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    More Than Pumpkins

    “I’m so glad to live in a world where there are Octobers.”  L.M. Montgomery

    “I love Halloween, and I love the feeling the cold air, the spooky dangers lurking around the corner.”  Evan Peters

    I could not decide on which quote, so I included them both for one of my favorite months.  It is good to see the signs of Hallows Eve in my neighborhood. The night when the veil is lowered between realms and wisdom comes forth. During this time of year, the unseen realms are honored. Hallowmas is the Feast of the Holy Ones where saints are remembered in Christianity. The Celtic festival of Samhain marks when summer ends and fall begins. It is the start of the New Year for the Celts and Fall in Japan.

    October is when many cultures remember their ancestors and those who have passed. Buddhists plant red spider lilies on graves to honor their ancestors and as a tribute to the dead. Japanese folklore tells us they bloom when you meet someone you will not meet again. October 31st begins the Day of the Dead festivities in Mexico.

    Marigolds are a Halloween flower. Plant them near your front door to make you smile and uplift the energy of your home. They will protect you from negativity and welcome beneficent spirits from the other side. Your light shines to the ethers harmonizing spirits. In India and South America, marigolds help souls to transition from this realm to the next.

    From Christianity practices, we are told soul cakes were a way of honoring wandering souls. Children and the poor, in return for food, would go from house to house collecting soul cakes’ to honor the dead. The custom of the living going a’ soulin became part of Halloween. The spirit world crossing over to the human side led to Mischief Night, where masks and costumes led to pranks from door to door and begging goodies. A soulin and Mischief Night led to trick or treating.


    Traditional plants

    Pumpkins: turnips, potatoes, mangold, and beets were the original vegetables carved. Pumpkins came in with the Irish legend of Stingy Jack. The short version is that this character Jack played a couple of games with the devil.  Upon his death, Jack tried to get into hell and then heaven. Because of his shenanigans, he was not welcomed in either realm. Jack was left with his turnip lantern and forced to wander forever. The story traveled to the United States, where pumpkins became the traditional Jack-o-Lanterns.

    Bobbing for apples or suspending them on strings and catching them is another favorite activity at this time of the year. Marriages were predicted by peeling the skin of an apple. One long piece was tossed over the left shoulder and the initial it formed was the future spouse. In the Celtic practices, the hazelnuts and chestnuts were collected and thrown on the fires to speak of true romance. Nutcracker Night foretold true romance.

    Falling Leaves

    On Halloween night, catch a falling leaf before it lands, and you will have good fortune throughout the year.




    Deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna) was believed to be the favorite plant of the devil in the Middle Ages. In the Reformation, witches and sorcerers were added to the list of associations with the devil. Belladonna is the Italian word for a beautiful or pretty woman and was used to dilate the eyes, once considered a beauty trait. Women with their white skins and dark eyes looked ghost-like, leading to many a tale of nightly visions. Nightshade is a plant with many roles: medicine, cosmetics, and poison.






    The cool, white, and pipe-shaped of ghost plants, (Monotropa uniflora), are found in established wooded areas. Known as ghost pipes with their white stalks and touch of black specks, they grow in the dark. They are sometimes thought of as thieves for their parasitic nature. This plant makes ghosts jealous as they are edible.


    Wolfsbanes (Aconitum napellus) keeps werewolves at bay. The Queen of All Poisons is highly toxic, slowing the heart. It is an intriguing flower that looks like a Devil’s Helmet. Wolfsbanes contains neurotoxins that are poisonous to humans and animals. Wearing gloves while handling any parts of this plant is recommended.


    Chinese Lanterns (Physalis alkekengi) produce skeletons. From its bright orange covering emerges a skeleton form looking like a web that traps its berry in the center.



    Witch hazel (Hamamelis) produces flowers that appear stringy, reflecting images of the Greek Medusa. The witch in witch hazel comes from Middle English wiche meaning pliant or bendable. Diving rods were made from the branches of witch hazel to detect water and salt. At one time called water witching. Galls can form on the branches in the fall. Children thought they looked like witches’ hats. Both traits influenced the witch part of the name.







    Witches Thimbles

    Several plants are called Witches Thimbles. The folklore is that centuries ago, they were planted by a gardener who was later called a witch. These days they are associated with Halloween. Examples include Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), and Devil’s Nettle (Achillea millefolium) .


    Dark and Stormy

    If this blog has sparked an interest in Halloween plants, start planning next year’s garden. Pick plants with Halloween or gothic names or that just sound weird and creepy – Bat Face, Voodoo Lily, or the dark elephant ear, Puckered Up. Incorporate evening blooming plants (primroses, nicotiana, moonflowers, or jasmine) or those plants that open and dusk and close as dawn breaks, repeatedly breaking the magic of Halloween night–moonflowers or the phlox, Midnight Candy. For low containers, add the black aeonium rosettes of Dragon’s Blood Sedum (Sedum spurium) and watch their deep red flower buds emerge as Fall enters. Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon japonicus) draping out of the edge of containers reminds of spiders coming out of the dirt.


    Here are a few sites to help plan your Halloween garden

    Scary Plants For Your Halloween Garden,  Fine Gardening Magazine

    Strange and Spooky Plants for Halloween, Cindy Hayne, Iowa State University Extension Service

    Halloween Plants – 21 Spooky Plants to Set A Scary Mood,  The Gardening Cook

    Halloween Inspired Plants: Learn About Plants With A Halloween Theme, Gardening Know How



    Celebrate Halloween, Garden Collage

    Mangelwurzels, Creepiest Jack-o-Lanterns

    Whitehurst, T., The Magic of Flowers

    Halloween Lore, Anglian Gardener

    Witch-hazel, Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine

    Read more on Ghost Pipes and Mycotrophic plants

    Tom Volk’s Fungus of the Month

    Mycotrophic Wildflowers, United States Forest Service



    Disclaimer: The content of this blog is for information only.