Rhododendron, the genus, is a group of blossoms of infinite variety and beauty along with their fabulous leaves, forms, and growth habits. A group of plants with a rich and long history around the world; found in the Himalayas to the Carolinas, the jungles of Borneo, Japan and Hawaii. It was Westerners that created swashbuckling adventurist tales around plant collectors and visionary gardeners. Collectors have diced with death to bring back new varieties. Victorian breeders pushed the boundaries of plant genetics. Rhododendrons are used as medicines, insecticides, and intoxicants for centuries. A weapon of war. Chinese folktales speak of doomed love.
Jane Brown tells us of the rhododendron’s origins fifty million years ago. It was in the 1600s that rhododendrons (rhodies) began their journey into the West. Charles L’Ecluse, a Flemish botanist, participated in a limited trade in the 16th century. Botanists, Peter Collinson and John Bartram exported Rhododendron nudiflorum, viscosum, maximum, and canescens in 1736 to England. A sudden favorite of European gardens with its fibrous and shallow roots made for easy travelling. Soon to followed by being labelled invasive. Reinhard Witt, a German biologist and advocate of nature gardens, published an article entitled Tear the Rhododendrons out. Which may explain their disappearance until the Second World War. John Bartram continue exporting rhodies and in the 1760s sent species varieties to American and then to Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum in the 1870s.
Blossoms compared to roses in Greek, the words rodon means rose and dendron means tree. In Nepal, the tree rhododendron, Rhododendron arboreum, lali gurans, a red bloom, is the national flower. The Rhododendron maximum is the state flower of West Virginia and Washington state is the pink blossoms of Rhododendron macrophyllum, Pacific/Coast Rhododendron.
The Latin translation of rhododendron and azaleas means dry. Both are part of the family Ericaceae. The Greeks love growing rhododendrons, especially for their flowers and their preference for light and quick draining soil.
Rhododendron’s blossoms are fill with rich meanings. One of the oldest is to be beware and for any reason. Rhodies reminds us to think about ourselves and our beloved ones.
Use a blossom to send the message of elegance and wealth. When you want to wish someone success, go to nice places, and enjoying material goods. Add them to your own sacred spot to help build your abundance.
Give a blossom when you want to catch someone’s attention or as a passionate indicator.
A blossom or a bouquet will send strength and compassion to someone who needs care.
Show temperance. One of the best blossoms that show your appreciation of someone and their life. The Victorians believed one was more modest and sober when carrying a rhodie blossom with you.
It represents calmness, patient, and cautious people who don’t need to be boisterous or flamboyant.
Bouquets were sent by the Chinese and Japanese when they were feeling nostalgic about home and away from their families. The blossoms represent their love and regret. It tells their loved ones; I can’t wait to see you again and I miss you.
Used as a sign of a death threat or the dark side of someone’s nature in past centuries.
Shouts out a big thank you to someone who has made a huge impact on your life.
Supports someone who is about to make a big and important decision.
A strong plant supporting its magnificent blossoms, the blossom can break off at the gentles of touches. An indication of a fragile love when the blossom fails.
Match the meaning with colors to send your thoughts.
Orange for joy, vibrancy and glad to see you.
Purple, a symbol of nobility and royalty. This will express your excellent taste. It is a way of saying, thank you.
The pink shades are about romance, passion, love, and tenderness. Dark pink leaves a strong impression. Generally pink shades are a way of expressing appreciation or/and that you want to build a long relationship with the receiver.
Red for Valentine’s Day. Expressions of passion or romantic feelings. Use red as a message of strong connection to someone that you are not romantic with and care for.
Yellow sends positive energy, happiness, friendship, optimism, and blessings of good chances in life.
White is a symbol of faith, innocent, civility, and purity.
Rhododendron Fun Facts
The British named rhododendrons the Alpine Rose, after seeing them in the Alps for the first time in the 17th century.
Rhododendron ponticum produces Mad Honey, a biochemical hallucinatory discovered by the Greek commander Xenophon (430—354 B.C.E.) He used it to fight the Persians.
Leaves of Rhododendron might cause stomach irritation, coma, abnormal heart rate. Know your dosage and intended use.
Lilacs balance the spirit and the intellect; contact with the spirit is imminent
Ted Andrews, Nature Speak
The Queen of Shrubs, lilacs in bloom, really signify spring. Before the current western calendaring, May 1st was the beginning of Spring, as celebrated in May Day and Beltane festivals. Lilacs enchanting fragrance can be used in meditation to call your spirit guides and raise the vibrations of nature spirits. The wood awakens mental clarity.
Fairies live in lilacs; they are one of the plants that grant access to the Faerie Realm. The fairies and elves fill the blossoms that aid in calling protective spirits. Each flower often has a fairy associated with it. The lilac fairy communicates musically. They help to harmonize your life and activate greater clairvoyance.
Lilacs start blooming at the time of the Celtic Beltane. This is the halfway point between the Spring equinox and Summer solistic. It may be why they regarded this bundle of intoxicating fragrances as magical.
Lilacs have many meanings with an emphasis on expressing love or affection:
During Victorian times one belief was that lilacs brought into a home where a sick person was recovering, they might relapse. This myth is that, at the time, lilacs were rare and valuable. The owners did not want employees cutting branches for themselves.
Another is the strong scent of lilacs would overpower those who were dying associating them with death.
In WWI mothers received news of sons by messengers carrying lilacs.
Blooms were given to widows in remembrance of love lost.
And yet, young ladies wearing a lilac blossom was destined to be single forever. Lilacs bouquets were sent when one wished to break an engagement. A past love would send lilacs to remind the recipient of a first love.
Lilacs are a symbol of self-esteem and confidence, making them a good gift for anyone who accomplish a project. The giver is expressing confidence for the recipient.
Lilacs are the state flower of New Hampshire, representing the spirit of its people. One of the first places where lilacs were planted in the US. The oldest ones are believed to be planted in 1750 by the Royal Governor Benning Wentworth in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew lilacs. They are one of the first plants grown in American botanical gardens.
In Russia, newborns gain wisdom by holding lilac blooms above them.
King Uroš I, Nemanjić of Serbian, welcomed his future queen, Helen of Anjou, by planting purple lilacs found from her home in Provence.
Lilacs come in an array of colors you can plan for early, mid or late season bloom times. In general, they represent different types of love and emotions. Lilacs are associated with first love or the first time one feels love for someone.
Blue represent tranquility. Pastel shades for baby boys. Soft blue is happiness.
Mauve or blue are a request of marriage.
Magenta symbolizes passion and deep love.
Pink is associated with love and strong friendships.
Purple aligns and balances the chakras. It is a symbol of the emotions that come with the first time one is in love. With the association with death, purple was an alternative to black for mourning or for remembering somber anniversaries.
Dark reds are love and the passion of being alive, especially after surviving a harrowing experience.
Violet is spirituality.
White, when offered by a young man, symbolizes the purity of his intentions. A great bloom for those who are innocence and youthful.
Yellow for freshness and spring.
Lilacs are in the genus Syringa within the of olive family (Oleaceae) originating from the temperate area of Europe and Asia. Technically a tree, it grows more like a shrub. Lilacs have been cultivated for over 700 years. Caterpillars of butterflies and moths use lilacs to begin their annual transformation. The nectar of the common lilac (Syringa vulgaris) is desired by bees and butterflies. Lilac blooms are used in cosmetics, perfumes, and aromatherapy.
What is in a word?
The etymology of Syringa is Greek from syrinx meaning a hollow tube or pipe. Syrinx is a Naiad-nymph of the river Ladon in Arcadia in southern Greece. In her attempts to escape from Pan, God of the Wild, she asked to be turned into reeds. Pan created his first set of pipes from the reeds.
Lilac wood is dense and porous, making it a favorite for musical instruments. The taxonomical name comes from the French and Spanish word lilac. It is an evolution of the Arabic and Persian word, lilak.
All references to lilac in Sanskirt come from the word nilah which is a reference to the color, dark blue. Nil refers to indigo, a plant where the pith of the reed allows them to be easily hollowed out to create the earliest flutes.
The goddess (Flora) comes, crowned with garlands of a thousand flowers. Ovid
Spring approaches in the northern hemisphere with bulbs popping up, hellebores bursting forth and trees beginning their annual bloom cycle. How does mythology view the spirited entities contributed to this time of the year? Spring is the sign of the Goddess and celebrated in many cultures that embrace the awakening of the earth. They encourage flowers to bloom, representing rejuvenation and rebirth of nature. The 5-petaled flowers represent the Goddess. Flowers like columbines, Gaura, buttercups, native geraniums, potentillas, wild roses, and wild strawberries.
The Roman Flower Goddess Flora seems to be the most famous and best documented of the blooming goddesses. She originated out of the area occupied by modern day Rome. Her roots are in the ancient tribes of the Sabines, Samnites, and Oscans where she was called Flusia
She protects early blooming flowers watching over vegetation, keeping them healthy and free from disease until the autumn harvest. Flora is the Goddess of Love, Youthful Pleasure, and Spring. Her ancient title of Goddess of the Flowering Crops for Grains or Fruit-trees meant plant life.
In later times Flora became the goddess of all flowering plants, including ornamental varieties. Her name in Latin floris, means flower. The Romans honored her with the festival Floralia or Florales Ludi, held from late April too early May coinciding with spring blossoms. The festival began around the year 258 BCE and lasted for six days. During this time homes, temples, and animals were decked with flowers. Participants wore floral wreaths in their hair and carried small bouquets. They changed their daily clothing of white to bright colors, imitating the burst of color appearing.
It was the Sabines who named April for Flora. A months named that has survived through multiple calendar changes in history. Flora is represented as a beautiful maiden and wears a garland of flowers in her hair. She was honored with her image imprinted on Roman coins. Roman occupation carried Floralia festivities throughout Europe in what became the Celtic Beltane and May Day celebrations. The Maypole became another symbol of celebrating Flora, flowers and spring. The word flora is used in modern horticultural or botany to describe the plants of a region. (example – Flora of Pacific Northwest, Flora of Australia, Flora of Highlands, Scotland)
Chloris was the Greek Goddess of Flowers and Queen of Spring. She is a beautiful and serene flower nymph. Ovid identifies her with the spring colors of yellow or pale green.
Antheia, a nymph of Goddess of Gardens and Blossoms and Flowery Wreaths. She is a minor goddess of the Charites or Graces. They were goddesses of charm, beauty, nature, human creativity, and fertility.
Hegemone, Goddess of Plants, makes them bloom and bear fruit. Her name means mastery.
The Japanese Shinto goddess, Konohanasakuya-hime whose name is translated to princess who blossoms the flowers of the tree. Her nickname, Sakuya, is in sync with cherry tree blossoms where their beauty, rapid blooming cycle reflect life and death. She is a symbol of the delicacy of earthly life.
The Aztecan goddess Xochiquetzal means flower standing upright. She carries a bouquet and wears a floral wreath. She is the goddess of beauty, sexuality, and fertility. Surviving fragments of poetry show that the Aztecs recognized the double symbolism of flowers as representing both life and death.
Xochiquetzal’s name contains two major themes. Xochitl means flower and quetzalli means feather. Feathery blossoms are a symbol of her presence in associated with vegetation and flowers. An alluring and youthful woman, richly attired and followed by a retinue of birds and butterflies. Ichpōchtli is another name for her meaning maiden. Xochiquetzal was celebrated every eight years at harvest time in the festival of Atamalqualiztli. Participants worn masks covered with images of animals and flowers. In this form she is the Goddess of Crafts, Dance, Music, Weaving, Magic and Love Spells. Marigold flowers are sacred to her.
The Celtic goddess Artio, Goddess of Nature and the Bear Goddess, comes from the Gaul area of Central Europe. She awakens in the spring. Statues shown her carrying a bowl in one hand and flowers and fruits in the other sitting under a tree next to a bear. As the Romans moved through Europe, she was absorbed into the Roman goddess Diana and the Greek goddess Artemis. Both who oversaw nature and bears.
Nanna, whose name means daring is the Norse and northern Celtic languages, is the Goddess of flowers and plants. The goddess of romance, joy, and devotional love. She is married to the God Baldr, of Light and Joy. She oversees those flowers that follow the sun in a process known as Heliotropism. Sunflower are a favorite.
The murmur of bee, A witchcraft yieldeth me… Emily Dickinson
This last blog in this series of winter reading is meant to be light and fun. I hope this series has presented options for new discoveries or relearning as I often say these days. They are just a peak into the wealth of knowledge and information in developing your sacred space. All the best on your journey.
Starting with Garden Flower Folklore by Laura Martin. A good resource for planting seasonal flower gardens. Laura walks you through seasons, a bit about them and wraps up with a floral calendar.
Garden Witchery, Magic From the Ground Up by Ellen Dugan. This book helps you to understand the magic that resides in your sacred space. From histories, poems, and spells to the Language of the Flowers and crafts. If you are planning a moon garden, Ellen’s chapter on Moon Gardening, Magic, and Astrological Timing is a must.
The Magic of Trees by Tess Whitehurst. Tess brings a current understanding of tree magic mixed with traditional knowledge. Discover why the Aspen talks and what it is telling you. The Manzanita and why it needs fire. The Tulip Tree and the sprite who lived there. Each tree listed has magical components of the ruling element, energy, and planet. You may discover why certain trees speak to you through this book.
Magical Gardens, Cultivating Soil & Spirit by Patricia Monaghan. One of my much-loved books. Each chapter walks you through developing your vision of a sacred space. You will understand building a relationship to the earth, give yourself permission to dream and create your own style of sacred space. You may want start at the last chapter where lovely descriptions of different sacred spaces are described. See which ones draw you in.
How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack by Chuck Sambuchino. The title says it all. Get your coffee, go out into your sacred space and let the laughter roll over you as you attempt to share your space with the gnomes.
A garden requires patient labor and attention. Plants do not grow merely to satisfy ambitions or to fulfill good intentions. They thrive because some one expended effort on them. Liberty Hyde Bailey
In Philip Dorf, Liberty Hyde Bailey: An Informal Biography: a Pioneer Educator in Horticulture (1956), 83.
I’m going to be lazy in this blog. Partially after a week of being cold, howling winds, limited sleep and two papers to finish. This collection of titles speaks for themselves and can assist in winter planning. They are part of my technical hard-core section of my library. This collection reminds me there is always something to learn, sometimes relearn or re-acquaintance myself with or just explore. The first 3 books are solid reference books on plants, their behavior and what they can do for you. I feel the titles tell you what the books are all about.
The last book covers soil in urban tree management. A 21st century understanding of what it takes on planting street trees, approaching soil requirements and general concepts of overall management of them. James Urban maintains a website with resources to understand the delicate balance and wisdom needed when planting trees. If you are engaged in tree city programs and policies, this is a good reference to have handy.
“The old men say the earth only endures you spoke truly you are right,” Teton Sioux*
This quote is from a song that speaks to the relationship nature, agricultural, and humans. It speaks to the earth and human roles as keepers and stewards. Sacred spaces are a place where we can find peace and learned to be stewards.
In this next collection of books, these are ideas on learning the ways of stewardship or guardianship while helping you, the individual become one with your sacred space. All of these books cover aspects of scents in a sacred space. Something I always try to incorporate as I help individuals create their sacred spaces.
Garden Retreats, Creating an Outdoor Sanctuary by Barbara Blossom Ashmun. If you can only get one book on building your sacred space, make it this one. All components are covered from the ground up to integrating color options, textures, and plants to your space. Reading this book will help the beginner to the experience reconnect with nature and their own vision.
Gardening for Seniors by Patty Cassidy is a great introduction into developing sacred space and deciphering tools, positions, and different types of gardening. She presents step-by-step techniques and projects for the aging body that still desire to be in nature. Garden types that included soil management to suggestions of plants, and safety precautions.
Spiritual Gardening, Creating Sacred Space Outdoors, by Peg Streep. A delightful book helping to develop a sacred space with fragrance, style and structure. Peg covers many styles, Celtic, Gia, and Zen etc… The focus is design, spirituality and healing. Now go make that mini labyrinth.
The Fragrant Path by Louise Beebe Wilder is a classic in building year-round fragrance to your sacred space. I have 2 copies of this book, one to lent out to clients and the other for my reference. Louise walks you through the seasons, so if you are only in a 2-season area, options are presented. And just not flowers, bulbs, shrubs, and trees are discussed. Even those weird and wacky scents that have nothing to do with the human nose such as hawthorns, Herb Robert, and Stapelia (carrion cactus). This is a great book to read during the winter when the snow is several inches high and you long for the breeze to bring in joy.
The Holistic Garden by Karen York. Sacred spaces are about healing. As I have stated before, it does not matter the size or object. The objective is always an attunement to nature. This delightful book reflects that. It’s a book of kindness. It starts with the quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson from his work Nature. “He who knows what sweets and virtues are in the ground, the plants, the waters, the heavens, and how to come at these enchantments, is the rich and royal man.” The book offers ideas moving from herbal, trees, naturalizing plants and the peaceful development of the individual.
Note: * The full title of this piece is The Earth Only Endures: On Reconnecting with Nature and Our Place in it, by Jules Pretty. Earthscan, James & James Science Publisher, London.