Historical Festival of Blossoms II
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 an earlier article titled "Historical Festival of Blossoms" I highlighted histories and cultural references as well as long celebrated festivals based on my Michigan 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 flowering.
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 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 popular 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.
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.
Victorian symbolic meaning: Temperance - Emotional Evenness
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 align 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.
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.
InterestingLY, 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
Interesting Uses of Redtwig Dogwood
The redtwig 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
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. The deer love to eat them too!
Hibiscus "Rose of Sharon"
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 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
I am a rose of Sharon,
a lily of the valleys.
Like a lily among thorns
is my darling among the young women.
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.”
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.
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
Rose of Sharon (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 "Rose of Sharon" do you like best
Rose of Sharon Cultural Symbolism and 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.
Dating back to ancient Egypt, it is used for medicinal purposes and as a ruby red flavorful tea or punch known for its calming effect.
In the Pacific Islands the Rose of Sharon (a hibiscus) represents "old royalty," is meant to bring power and respect and is a sign of hospitality.
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".
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.
The name hydrangea comes from the Greek “hydor,” meaning water, and angos,” meaning jar or vessel. The need for water is great for healthy plants, no need to worry about over watering the hydrangea; note that a late afternoon drooping plant will revive soon after a dousing.
Breaking down the Japanese hydrangea 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 chemical make-up of the soil. The more acidic, the more blue, otherwise they can be pink or purple unless from centuries of breeding one has acquired another variety such as the white or cream types.
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 lime green during fall; all very beautiful.
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.
Victorian Meaning For Hydrangea: Understanding
Festival of Hydrangeas
The Penny McHenry Hydrangea Festival of Douglasville, Georgia, USA, 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.
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 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!
Kathi's photography for purchase
- Kathi Mirto: Artist Website
Inspiration comes to me the beauty of nature all around, especially from my Lake Michigan shoreline community and just a step outside my front door to my country garden landscape.
© 2013 Kathi Mirto