March 22, 2024

Magical Botany B

         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 all about the A to Z Blog Challenge here.
        Today’s first plant is a classic which you can learn about in the famous English fairy tale “Jack and the Beanstalk.”  Magic beans sprout overnight and grow right up to the sky, providing a sort of ladder for a bold adventurer (or thief) to climb.  I’ve previously written a whole post about them, so you can find out more, plus see more illustrations, at my prior post Beanstalk!
        Today’s second magical plant is a plant-animal hybrid - but while it’s the first plant-animal to be mentioned in this alphabet, it certainly won’t be the last.  The barnacle goose begins its life cycle growing on a tree which grows in Ireland.  It’s attached by its beak, and enclosed in a shell that looks a bit like a pistachio (or, of course, a barnacle).  Eventually the shell cracks open and the tiny 
bird drops out into the water and s
wims or flies away.  If any of the birds fall onto land, however, they die.  Barnacle geese were a wonder reported in the travellers' tales and bestiaries of the medieval era, and there was quite a bit of debate over whether they should be treated as plants or animals for religious dietary laws.  By the early 13th century both Jewish and Catholic authorities had decided they should be treated as meat, but I still think it’s fun to think of them as plants!
        Heading around to the other side of the world for our third plant, you should beware of the banana trees of Okinawa, Japan!  Some of them may be spirits called bashonosei.  These plant spirits like to startle people by suddenly appearing as a human face among the leaves.  That’s not the worst, though.  Sometimes they even impregnate women with demon babies.  (Apparently you can never trust a banana alone with a woman.  This sounds like a tale told by seriously insecure men.  Just sayin'.)
        The moral of today’s plants is that you should never assume that plants are boring, immobile things.  They can carry you to adventure, or fly off on adventures of their own.  Gardening tip of the day: never go into the garden without your wallet and toothbrush, just in case.
        How much would you trade for a handful of magic beans?  And how high would you climb?

[Pictures: Jack Climbs the Beanstalk, illustration by Mildred Lyon from Journeys Through Bookland, 1922 (Image from Internet Archive);
Barnacle Geese, wood block print from Cosmographia by Sebastian Münster, c. 1544-52 (Image from The British Museum);

Bashonosei, wood block print by Toriyama Sekien in Hyakki shūi 3, 1805 (Image from Smithsonian Libraries).]


Donna B. McNicol said...

I love the bashonosei print. I've always loved Japanese paintings but can't explain why they draw me in.

A Tarkabarka Hölgy said...

I love barnacle geese! Also I am always entertained by stories of medieval religious debates over imaginary things :D :D

The Multicolored Diary

Frewin55 said...

"This sounds like a tale told by seriously insecure men. Just saying" LOL

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Donna, there's definitely something particularly attractive about the composition and style of Japanese art.
Zalka, it is funny (and sometimes tragic) what people manage to get themselves worked up about.
Frewin, I'm glad I could make you laugh. ;)

Kristin said...

At this point in my life, I wouldn't be able to climb anywhere.

Marina said...

What a wonderful theme you chose!. I love it! Love the barnacle geese, I’m sad that they die if they fall on land.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Kristin, I'd definitely want to use climbing ropes and gear so I wouldn't die if I slipped or got too tired!
Marina, maybe you could put tubs of water beneath the barnacle tree when the geese start to get ready to hatch!

kajmeister said...

Just sayin'....these are cool. Can't wait to see more!

Ronel Janse van Vuuren said...

Great selection! I didn't know about that last one from Japan. Interesting.

Ronel visiting for B: My Languishing TBR: B
Beware the Bogeyman

suesconsideredtrifles said...

The misunderstanding I am aware of about barnacle geese is that they hatched from goose barnacles (a sort of shellfish). We sometimes see goose barnacles washed up on the beach.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Ronel, I'm glad to be able to introduce you to something new, since your knowledge is so extensive.

Sue, yes, people never saw barnacle geese actually nesting and laying eggs like other birds, and they thought the branches covered with the barnacles must be tiny geese.