in particular, for our inland waterways conducting a multitude of tasks i.e. search and rescue, icebreaker, flood relief efforts, law enforcement and more.
Purple Leaf Sand Cherry Ornamental Tree
Origins of the Purple Leaf Sand Cherry Ornamental Tree
Hang on to your seats. It was a challenge to figure this one out, but after some stubborn digging around, I discovered that my ornamental tree, the Purple Leaf Sand Cherry (Prunus cistena), is a cross between a sand cherry low-growing shrub (Prunus pumila) and a cherry plum tree which yields dark colored berries (Prunus cerasifera). And the cherry plum tree is a cross between the (Prunus pumila) and various plum plants . . . talk about full circle! In the early 1900’s, breeders of the small cherry plum trees wanted to produce a fruit hardy enough to withstand the severe winters of the Northern Great Plains. Even if they couldn't grow plums or cherries due to late frosts or extreme winter temperatures, they were finally able to grow cherry plums excellent for making intensely colored jam.
Origins of the Purple Leaf Sand Cherry Continued . . .
How did they accomplish this success story? By grafting plum trees with the hardy, low-growing sand cherry shrub (Prunus pumila) they conceived their resistant genus. When the early botanists discover the hardy shrub, native to the great interior plains of Nebraska and Kansas, and westward to the mountains of Colorado and Wyoming, as well as isolated growths far east to Michigan, they knew they had something special. It had adapted to the most trying soils and situations, yet profusely produced large size cherries.
Origins of the Purple Leaf Sand Cherry Continued . . .
Yet the botanists of history experimented with the Sand Cherry Shrub far more than crossing it with plums by cultivating high yielding cherries. Incidentally, there are several common names which made the research even more confusing, for example: Dwarf Cherry, Bessey Cherry, Eastern Sand Cherry, Great Lakes Sand Cherry, Prostrate Dwarf Cherry, Rocky Mountain Cherry, and Western Sand Cherry.
But this is not the end of the story. How did we end up with the Purple Leaf Sand Cherry ornamental tree that adorns many household landscapes, including mine? I will explain, but first take a look at the interesting historical document posted below written by American botanist Charles Edwin Bessey (1845-1915). He promoted the sand cherry for over twenty years which is why it's also sometimes called (Prunus besseyi).
Origins of the Purpleleaf Sand Cherry Conclusion
So getting back to the Cherry Plum Tree which we have established was cultivated from two varieties and bears fruit best for jams. Breeders took things one step further purely for the ornamental value to produce the popular Purple Leaf Sand Cherry Tree sometimes called Purple Leaf Plum Tree which yields insignificant fruit, (Prunus cistena) growing in my yard and many others. Phew . . . congratulations, you made it through the history of its cultivation and you also get credit for having an intense interest in horticulture!
BTW: The Purple Leaf Sand Cherry Tree is extremely fragrant giving off a super sweet aroma!
Victorian meaning for Cherry Blossom: Education
Apple Blossom Tree
Apple Tree Fun Facts
The native apple blossom, (Pyrus coronaria) commonly called crab apple, is the official state flower for Michigan, established in 1897, and for Arkansas, established in 1901.
The crab apple is on the sour side, not desirable for high production. It's quite fragrant, like that of the honeysuckle. Growers intentionally plant it amid cultivated orchards to help entice pollinators and also for cross pollination which produces higher yields of edible varieties.
Left to their own devise, apple trees can grow to 30 feet.
Apple Tree Fun Facts Continued . . .
Today, Michigan ranks second in the USA behind Washington State for apple production. Arkansas celebrated a time in history as a top apple producer until 1927 when crops were hit with a double whammy from disease and severe frost.
China is the top producer worldwide producing almost half the total world sum of 69 million tons of apples in 2010.
Victorian meaning for Apple Blossom: Preference, Better Things to Come, Good Fortune
Celebrating The Apple Blossom
Apple Blossom Festivals in Early Spring
Apple Blossom Festivals are too numerous to mention so I elected to feature a few of the oldest running.
Washington State Apple Blossom Festival in Wenatchee, Washington began in 1919.
Since 1906, the Blossomtime Festival is the oldest festival in Michigan where twenty-five cities and towns come together in the Spring, each with a queen who competes for Miss Blossomtime. The parade begins in St. Joseph and ends in the twin city of Benton Harbor.
St. Joe, Missouri began its Apple Blossom Festival in 1924.
Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival in Winchester, Virginia began in 1924.
2013 Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival/Parade in Winchester, Virginia
Early colonists from Europe introduced the apple blossoms to the Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia, Canada. In peak years, nearly 3 million barrels of apples were harvested! The first celebration with an Apple Blossom Festival began in 1933.
As in all the varied floral festivals, events are creative and unique, some with carnivals, golf tournaments, food fairs, arts and entertainment, band competitions, children's attractions, a queen's court, and last but not least, grand parades with marching bands and floral floats. The economic impact on the communities is most significant some of which attract a quarter million to a half million people each year.
Apple Blossom In History and Culture
The Apple Tree and Its Blossom in Culture and History
Pamona was Roman Goddes of Orchards watching over the care and cultivation of fruit trees.
Greek and Roman mythology honored the apple, particularly golden apples, as a symbol or reward of love and beauty.
The apple tree was perhaps the earliest tree to be cultivated and improved over thousands of years. Alexander the Great is credited for discovering dwarfed apples in Kazakhstan, Asia in 328 BC.
Apples were introduced to England during the Roman invasion in the first century BC.
A seventeen-century herbalist recommended mixing apple blossom extract with a bit of rose water and some pig fat as a cure for rough, dry skin.
In Celtic myth, an apple branch bearing fruit, flowers and unopened buds was a magical key to the land of the Underworld.
Apples were brought to North America by colonists in the 17th century.
The first apple orchard in the North America was planted in Boston by Reverend William Blaxton in 1625.
Apple varieties brought as seed from Europe were spread along Native American trade routes and colonial farms.
William Tell's heroic defiance of a tyrannical ruler by courageously shooting an apple from his son's head.
In America, by the middle of the 18th Century, the Dutch had grown apples extensively throughout New York State. As restless settlers pushed the Western frontier over the Appalachian Mountains into Ohio, Illinois, Michigan and beyond, they took apples with them. Each family unit had their own sack of apple seeds. Settlers in Ohio and Indiana found a thriving nursery of apples waiting for them, carved out of the wilderness and planted by devout, dedicated, friendly Jonathan Chapman--better know by his legendary name "Johnny Appleseed" through his impartial generosity.
Today, the apple represents hospitality and friendship, health and beauty.
Historical References of the Lilac Shrub
Lilacs are native to Eastern Europe and Asia. The colonists brought them to America in the 17th century.
Lilacs were first described by Pierre Belon, a French naturalist who had visited the court of Suleiman the Magnificent, Sultan of Turkey. In the 16th century, the lilac was brought to Vienna and it rapidly spread across Europe. Hybrids were so frequently grown by French nurserymen that France became synonymous with lilacs; many common lilacs today are known as "french hybrids".
George Washington and Thomas Jefferson planted lilacs in their gardens.
Mackinac Island in the upper peninsula of Michigan have original Victorian lilac plants, dating more than 150 years old.
The oldest living lilacs in North America may be those at the Governor Wentworth estate in Portsmouth, New Hampshire believed to have been planted around 1750.
Since 1919, the lilac has been the official state flower of New Hampshire because it symbolizes the hardy character of the men and women living in the Granite State.
Popular Lilac Festivals in May
Spokane, Washington since 1938 - In 1940, Shannon Mahoney was selected as the first Lilac Festival queen. In 1942 war conditions took precedence over community events. A flower show was held, however the parade was dispensed with, but the garden clubs remained active by giving lilacs to soldiers passing through Spokane on troop trains.
Mackinac Island, Michigan since 1949
Highland Park, Rochester, NY since 1898
Lombard, Illinois since 1929
Calgary, Alberta (Canada) since 1989
Victorian Meaning for Lilacs: (General) Beauty and Pride, (Purple) First emotions of love, (White) Youthful Innocence
When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd by Walt Whitman
This 1865 poem is part of a series written after President Lincoln's assassination which Whitman was known to have made reference as the "shepherd" of the American people. His words mourn modern world and the death of a nation's leader.
First four of the sixteen stanzas written by Walt Whitman
When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.
Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.
Powerful western fallen star!
Shades of night—O moody, tearful night!
Great star disappear’d—O the black murk that hides the star!
Cruel hands that hold me powerless—O helpless soul of me!
Harsh surrounding cloud that will not free my soul.
In the dooryard fronting an old farm-house near the white-wash’d palings,
Stands the lilac-bush tall-growing with heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
With many a pointed blossom rising delicate, with the perfume strong I love,
With every leaf a miracle—and from this bush in the dooryard,
With delicate-color’d blossoms and heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
A sprig with its flower I break.
In the swamp in secluded recesses,
A shy and hidden bird is warbling a song.
Solitary the thrush,
The hermit withdrawn to himself, avoiding the settlements,
Sings by himself a song.
Song of the bleeding throat,
Death’s outlet song of life, (for well dear brother I know,
If thou wast not granted to sing thou would’st surely die.)
Kathi's photography for purchase
- Kathi Mirto: Artist Website
Inspiration for my photography comes from the beauty of nature all around, but especially from my Lake Michigan shoreline community and just a step outside my front door to my country garden landscape.
Vote for your favorite landscape bloomer
© 2013 Kathi Mirto