April 15, 2024

Magical Botany O

         Welcome to the April A to Z Blog Challenge!  My theme this year is the Botany of the Realms of Imagination, in which I share a selection of the magical plants of folklore, fairy tale, and fantasy.  You can find all my fellow A to Z bloggers on the Master List of participating blogs here.   If, unlike me, you’re following the proper schedule, you can 
        Obliviax is a kind of black moss that steals memories from intelligent creatures.  It especially favors the memories of wizards and other spell-casters.  It can then use those memories to form a little moss offshoot in the form of the victim, and this mossling can cast any spells that the victim had memorized.  However, if your memories are stolen, it is possible to regain them by eating the moss, although eating the moss may also make you very ill for a while, as it is somewhat poisonous.  Obliviax grew in the Forgotten Realms (which seems appropriate for a plant that makes people forget), but may now be extinct.
        The men of
θ Orionis are another variety of tree-people, but this time they resemble saguaro cactuses.  Their feet are sort of like starfish, and reach out short armlets covered in suckers to grab the ground.  They migrate (slowly) according to the seasons.  You can read a little more about them and the author who discovered them in my prior post People of All Possible Forms.
        Our final plants for today are oracular trees, a class of beings rather than a specific species or individual.  As the name tells you, oracular trees are trees that can foretell the future, impart great wisdom, and answer arcane questions.  A particularly famous example is the paired Trees of the Sun and the Moon, which were encountered in India by Alexander the Great.  Unfortunately for him, the Tree of the Sun foretold his demise.  (The fruit of these trees also allowed the priests who tended them to live for 500 years.)  Then 
there were the oak trees consulted by druids in the British Isles.  It’s unclear whether these were special trees, or whether all oaks could be oracular to those with the druidic power to divine their speech.  There was a grove of oaks in Greece that were definitely special, and had the gift of prophecy.  They not only spoke while living, but a ship built of their wood could also deliver warnings about the future.
        Oracular trees of various sorts appear in folklore and mythology from around the world, so the moral of the day is that people have always sensed that trees, with their deep roots, long lives, and arms reaching to the heavens, must have great wisdom to impart, if we could only understand what they’re trying to tell us.  Gardening tip of the day: go ahead and talk to your plants.  You never know when they just might answer.
        We’re hardly more than halfway through the alphabet and we’ve already had a number of intelligent trees, tree spirits, and tree people (although some have been evil rather than benevolently wise).  If you could talk with a tree, what would you ask it?

[Pictures: Obliviax, illustration from Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition Monstrous Compendium V. 2, 1989 (Image from Internet Archive);

θ Orionis (actually Saguaro National Park) linocut print by AnneMarie Kuhns (Image from the artist’s Etsy shop LovePlusLino);

Trees of the Sun and the Moon, illumination from manuscript of the Alexander romance, 1444-5 (Image from the British Library).]

April 13, 2024

Magical Botany N

         Welcome to the April A to Z Blog Challenge!  My theme this year is the Botany of the Realms of Imagination, in which I share a selection of the magical plants of folklore, fairy tale, and fantasy.  You can find out more about the A to Z Challenge here
        Twelve Nariphon trees grow in the ancient kingdom of Sivi, where they were planted by Indra.  Their magical trait is that their fruit grows in the shape of beautiful maidens, who are attached at the crown of the head and emerge feet first from the buds.  These Nariphon maidens are just like human women except in having no bones.  They can sing and dance, and also possess some other magical and medicinal powers.  Each fruit lasts for seven days before it withers, but if picked, the Nariphon maiden can be taken home by the lustful.  The purpose of the trees is to protect real women from lustful men, by providing a distraction and substitute.  Divine blow-up porn dolls for a good cause.
        We travel next into the center of the Earth to find the tree people of Nazar.  Nazar is a planet that orbits around the bright core of Earth, which is otherwise completely hollow inside.  The tree people of Nazar have up to six arms, but very short legs.  They are intelligent and highly civilized, including a belief in the equality of the sexes.  Like ents, they believe things should be thought through slowly, and distrust jumping to conclusions and learning too quickly.  Nazar and its sensible trees were discovered by Norwegian scholar Niels Klim in the eighteenth century.  You can read a little more about it, with a few more pictures, in my previous post on Intelligent Underground Trees.
        Nefertem is the ancient Egyptian god of the first sunlight, famous for his beauty, and he gives good luck to those who honor him.  What is he doing here in my alphabet of botany?  Well, he was born a blue lotus flower, which grew from the primal waters at the creation of the world.  Alas for my purposes, he doesn’t seem to retain any other botanical qualities beyond the flower’s fragrance.
        The moral of N is that apparently the line between plant and human can become very blurred.  Plants can easily turn human, or can simply be more advanced than humans to begin with.  Gardening tip of the day: the plants may be unimpressed by your claims of moral virtue because you’re vegetarian!
        What plant do you think might be the most intelligent?

[Pictures: Nariphon tree, illustration from Kitāb al-Bulhān (Book of Wonders), ca. 1330-1450 (Image from Bodleian Library);

 Nariphon I, acrylic and gold leaf on silk by Phaptawan Suwannakudt, 1996 (Image from National Gallery Singapore);

Two scenes of the trees-citizens of Nazar, engravings from Niels Klim’s Journey Under the Ground, 1845 edition (Images from Internet Archive);

Two scenes of tree people, block prints(?) by Hans Scherfig from Niels Klims underjordiske rejse, 1961 (Images from Rundt om Holborg);

Nefertem, detail of Kheker frieze, tomb of Rameses I, ca. 1300BCE (Image from Theban Mapping Project).]

April 12, 2024

Magical Botany M

         Welcome to the #AtoZChallenge !  My theme this year is the Botany of the Realms of Imagination, in which I share a selection of the magical plants of folklore, fairy tale, and fantasy.  You can find all my fellow A to Z bloggers on the Master List of participating blogs here.
        We have to start M with the mandrake, one of the most famous of magical plants.  The root of the mandrake was much desired for use in witches’ flying ointment, love potions, and all manner of hallucinogenic magical effects, for which reason there are many detailed methods outlined for how to harvest it.  You can’t just pull it up willy-nilly because the roots, which are in the form of humans, will scream, and their shriek will kill all who hear it.  The trick is to make a dog pull it up, (assuming that you don’t care about killing the dog).  You also have to time the whole operation correctly for maximum efficacy.  The first Monday after the vernal equinox is a good time to try. (Sorry, I’m a little too late with this advice.  You’ll have to wait until next year.)  And in case you’re wondering whether it really is helpful as an aphrodisiac and cure for sterility… just consider the well-
known fact that elephants can’t conceive - or even mate - until they’ve eaten some!
  (And for whatever reason, elephants must be able to withstand the mandrake’s scream, because apparently they don’t need to sacrifice any dogs to help them get it.)
        Another magical herb with an ancient lineage is moly.  The plant has a white flower and a black root and, like mandrake, it’s apparently dangerous for mortals to pluck from the soil, although Homer failed to specify the nature of the danger.  The virtue of the herb is that it protected Odysseus from the magic spell of the sorceress Circe, who would have turned him into a pig along with the rest of his crew.  Therefore it’s presumed to be good against all kinds of curses, poisons, and enchantments.
        Back to Middle-earth for the mallorn tree.  These are the quintessential trees of the elves: tall, with smooth silvery bark and leaves that turn golden in the fall and stay on the tree through the winter.  They also have golden flowers.  However, the most exciting thing about them, at least in my opinion, is that their wide crowns of branches are perfect for building elven tree houses.
        Finally, M is also for the Man-eating Madagascar tree, the star of the earliest-known of a number of  lurid and sensational reports of anthropophagus plants from “deepest, darkest” parts of the world.  According to a story written by Edmund Spencer in 1874, a tribe in Madagascar sacrificed maidens to this demonic tree.  In 1889 James W. Buel wrote about a very similar tree called the Yateveo, which is native to both Africa and Central America.  Judging by the graphic descriptions, being fed to either of these savage trees is a terrible way to go.
        The moral of M is that you shouldn’t sacrifice animals in your greed to get magical powers — after all, you yourself could be transformed into an animal, or sacrificed in turn.  Gardening tip of the day: the humane modern mandrake farmer can use robots for harvesting, or simply invest in a high-quality pair of noise-cancelling ear muffs.
        Do you think being turned into an animal would be a curse or a blessing?

[Pictures: Mandrake, illustration from the Dioscurides Neapolitanus, ca. 500 CE (Image from Library of Congress);

Moly (actually allium), hand colored wood block print from Hortus sanitatis, ca. 1497 (Image from University of Edinburgh);

Mallorn trees, screen shot from Lord of the Rings Online game (Image from lotro-wiki);

Madagascar tree (inset), illustration from Madagascar: Land of the Man-Eating Tree by Chase Salmon Osborn, 1924 (Image from Hathi Trust);

Ya-ta-veo, engraving by Armand Welcken from Sea and Land by James W. Buel, 1887 (Image from Internet Archive).]

April 11, 2024

Magical Botany L

         Welcome to the April A to Z Blog Challenge!  My theme this year is the Botany of the Realms of Imagination, in which I share a selection of the magical plants of folklore, fairy tale, and fantasy.  You can find out about the A to Z Challenge here.
        Following straight on from the last post, we’ll begin today with the tree of Life.  This is a general term, rather than a specific species, and cultures around the world and through history have had their own different versions.  Nevertheless, it’s a fairly universal motif in folklore and mythology.  Sometimes it’s conflated with the tree of Knowledge (flashback to K), and sometimes it’s conflated with the World Tree (foreshadowing), but generally speaking its most fundamental trait is that it represents the connections between living things and all of creation, and that it has properties of immortality and/or fertility.  We’ve already seen five plants that may be considered trees of Life: the Fusang tree at F, Hera’s Golden apples at G, the Huluppu tree and the Haoma plant at H, and the Jo Mu tree at J.  There will be more to come, as well, so I won’t mention any other specifics today.  Trees of Life are a very popular motif in art - indeed, I’ve done it myself!  They can be depicted naturalistically or very stylized, so I’ve selected a sampling just to give you a very small taste of some of the diversity.  (Mine is the first.)
        Love-in-idleness is the flower that Oberon, king of the fairies, describes to Puck in Shakespeare’s play “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”  Oberon explains that when the plant was accidentally hit by one of Cupid’s arrows, it gained the magical power to make a man or woman madly dote upon the next live creature that they see.  This is the flower that knavish Puck then uses to drive the plot of the play, with people falling in and out of love with each other all over the forest.
        Leaves of Pearls is found in an Iranian folktale that begins (flashback to Gul-e-Bakavali) with princes on a quest to find the magical plant that will cure their father’s blindness.  In fact, the parallels between the two stories are so close that they could be considered variants, and there are a 
number of other variants of the Leaves of Pearl story, as well.  In one there’s a bird that sings flowers into existence, which is a lovely image.  In another the brothers seek Leaves from the Tutia Tree, in another there’s a magical Zay Tree, and in yet another it’s a Magpie Tree.  This might lead one to believe that the world is actually quite full of plants and birds that cure blindness, as well as treacherous brothers, and beautiful fairy princesses who think thieves are super hot.  However, I have never experienced any of these things at first hand, so I am not really qualified to comment.
        The moral of L is that many of the medicines and drugs considered by the World Health Organization to be most basic and essential are derived from plants, so there really could be some that might help cure blindness or all manner of other ills.  This is just one more huge reason we need to stop the destruction of rainforests and other natural reserves, where plants with practically magical powers may yet be growing undiscovered.
         Gardening tip of the day: if you wake up one morning madly in love with someone (or something) completely new and unprecedented, try scrubbing out your eyes thoroughly.  After all, if magical plants cause love, and love is blind, and magical plants cure blindness… it’s hard to know how to get out of that cycle.
        But seriously, if you woke up from a nap and discovered that someone had stolen your greatest treasure, would you want to marry the thief?  (There’s no accounting for the taste of fairies.  Or perhaps, although it isn’t mentioned in the stories, the prince uses some variant of love-in-idleness on the sleeping princess.  What do you think?)

[Pictures: Tree of Life, rubber block print by AEGNydam, 2005 (Image from my web site NydamPrints.com);

Tree of Life palampore, painted resist and dye on cotton, India, first quarter of the 18th century (Image from Met Museum);

The Tree of Life, drawing by G. Howell-Baker from Penholm, 1901 (Image from Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library);

Tree of Life, relief from Taq-e Bostan, c. 4th century CE (Image from Wikimedia Commons);

Tree of Life, wall painting in Shaki Khan palace, Azerbaijan National Art Museum, 1797 (Image from Wikimedia Commons);

Albero della Vita, sculpture and light show designed by Marco Balich and Studio Giò Forma for Italia Expo Milan 2015 (Image from Wikimedia Commons);
Árbol de la Vida, scupture by Alfonso Soteno and Oscar Soteno, c. 1990 (Image from Wikimedia Commons);

L’Arbre de Vie, Stoclet Frieze, painting by Gustav Klimt, 1909 (Image from Wikimedia Commons);

Tree of Life, relief from the Palace of Sargon II at Dur Sharrukin, 716-713 BCE (Image from Louvre);

Love-in-Idleness (aka viola), wood block print from Florum et coronarium odoratarumque by Rembert Dodoens, 1568 (Image from Biodiversity Heritage Library);

Leaves of Pearls (adapted from cardamom), illumination from Arabic translation of De materia medica, c. 1889 (Image from New York Public Library).]

April 10, 2024

Magical Botany K

         Welcome to the April A to Z Blog Challenge!  My theme this year is the Botany of the Realms of Imagination, in which I share a selection of the magical plants of folklore, fairy tale, and fantasy.  You can find all my fellow A to Z bloggers on the Master List of participating blogs here.   
        Today’s plants are a dangerous bunch, starting with the dreaded kite-eating tree.  First introduced to the world by Charles Schulz and Charlie Brown in 1965, the kite-eating tree went on to devour not only innumerable innocent kites, but also Schroeder’s piano.  It is unknown how many kite-eating trees actually exist in the world, but they probably lurk wherever there’s an open park and a few hopeful kids.
        Krynoids, however, eat a lot more than just kites.  Their motivation is to eat all animal life on every planet they reach.  Featured in a 6-part serial of Doctor Who in 1976, we learn that Krynoid seeds are an alien life form dispersed through the universe (perhaps by being shot into space by volcanoes).  Once they germinate, the young plants sting nearby animals, thereby replacing their blood with fungus and turning them into plant monsters.  Their ultimate goal is to make plants the masters of all life.  Luckily, so far they’ve been defeated each time they’ve tried to take over Earth.  (Is this sounding a little familiar?  Flashback to Audrey II at the post for A.)
        The Kalpavriksha tree is of divine origin in the mythology of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.  It (or one of them) grows at the center of paradise on Mt. Meru, and it fulfills wishes for all good things, including food and drink, shelter and clothes, radiant light, and musical instruments.  According to one account it was moved to the divine garden after people abused its power by wishing for evil things.  It has gold roots, silver trunk, lapis lazuli branches, coral leaves, flowers of pearl, and diamond fruit.
        Perhaps one of the most famous of all plants in the Judeo-Christian-influenced world, the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is also one of the most puzzling.  Planted at the center of the Garden of Eden, yet forbidden to Adam and Eve who were allowed to partake of everything else, scholars have long debated exactly what the phrase “knowledge of good and evil” 
actually means in this context.  Knowledge of everything?  Loss of sexual innocence?  Power of judgement over others?  Recognition and subsequent temptation of evil?  The one thing we definitely know about this tree is that it was no mere apple.  Its fruit must have looked pretty tasty, though.  And after Adam and Eve did eat the forbidden fruit, did they gain the knowledge of everything?  Not noticeably.  But they did become mortal.
        The moral of the tree of Knowledge is, of course, not to disobey divine injunctions.  (Many people have argued that the moral is that snakes and women are intrinsically evil, but the snakes and I reject this view.  So perhaps the real moral is never to trust a moral given to you by someone who has something to gain by demoralizing you.)
        The gardening tip of the day comes from Krynoids: never try to sprout alien seeds, which are bound to make ecological trouble whether they’re Krynoids or just kudzu.  (But at the same time, you can really kind of sympathize with the plants’ point of view…)
        Although the fruit in Eden is always called an apple in English, many scholars think it’s some kind of citrus (along with many other theories).  What fruit do you think would be the best approximation of the forbidden fruit?

[Pictures: Kite-eating Tree, excerpts from Peanuts comic strips by Charles Schultz, March 4, 1968 and January 24, 1969 (Images from ArtInsights);

Krynoid, still from Doctor Who, 1976 (Image from Fandom);

Kalpavrishka, carving from Prambanan temple in Java, Indonesia, 9th century (Image by Anandajoti from Wikimedia Commons);

Tree of Knowledge, detail from “Paradise Bliss” tapestry by the workshop of Jan de Kempeneer, c. 1550 (Image from Wawel Royal Castle).]

April 7, 2024

Magical Botany J

         Welcome to the April A to Z Blog Challenge!  My theme this year is the Botany of the Realms of Imagination, in which I share a selection of the magical plants of folklore, fairy tale, and fantasy.  I'm not the only one blogging my way through the alphabet this month, and you can find out all about the A to Z Challenge here.
        J is for jinmenju, which is a tree bearing flowers just like human heads.  They smile and smile, and if you ask them questions the flowers laugh.  However, they don’t actually understand human speech, and if they laugh too hard, the flowers will wither and fall off.  This tree is described by Japanese and Chinese botanists, but it grows far away yonder, in the land of Daishikoku.
        A magical tree that does grow in Japan - and is no laughing matter - is the jubokko.  This cursed tree grows on battlefields where many people have died, and by sucking up human blood through its roots it becomes vampiric.  Then when a living person comes within range, its branches turn to tubes and suck the blood from its victim.  You can’t easily tell a jubokko by looking at it, although it may be unnaturally fresh in appearance, but if you cut it, it will ooze blood instead of sap.
        And another magical tree known in China, the jo mu may be a species of world tree (about which we’ll see more later).  It has blossoms that glow a beautiful scarlet so bright that it lights up everything beneath it, and its fruit may confer immortality.  Its trunk is enormously tall and straight and serves as a ladder between earth and heaven.  This tree is also sometimes called jianmu, but the name jianmu may also refer to a tree that’s clearly very different, so obviously there’s a certain amount of confusion about these various mythical trees.  At any rate, according to the ancient Chinese Classic of Mountains and Seas, this second jianmu or “Founding Tree” looks like an ox!  If you pull at it, it has an inner skin that looks like a yellow snake.  Its leaves are like a stringed net, and its fruit is like a pomelo.  This is certainly no ordinary tree, and presumably must be magical!
        Today’s moral comes from the joopleberry shrub.  
As far as I know, this plant has no magical properties, but it is the subject of a proverbial saying on its home planet of Broop Kidron Thirteen, which is, according to The Hitchhiker's G
uide to the Galaxy, somewhat botanically eccentric.  So, the moral is that “The other Shaltenac’s joopleberry shrub is always a more mauvy shade of pinky russet.”  Gardening tip of the day: use foliage as well as flowers to add long-lasting color to your borders.
        I’m noticing a theme here, of magical trees that start with the letter J and tend toward the color red.  How do you feel about red foliage in the garden, either all year round, or just in the fall?  Frankly, I don’t think there’s much that’s more magical than a sugar maple tree, but since it doesn’t begin with J, I must be mistaken.

[Pictures: Jinmenju, wood block print by Sekien Toriyama from Hyakki shūi vol. 1, 1805 (Image from Smithsonian Libraries);

Jubokko, illustration from GeGeGe no Kitarō by Shigeru Mizuki, 2009 (Image from Fandom);

Jo Mu (adapted from Paulownia), painting by Zhou Hu and Zhou Xi in Illustrated Herbal, 1644 (Image from Wikimedia Commons);

Joopleberry Shrub, illustration by AEGN adapted from 19th c. Arabic translation of De materia medica.]

April 6, 2024

Magical Botany I

         Welcome to the #AtoZChallenge !  My theme this year is the Botany of the Realms of Imagination, in which I share a selection of the magical plants of folklore, fairy tale, and fantasy.  You can find all my fellow A to Z bloggers on the Master List of participating blogs here
        Following up on the last post, the ancient Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh features another magical plant, which I’ve got today under I because it’s often called the “flower of Immortality,” although it’s really neither.  What it grants is youth, though possibly not eternal youth or actual immortality, and it doesn’t seem to be a flower at all.  We know that it grows at the bottom of the sea, that it looks like box-thorn, and it has a thorn like the dog-rose.  It’s called šammu nikitti, which literally means “plant of the heart-beat.”  Gilgamesh never does get to eat it and regain his youth, because he wants to test a bit on someone else first —then while he’s taking a bath a snake steals it, and the snake then sheds its skin as it slithers away, fresh and young again.
        The second illustration of the Flower of Immortality comes from the island of Amarantos, to which we were first introduced at the letter D.  
        And while we’re here, I wanted to share two more of the plants from that island, a huge number of which are insect-plant hybrids.  
Most of the flowers are capable of independent flight like butterflies, and I’ve also selected one with winged seeds like dragonflies.  It’s mysterious and wonderful that whatever pressures drove the evolution of the plants on this isolated landmass, they’ve ended up demonstrating many of the survival strategies used by insects in the rest of the world.
        I couldn’t go through an entire alphabet of magical plants without mentioning Plants vs Zombies.  This video game (or a whole franchise of games by now, I guess) is based on the simple and logical premise that your best defense against a zombie attack would be a yard full of magical plants.  As representative samples I have chosen two that start with I.  The Intensive Carrot, whose name is a reference to “intensive care,” has the ability to revive other plants using vitamins and sorcery.  The Infi-nut is a hologram projection of a Wall-nut, and can absorb damage, as well as regenerating itself over time.
        The Irrwurz, on the other hand, is not one of the good guys.  Like the hungry grass at G, it works its cursed magic on those who step on it.  It grows throughout German-speaking areas in Europe.  While different subspecies can have slightly different effects, the common trait is that stepping on Irrwurz causes you to go astray from your path and become helplessly lost.  The possible remedies, which may guard against the problem in the first place, or may just help you find your way again after you’re lost, include switching your shoes onto the wrong feet, going barefoot, or turning an article of clothing inside-out.  The effect will also be knocked off you once someone else comes along and steps on the Irrwurz after you.  As for what this troublesome plant looks like, there’s a certain amount of disagreement.  The top three theories are that it’s some kind of fern, that it’s related to plantain, or that it’s a tree with roots that are crossed in a particular way.  Similar plants can be found in France and Ireland, where they’re referred to by the general name of “stray sods.”
        The gardening tip of the day comes from the plant of “immortality”: don’t get cold feet and put off doing something you want to do, lest you lose your opportunity.
        The moral of Intensive Carrot and Infi-nut is that you can always identify a zombie because they’re the only people who hate gardens.
        The moral of Irrwurz is that if you try to hike around with your clothes on inside out and your shoes on the wrong feet, you won’t get lost — because you’ll be too uncomfortable to walk beyond sight of your own front door!
        Have you ever gotten lost while hiking?  Did switching your shoes solve the problem?

[Pictures: Plant of Immortality (actually, this is African broom), illustration by Mîrzâ Bâqir from Arabic translation of De materia medica, 1889-90 (Image from The New York Library);

Flower of Immortality, illustration from Amarant, by Una Woodruff, 1981;

Insect-Plants, illustrations from Amarant, by Woodruff, 1981;

Intensive Carrot and Infi-nut, images from Plants vs Zombies by PopCap Studios (Images from Fandom);

Irrwurz (actually, this is plantain), hand-colored wood block print from De Materia Medica by Dioscorides, 1555 (Image from Library of Congress).]

April 5, 2024

Magical Botany H

        Welcome to the April A to Z Blog Challenge!  My theme this year is the Botany of the Realms of Imagination, in which I share a selection of the magical plants of folklore, fairy tale, and fantasy.  You can find out about the A to Z Challenge here.
        For H we’re starting about as far back as we can go, with the huluppu tree.  It’s not entirely clear what magical powers this tree had, but it must have been powerfully attractive to magical beings for some reason, as you shall see.  The goddess Inanna brought the huluppu tree home to plant in her garden at Uruk, and she tended it with utmost care, planning to make a throne and a bed from it.  But when the tree had matured, a dragon nested in the roots, an Anzu bird and its young nested in the branches, and Lilith the demon lived in the trunk.  Try as she might, Inanna couldn’t get these interlopers to clear out, so she called on Gilgamesh to help.  He donned his mighty armor, wielded his mighty ax, and slew the dragon.  Upon seeing this, the Anzu bird and Lilith fled, and the huluppu tree was duly made into a
fabulous throne and bed for Innana.  (Inanna and Gilgamesh also made from the huluppu tree a pukku and mikku for Gilgamesh — which may be a drum and drumstick, or possibly some kind of ball game, although scholars don’t really know.)
        Moving along chronologically, we come next to the hamadryads of Greek mythology.  Dryads are the spirits or goddesses of trees, but hamadryads are dryads that are closer to being plants themselves.  They are so closely identified with their tree that they are one with it.  They cannot leave the tree to frolic about like other nymphs, and when the tree dies, the hamadryad dies with it.  This is why you must never kill a tree except in great need.
        In Zoroastrian and Persian mythology we find the divine haoma plant.  It is tall, fragrant, golden-green, and it grows on mountains.  As far as magical properties, it’s healing, strengthening, mildly intoxicating, and nourishing; it stimulates alertness, and it’s an aphrodisiac.  Zoroaster is believed to be infused with the spirit of the plant.
        The moral of today’s stories is that trees are a great way to connect with the divine, by whatever name you want to call that life force.  People all around the world and through history have seen trees as a connection to their gods, and now science, too, confirms that our emotional and mental health requires a connection to nature.  Gardening tip of the day: go outside and hug a tree today!
        Do you have a favorite species of tree?  Or a favorite individual tree?

[Pictures: Huluppu Tree of Creation, lino cut by Kristian Johnson Michiels, (Image from Etsy shop WoodHorsePress);

Huluppu Tree (Sacred Tree), alabaster wall panel relief from the palace of King Ashurnasirpal II, 865-860 BCE (Image from The British Museum);

Hamadryad (detail from an illustration of Dryope), engraving by Crispin van de Passe from Ovid’s Metamorphosis, 1602-7 (Image from Rijksmuseum);

Haoma, detail from a linocut by Joanna Lisowiec (Image from the artist’s web site joanna-draws.com).]

April 4, 2024

Magical Botany G

         Welcome to the April A to Z Blog Challenge!  My theme this year is the Botany of the Realms of Imagination, in which I share a selection of the magical plants of folklore, fairy tale, and fantasy.  You can find all my fellow A to Z bloggers on the Master List of participating blogs here.  Check them out; you’re sure to find something of interest and entertainment among them!  
        For G, we’re starting all the way back when Zeus gave Hera the gift of a tree that grows golden apples.  She kept it in the Garden of the Hesperides at the far west of the world, guarded by a dragon.  Even so, these apples were stolen on several occasions, most notably as one of the labors of Hercules.  But the species must have spread, because golden apple trees appear with some frequency in European fairy tales, usually growing in the garden of a king, and usually subject to theft of their precious fruits.
Magical birds are the most fr
equent culprits, and princes and other heroes always have to figure out how the golden apples are being stolen, and put a stop to it.
        Gul-e-Bakavali is a magical flower in Indian (originally Persian) folklore.  Literally it means “flower or rose of Bakawali,” who was a daughter of the king of the Jinn.  With some similarities to the golden apple fairy tales, a prince stole the flower for his father, because among its various magical properties the gul-e-bakavali has the power to cure blindness.  (The prince and Bakawali end up madly in love, but many adventures ensue before the happily-ever-after.)  We don’t know what the flower looks like, only that it was delicate to view and most pleasing in fragrance.
        Our next plant, on the other hand, is not pleasing at all.  Hungry grass, also called féar gortach, grows in Ireland.  Anyone who steps on a patch of this cursed grass is doomed to insatiable hunger forever.  Perhaps needless to say, this is a sort of fairy plant, but  it isn’t easy to recognize, which makes it especially dangerous.  It’s not known whether the fairies plant it deliberately out of malice, or whether it grows naturally out of the buried corpse of a person who died unshriven.  In any case, I know of no cure, but I suspect that prayers and blessings are your best bet.
        And for another bonus scary plant, here are the giant curly ferns of the Land of Neverbelieve, an island explored by Norman Messenger.  These plants have suction pads on their tentacle-like fronds, and are quick to grab any unfortunate creature who brushes past.  Once seized, it’s impossible to get free without help.
        You can take a glance back at one more, the Green Man, in a previous post.
        The moral of today’s flora is that magical plants seem to cause trouble more often than not.  Whether they’re especially dangerous or especially marvelous, they still have a tendency to attract an awful lot of danger and strife.  Best to grow only ordinary plants in your own garden, lest all manner of questing adventurers start breaking in.  Gardening tip of the day: perhaps you could consider surrounding your golden apple orchard with giant curly ferns as protection.
        Do you have a garden?  And if so, do you have a problem with thieves?  Personally, I’m in a constant battle with the evil chipmunks who steal my golden tomatoes (sungold, to be specific).

[Pictures: Garden of the Hesperides, illustration by Arthur Rackham from Comus by John Milton, 1922 (Image from Wikimedia Commons);

Gul-e-Bakavali (actually, detail of portrait of Prince Shahriyar), painting by Mughal artist, c. 1625-1700 (Image from Royal Collection Trust);

Hungry Grass (actually Spiked Flote Grasse), wood block print from The Herball by John Gerarde, 1597 (Image from Internet Archive);

Giant Curly Ferns, illustration from The Land of Neverbelieve by Norman Messenger, 2012.]