Bears Breeches and Angelica (and Plants and Philosophy)

From Garden Flora: The Natural and Cultural History of the Plants In Your Garden by Noel Kingsbury:

Acanthus includes around 30 species of shrubby and herbaceous plants from the Mediterranean region, down into northern and eastern Africa and across into western Asia. The name is from the Greek for ‘spiny’; Acantha was a minor figure in Greek mythology, a nymph who got turned into a plant by Apollo after she fought off one of the unwanted sexual advances of which ancient mythology is so full….

Acanthus is most famous as being the model for the ornamental leaves found on the capitals (pillar tops) of the so-called Corinthian order of ancient Greek architecture. Given the popularity of Classical architecture, the acanthus leaf has reappeared ever since as carved or printed ornament, in both buildings and paintings….

“The rather odd common name of bears’ breeches is obscure in origin, without any recorded explanation.”

From The Naming of Names: The Search for Order in the World of Plants by Anna Pavord:

“[Theophrastus] is the first to recognise, in the 500 plants that he includes in his Enquiry, many of the characteristics which eventually helped to determine how plants were to be classified. He notes that some plants are annual, completing the whole of their cycle of growth in a single year; others are perennial, springing up each year from the same rootstock, and dying down to the ground in winter. He sees how some plants seem to fall into natural groups or families, especially those plants which have tiny white flowers arranged in wide flat heads on top of hollow stems.

“Later, when a more specialised language began to emerge to serve this demanding new discipline, flowerheads of this kind became known as umbels….


The term was then used to label all plants that had this characteristic flat head of flowers – the Umbelliferae: angelica, carrot, celery, dill, fennel, parsley, parsnip, cow parsley, hogweed, Queen Anne’s lace, sweet cicely, alexanders, ground elder. And the deadly poisonous hemlock. There was a clear and pressing incentive to understand the difference between this plant and its similar wild cousins.”


Hello!

Dig into the names of plants for a while, and you’ll invariably encounter characters from Greek mythology, and, as I recently learned, Greek philosophers. Actual human beings! The philosophers that is.

My knowledge of Greek mythology never advanced much beyond watching The Mighty Hercules cartoons as a tyke (my favorite character was Daedelus, portrayed as an evil wizard); but I did spend a couple years dabbling in philosophy back in the twentieth century. I eventually switched my studies from philosophy to history, after discovering how dwelling in the minds of philosophers was a bit too much like never getting out of my own head… and history, at least, led me to explore the world around me and try to connect the past with the present, even in my own neighborhood and at historical sites like The Atlanta History Center and Oakland Cemetery.

The Greek philosophers were especially fond of sorting things — their mythology also reflects that — in the sense that they were compelled to observe the external world and try to classify and organize what they saw. Pummeled with all sorts of information the way us “moderns” are, we easily forget that those oak trees or dandelions encountered on a walk through our ‘hood once had no names, and, as important, no explicit differentiation from each other.

Initially, through Aristotle, plants got separated from animals; then his student Theophrastus documented 500 species of plants within the spaces he explored, extending Aristotle’s plant-and-animal distinctions by naming plants and defining plants-as-plants with descriptions of their individual parts. As Anna Pavord tells us in The Naming of Names: The Search for Order in the World of Plants:

“Theophrastus is the first in the long list of men who fought to find the order they believed must exist in the dizzying variety of the natural world. He lays out the puzzle, nudges together a few pieces that he thinks might fit. Fitfully, over the next 2,000 years, the puzzle is taken up by a series of philosophers, doctors, apothecaries, each of whom adds to the picture, links a few more pieces together, until finally, by the end of the seventeenth century, the whole picture begins to make sense….

“We now have written descriptions of 422,000 plant species. Theophrastus knew about 500, half of which had already appeared in Greek poetry, plays, essays…. But Theophrastus was the first person to devote serious attention to the business of naming plant names….

“He was the first person to discuss plants in relationship to each other, not just in terms of their usefulness to man. Magic and medicine both provided powerful practical incentives to know more about plants, but Theophrastus wanted to know them in a different way, just for the sake of knowing. From that knowledge, connections between plants gradually emerged which helped to make sense of the natural world….”

If you’ve ever tried to explain a plant’s parts — the leaves, the stems, the flowers, the parts of a flower, as you (or I) might do when writing about a photograph, or painting, or drawing one — you’re pulling from a philosophical tradition that goes back at least to the Greek philosophers and creatives, and probably even further into Eastern traditions of regions like China and India that had an equally vibrant culture of learning about and making use of the things growing from the ground around them. That “oak tree” and “dandelion” look a little different now, don’t they?


The photos below have been hanging around in my Lightroom catalog for a while; I took them while hunting down other flowers at Oakland Cemetery’s gardens — especially the lilies and irises. It wasn’t until I found out what they were called — and how far their botanical names went back historically — that I decided to post my photos of the Bears’ Breeches and Angelica. I mean, who can resist those names, especially “Bears’ Breeches”! And “umbel” by the way — which is a description of the Angelica flower’s form, connects it to the plant family Umbelliferae, and whose word history gives us “umbrella” — also describes the flower structure of lantana in photos I previously posted.


Here are the Bears’ Breeches, growing at the border between a shaded and sunlit area next to some old urns… enough breeches for several (very small) bears!


The Angelica stood tall in a large bunch near the base of an oak tree, looking like two different plants depending on the age of the flowers. The older flowers — like these two and the three immediately following — were dry to the touch and lively with dozens of tiny bees flitting among the red or rust-colored buds. I couldn’t quite get a sharp shot of the bees in motion — they wouldn’t stay still! — but here you can see three of them coming in for a landing, and then… landed.


From the same plant, here are some younger blooms, just beginning to open. A bit of the red color that will eventually appear as the plant ages and dries out is visible on some of the tops of the blooms. The bees, for whatever reason, seemed uninterested in the white blooms, a little something that might be worth learning more about on its own.

There were only a few fully opened flowers, since it was late in the summer season when I took these photos. Here’s one of them; the detail is quite fantastic. Select the picture to view it in a slide show and then choose Info/View Full Size (or click here) if you’d like to get a closer look.


Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Ten Wildflowers and Three Butterflies

From “Wild Flowers” in Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden by Eleanor Perenyi:

“Study a book on wild flowers… or for that matter walk out into the woods and fields, and you wonder why you go to the trouble of sowing seed, ordering plants, when the countryside is alive with flowers that are identical with or sometimes superior to their domesticated cousins.

“Wild flowers are never vulgar. [They] have an elegance and restraint to their design that ought to give the hybridists pause as they go about their work….”


Hello!

So I went exploring for a little fall color yesterday, but unsurprisingly found that it’s way too early for any of the trees to have started that transition here. Yet I was just as happy to come across a nice big batch of late-summer/early-fall blooming wildflowers … all busy attending to bees and butterflies going about their pollinating business. The galleries below include the images I took, a variety of different colored blooms followed by pictures of a particular butterfly that seemed to like posing (though not sitting still!) for the camera.

Thanks for taking a look!






Lilies on Black Backgrounds (10 of 10)

From More Than a Rock: Essays on Art, Creativity, Photography, Nature, and Life by Guy Tal:

“The most important aspect to a project is to finish it. The most important aspect of an exploration is to engage in it. Both modes may result in a sense of accomplishment. The difference is that with projects accomplishment is conditional and dictated in advance, often by others, and these conditions may turn the work into a stressful and frustrating experience. Projects may succeed or fail. Explorations, on the other hand, are always enjoyable and successful, even if they result in no measurable and tangible outcome.”

From In Defense of Plants: An Exploration into the Wonder of Plants by Matt Candeias:

“Find a nice sized population of blooming lilies and take a seat.”


Hello!

The End Is Here!

This is the final post in my “Lilies on Black Backgrounds” series. The previous posts in this series are:

Lilies on Black Backgrounds: A Photo Project (1 of 10)

Lilies on Black Backgrounds (2 of 10)

Lilies on Black Backgrounds (3 of 10)

Lilies on Black Backgrounds (4 of 10)

Lilies on Black Backgrounds (5 of 10)

Lilies on Black Backgrounds (6 of 10)

Lilies on Black Backgrounds (7 of 10)

Lilies on Black Backgrounds (8 of 10)

Lilies on Black Backgrounds (9 of 10)

The galleries below contain more photos of swamp lilies similar to those I uploaded for the ninth post.

What’s next? I don’t know … if you know, let me know!

🙂

Thanks for taking a look!






Lilies on Black Backgrounds (9 of 10)

From Lilies for English Gardens by Gertrude Jekyll:

“[Remembering] that our garden Lilies come from all countries in the northern half of the temperate world, from valleys, mountains, rocky heights, and swamps, we must be prepared for the fact that their young growths pierce the ground at very different dates, and that, though no doubt each Lily in its own place comes out of the ground at the fittest season for its new growth, when we put them into our gardens we cannot suit them with the exact weather and temperature and altitude that they would expect in their own homes.”

From Notes on Lilies and Their Culture by Alexander Wallace:

“I have been through swamps in which it grew seven feet high, with from ten to twenty flowers…. You will nearly always see the old dry stalk standing about four inches from the new shoot, and anyone knowing the habits of this Lily, can dig it any time after flowering, before frost, from the old dry flower-stems. They grow most abundantly among thickly matted roots in peaty swamps, where it is almost impossible to dig them, except with a sharp hatchet and very strong spade.”


Hello!

This is the ninth of ten posts in my “Lilies on Black Backgrounds” series. The previous posts in this series are:

Lilies on Black Backgrounds: A Photo Project (1 of 10)

Lilies on Black Backgrounds (2 of 10)

Lilies on Black Backgrounds (3 of 10)

Lilies on Black Backgrounds (4 of 10)

Lilies on Black Backgrounds (5 of 10)

Lilies on Black Backgrounds (6 of 10)

Lilies on Black Backgrounds (7 of 10)

Lilies on Black Backgrounds (8 of 10)

These last two posts feature lilies among those generally described as swamp lilies.

You may remember them from their off-screen cameo appearances in such fine films as Swamp Thing, or possibly (or not) as the inspiration for facehugger baby-pods in any of the Alien movies.

Thanks for taking a look!






Lilies on Black Backgrounds (8 of 10)

From Emily Dickinson’s Gardening Life: The Plants and Places That Inspired the Iconic Poet by Marta McDowell:

Emily Dickinson knew her Bible from years of reading her King James, a present from her father. She quoted gardening passages from both testaments when it suited her. References to ‘Consider the lilies’ (Luke 12:27; Matthew 6:28), appear a half-dozen times in her letters, often with gifts of flowers….

“With a flair for exaggeration, she once confessed ‘the only Commandment I ever obeyed – ‘Consider the Lilies.”’’


“As summer progresses, the lilies open with fanfare. The blooms are preceded by dense tufts of green each spring that extend into green leafy stalks. Trumpet-shaped flowers return reliably year after year. Dickinson grew an array of lilies, a spectacle in the garden for weeks. There were many varieties including an alluring, unnamed ‘white one with rose-powdered petals and brown velvet stamens, far more elaborate than the simple varieties,’ plus Japanese lilies, yellow lilies, Madonna lilies, and tiger lilies.”


Hello!

This is the eighth of ten posts in my “Lilies on Black Backgrounds” series. The previous posts in this series are:

Lilies on Black Backgrounds: A Photo Project (1 of 10)

Lilies on Black Backgrounds (2 of 10)

Lilies on Black Backgrounds (3 of 10)

Lilies on Black Backgrounds (4 of 10)

Lilies on Black Backgrounds (5 of 10)

Lilies on Black Backgrounds (6 of 10)

Lilies on Black Backgrounds (7 of 10)

Thanks for taking a look!