Thursday, January 7, 2010

Plant Persona

When I’m in my garden, I surely talk to my plants. I refer to them as “he” or “she,” and I always inquire how they are “feeling.” When they are feeling unwell, I am pricked with the guilt of an inattentive caretaker, and I promise to be more attentive. In the presence of some plants, my heart races, others I find soothing. Old trees are wise, rambling vines are rascals who continually get out of control. And the Chinese Elm has always been a giraffe to me.

Many cultural tales speak of plants’ power to enchant, charm, or work miracles. Plants are believed to have spirits and souls, acting as metaphors for human feeling and behavior, and possessing powers of transformation when consumed or employed in specific ways.

For example, the ancient Greeks believed that the consumption of thyme brought bravery and life energy, while borage gave courage.

Native Americans have traditionally believed that yucca made into a hoop or hat can render the wearer invisible. Burdock, sorrel, and chamomile are thought to attract money.

In Medieval Europe, leeks were worn as protective amulets; and when bitten, leeks broke hexes. The Roman emperor, Nero, believed that leeks improved his voice, so he ate them before giving oratories.

The orchid, bamboo, pine, plum and chrysanthemum are considered by some Asian cultures to be lucky and virtuous. The plum is like a superior human being, undaunted and unobtrusive. The bamboo is gentle, hardy, flexible, straight and humble.

Orange blossoms recall the past. Cherry blossoms offer happiness and hope. An Oak is strong and enduring, an orchid infrangible.

Irises are said to free the soul from the body, and are thus popular in cemeteries.

Since the 19th century in Europe and North America, poppies have been associated with war and those who died in battle. This association was first documented in 1815 after the Battle of Waterloo. Because poppy seeds sit dormant in the soil for years, and then sprout when the soil is disturbed, red poppies painted the bloody field of Flanders after the field was plowed. In Ireland and England poppies were believed to give headaches, earaches, nosebleeds and blindness.

In the language of roses, pink is simplicity and happy love; red is passion and desire; white is innocence and purity; yellow is jealousy and perfect achievement.

In my own garden, I have found that I rarely fall in love with plants for their flower color or masses of flowers. More often, it is the persona-- a striking profile, a delicate leaf, an arching or crooked stem, its texture or a bizarre flower-- that speaks the loudest to me.

1 comment:

  1. What you said at the end resonates in me.

    But everything you say resonates in me anyway.