Sunday, October 19, 2014

Cactus Surprise

Since last winter I have had an Epiphyllum specimen which I took to be a Dutchman's pipe or queen of the night epiphyllum (Epiphyllum oxypetalum), associated in much of South and Southeast Asia with a popular fairy tale about a prince, a fairy named Bakāvalī, and the fairy's magic flower with healing powers - in Malay it is even known as bunga bakawali or "Bakawali flower"! Tonight my plant's first bloom opened, and it has turned out to not be Epiphyllum oxypetalum at all but Epiphyllum strictum, very similar but with spidery flowers of even purer white.

Epiphyllum strictum

The flower has a spicy, grassy fragrance that carries quite far. I am very pleased with it. Though of course now I will also have to get a real Epiphyllum oxypetalum.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Last-Minute Success

Today may well have been the last really mild day of the year - temperatures are predicted to plummet tomorrow - and this morning when I looked out the kitchen window, I discovered a single beautiful bloom on the little moonflower (Ipomoea alba) that has been growing slowly and modestly all summer.

Moonflower (Ipomoea alba)

This may well turn out not just the first but also the last flower this specimen manages to produce but it really was gorgeous. I wonder if there is some trick to getting these to flower earlier, or whether it is just a matter of getting them plenty of heat and sunshine.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Yet Another Language and More Historic Texts

Like Sanskrit, Arabic has a sizable corpus of premodern texts dealing with agriculture and horticulture, beginning with the Nabatean Agriculture (الفلاحة النبطية  Al-filāḥah al-nabaṭīyah)  produced in the early 10th century by the Iraqi Ibn Waḥshīyah, supposedly as a translation from Syriac. They have been studied much more extensively than their Sanskrit counterparts, especially the subset of gardening manuals that were written by medieval Arabic-speaking agronomists in what is now southern Spain. There is even a cool project focusing entirely on the extant collection of historic Arabic garden writing and the existing scholarship about it:

Have a look - there is a lot of fascinating stuff there!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Fruit of Beautiful Trees

Today was the final day of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, named for the hut - Hebrew סוכה sukkah, plural סוכות sukkot - that families traditionally put up for the duration of the holiday in commemoration of the temporary shelters used by the Israelites during their exodus from Egypt and later on during the seven-day pilgrimage of the holiday itself. However, Sukkot also incorporates aspects of a harvest festival, and one of its characteristic elements is the use of what is known as the ארבעת המיניםarba'at ha-minim  or "four species," namely a fruit of the אתרוג etrog or citron (Citrus medica), a green, closed frond of the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera), a leafy bough of myrtle (Myrtus communis), and a leafy willow branch (Salix sp.). This is based on the following lines in the Bible's Book of Leviticus, unfortunately often known primarily for its draconian injunctions regarding human sexual behavior and cited all too often in the name of bigotry:

On the first day you shall take the product of hadar trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days. (Leviticus 23:40)

The vague "product of hadar trees" of this translation is more traditionally read as "the fruit of beautiful trees" and taken to mean the etrog, which itself has quite an interesting history and set of associated traditions.

Festtag (Rabbiner mit Zitrone) by Marc Chagall, 1914

Interestingly, the Book of Nehemia later on in the Bible has a slightly different interpretation of the "four species":

They found written in the Teaching that the LORD had commanded Moses that the Israelites must dwell in booths during the festival of the seventh month, and that they must announce and proclaim throughout all their towns and Jerusalem as follows, "Go out to the mountains and bring leafy branches of olive trees, pine trees, myrtles, palms and [other] leafy trees to make booths, as it is written." (Nehemia 8:14-15)

Some of those identifications are again uncertain; in any case, this later version of the list - a variant reading of the passage in Leviticus? - somehow did not become entrenched as tradition.


Berlin, Adele, and Marc Brettler, ed. The Jewish Study Bible. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005.

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - October 2014

Things are largely winding down in the garden so pickings are a bit slim for this month - I must make an effort to plant fall-blooming bulbs and perennials next year! - but the marigolds are still going strong. Moreover, their warm oranges, yellows, and reddish browns suit the season perfectly.

Tall African marigolds (Tagetes erecta)

Spontaneous color variation in 'Tashkent' French marigolds (Tagetes patula)

Luckily, quite a few things should be gearing up to flower indoors in the coming months. And I have been buying bulbs for forcing, and I am sure there will be the occasional spur-of-the-moment flowering house plant acquisition as well.