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Wednesday, July 4, 2007


Tokei-so (Passion flower)

Oh, cut me reeds to blow upon, Or gather me a star, But leave the sultry passion-flowers Growing where they are

I fear their sombre yellow deeps, Their whirling fringe of black, And he who gives a passion-flower Always asks it back.

By Grace Hazard Conkling (1878-1958)

In the 1500s, Spanish conquistadors discovered some extraordinary New World flowers, which struck them as vivid symbols of their religion. The outer circle of petals and sepals they saw representing 10 of Christ's early disciples. The feathery inner circle to them symbolized the multitude of Christians; while the five anthers and three styles symbolized the five wounds and three nails that Christ suffered on the cross. Moreover, when Jesuit priests noticed native Indians eating the small yellow or purple egg-shaped fruit, they read it as a sign that they were thirsting for the Christian religion. So the Spanish named this plant passiflora, meaning "passion flower," after the passionate sacrifice of Christ. Since then, about 500 species of the genus Passiflora have been found, mostly climbers from the warmer zones of the Americas with red, yellow, green, white or purple flowers. Some tropical species are cultivated for their tasty fruit (P. edulis and P. quadrangularis). But for flowers it is hard to beat P. incarnata, pictured above. This is romping away in my garden, and it is delightful to find fresh blooms opening on a summer's morning, then fading at the end of the day. Incidentally, the Japanese name means "clock-flower," for its resemblance to the face of a clock.

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