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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

IN BLOOM

Yamabuki (Kerria japonica)


Hearing frogs
We pluck yellow yamabuki roses
In the field
And float them in our sake cups
How pleasant the picnic is!

By Ryokan (1758-1831) quoted in "Ryokan: Selected Tanka Haiku," translated by Sanford Goldstein, Shigeo Mizuguchi and Fujisato Kitajima (Kokodo)

I rarely repeat a plant in this column, but as it is now seven years since yamabuki was featured in "In Bloom," I think we can make an exception! The clear yellow flowers of yamabuki (Kerria japonica) are one of the loveliest sights of the Japanese spring. The flowers are about 4 cm wide, and tend to open flat. They are borne on graceful, arching stems and seem to dance like butterflies among the fresh green leaves. Since ancient times, kerria has been a recurring motif in Japanese poetry, and the flower also crops up in textile designs and family crests. This deciduous shrub is native to China and Japan, and it is still a common sight in the Japanese countryside, growing at the edge of forests and on riverbanks. It is also a very popular plant that's easy to grow in temperate gardens around the world. One of the most popular garden varieties is the double form, yae-yamabuki, or K. japonica florepleno, which has pom-pom flowers. Personally, though, I much prefer the single flowers. A mature shrub can grow over 2 meters high and to about 3 meters in width. In Japanese, yamabuki means "mountain spray," but unfortunately its English name is less poetic; "kerria" derives from the name of an English plant-hunter, William Kerr. However, since the shrub belongs to the rose family of plants, translators often overcome this difficulty by translating yamabuki as "yellow rose."



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