The etymological meaning of hydrangea stems from the Greek words for water, hydros and jar, angos. The name comes from the constant moisture required to keep the flowers happy, healthy and blooming. In Japan, they are said to be a sign of apology or gratitude because an emperor gave them as apologies to his maidens.
Contrastingly, hydrangeas have a negative sentiment in Europe where they were used to declare arrogance.
Baby Gem Boxwood ~
The baby gem boxwood is extra special indeed. It is believed to date back for millions of years and ancient Romans used them to decorate their lavish gardens. In the 1840s it was a common practice for young newly-weds to take boxwood cuttings from the old family garden to propagate into their new family garden and pass them on to their own children when they married.
This boxwood has dense foliage and adds a touch of greenery to a wintry landscape. Easy to spot, the baby gem boxwood grows to a height and width of about three feet and their little mounded shape resemble little green muffins making them perfect for borders and focal areas in small gardens like ours!
They also became synonymous with frigidity in the Medieval ages because it was believed that young women who grew them would never find husbands.
The hydrangea was first cultivated in Japan, but ancient hydrangea fossils dating back to 40-65 million years ago have been discovered in North America. Hydrangeas didn’t appear in Europe until 1736 when a colonist brought a North American varietal to England.
The Serviceberry is one of the most wonderful shrubs to grace our garden. Known as the harbinger of spring, since it is the first to brighten the woods and landscapes throughout our countryside with airy clusters of white flowers. Some know them as Sugarplums because they taste like blueberries with a hint of marchino cherry. Other areas of the country know them as Juneberries since some species' berries are ripe in June. The berries are delicious and are still used to make jams, pies and other delicacies, but can be a rarity because animals and birds love them, too!
They can range in height from about four feet to over twenty feet. There are more than twenty species of this deciduous-leaved shrub of the Rose family.
Serviceberry shrubs in spring
Native peoples in Canada and North America favored serviceberries to make pemmican, an important food source made from the lean meat of venison, buffalo, and elk, high in protein and fat. The berries were powdered and pounded into the meat and fat mixture and then stored in rawhide bags for up to ten years.
Legend of the Name ~
So you may wonder how such a beautiful tree got its name. Was it because it provided so many services to mankind? We're not sure, but there are two legends passed to us from Appalachian folklore about how the name came to be. In the days of old, the roads were impassable in the mountains during winter. The circuit-riding preachers knew when the Serviceberry began to bloom, the mountain passes became passable so they could resume their services. The second legend says that when the Serviceberry blooms, the ground is thawed enough for the gravediggers to dig the graves so funeral services could be held and folks who died over the winter could be buried.
Importance of the Wood ~
The wood is brown, hard, close-grained, and heavy. It had many uses, including the making of tool handles and fishing rods, as well as arrow shafts by Native Americans. Some tribes used the wood to create a body armor robe and corset armor worn during warfare.
The Serviceberry is bright and cheery in spring. It bears fruit for those clever enough to harvest it before the wildlife partake. It adds fiery beauty to the fall landscape. Watch ours' through the seasons and enjoy a piece of the past today!
Serviceberries on the tree.
Serviceberry shrubs in fall.
American Beautyberry ~
The American Beautyberry, also known as the French Mulberry has a rich history to American culture and lore. Small clusters of lightly purple-tinged white flowers form in late spring among the branches of saw-toothed leaves. The flowers form white berries and, as if by magic, almost overnight look like amethyst jeweled bracelets along the branches. The color deepens into a deep purple color in the fall.
The berries are a favorite for our state bird, the cardinal, as well as other songbirds and a variety of wildlife including raccoons, opossum, squirrels and deer.
Beautyberries cluster like jeweled bracelets
Native Medicine ~
Berries, leaves, roots, and bark were used medicinally by numerous Native American tribes throughout the United States. Uses include as teas for ailments such as stomach aches, colic, and dysentery. The roots and bark were made into a poultice to treat itchy skin as well.
Folk Science ~
A century ago, Mississippi hill country folk used to crush the leaves and weave the branches through the harnesses of their mules and horses as an insect repellent against flies, ticks, horseflies, and mosquitoes. Some old-timers rub crushed leaves on their skin to this very day to repel the chomping pests. Deer are known to bed among beautyberries, perhaps because they, too, know about its protection from insects. They have all been proven right, recent scientific research has confirmed the chemicals in the beautyberry (callicarpenal, intermedeol, and spathulenol) have been found to repel insects. The United States Department of Agriculture Agriculture Research Service has filed a patent for further research and marketing.
Home Uses ~
The branches of berries can be cut and dried for wreaths and flower arrangements. The berries have also been a popular source for purple dye, something you may have experienced if you ever brushed against them while hiking in the woods.
While the berries are not very palatable right off the vine, they can be made into a tasty jelly similar in flavor to elderberry.
Beautyberry in late spring.
Beautyberry flower clusters.
Beautyberry in late summer.
Ninebark Shrub ~
In the early summer this shrub has a burst of tiny white-cupped flowers kissed in a blush of pink. These tiny flowers are a favorite of birds, bees, butterflies and offer a beautiful addition for we humans to gaze upon in the garden as well, since they are surrounded by deep purple leaves.
The Ninebark is an American native found throughout the countryside. They are known to grow from six to ten feet tall, but several dwarf varieties have been cultivated for our enjoyment in the smaller landscapes of today.
It is named for its unique peeling bark.
Close-up of Ninebark flower cluster.
Medicinal Uses ~
Native Americans knew the uses of the Ninebark more so than the folk of today. Some tribes, including the Iroquois, used the inner bark to treat tuberculosis, as an analgesic as well as for fertility and stomach issues. The outer bark was used as a poultice to treat sores.
Although the Ninebark has no specific symbolic meaning, it is related to the Hawthorne tree and is part of the rosaceae tree family, which imparts a special combination of meanings since the Hawthorn is symbolic of hope and the rose is symbolic of love.
Ninebark in early summer full bloom.
Ninebark namesake ~ peeling bark.
Ninebark is a fall beauty.
Pawpaw trees along a woodline
Pawpaw Tree ~
A very special tree is the Pawpaw, as you will see. You've likely seen them in the local woods without giving much thought to what appears to be just a common little tree.
The Pawpaw grows in the woods in small natural groves around larger trees. Those exposed to sun, bear deep maroon flowers that resemble a three corner hat from colonial days. The flowers bloom for about four weeks before the leaves sprout between March and May, depending on the weather. Don't judge this tree by what appears to be an ordinary leafy cover because there is more . . . much more, indeed.
What's In a Name? ~
The Pawpaw's scientific name is Asimina Triloba. Why would anyone living in our region of the Mississippi River basin give a diddly about this name? The genus name Asimina is derived from the Native American word assimin. Which Native Americans you ask? The Native American Algonquian language of our own Miami-Illinois tribe primarily in Illinois, the Cahokia.
It's A Big One ~
The Pawpaw's fruit is somewhat comparable to that of the papaya (hence pawpaw), but the flavor is described as a light vanilla-banana-mango combination. Many states nickname it as their state banana, i.e. Indiana or Hoosier banana, Kentucky banana, Missouri banana, Ozark banana, prairie banana, and the list goes on and on. If you hear of a state "banana" you can be assured it's a pawpaw fruit. It is the largest edible native North American Fruit.
A Favorite of Many ~
The earliest documentation of the Pawpaw tree was in 1541 by DeSoto who found Native Americans were actively cultivating them east of the Mississippi. In 1810 when their supplies ran low and wild game was scarce, Lewis and Clark depended on wild pawpaw fruit and nuts as their main food source. It is higher in protein than most fruits. George Washington loved the creamy custard texture and mild flavor of chilled pawpaw fruit. Thomas Jefferson cultivated them at his plantation, Monticello. Our own Irving Dilliard loved them as well.
Life to a Butterfly ~
When you see the beautiful black and white striped wings and sparrow tail of this butterfly flit by like a kite dramatically bobbing on the breeze, the pawpaws are near. The Zebra Sparrowtail Butterfly caterpillar is the only creature that depends on the pawpaw leaf for its very existence because that is all it eats. While it consumes the leaves with a voracious appetite, no harm comes to the pawpaw tree. You may not like the leaves as the butterfly does because when crushed the odor of asphalt fills the air.
Zebra Swallowtail Caterpillar
Zebra Swallowtail Chrysalis
Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly
Tropical Look ~
While it is a relatively small tree growing from 20 to 40 feet in height, the pawpaw offers us so much. The leaves are elongated with a tropical look, and reach a length of about twelve inches. The spring foliage begins as a deep purple, turning green for summer and then yellow in the fall. The pawpaw fruit is about the size of a large avocado and begins to ripen in August. If you press gently on the stem of the fruit and it gives slightly and the fruit has a pronounced fragrance, it is ready to enjoy. It is rare to find pawpaw fruit for sale even at a farmer's market stand because they go bad very quickly. If you find some while on a hike or have added them to your landscape habitat, be sure to harvest and enjoy them right away.
Pawpaw blossoms in spring
Pawpaw Trees in early summer
Pawpaw fruit in August
American White Fringe tree in full, beautiful bloom.
White Fringe Tree ~
What blooms on the "fringe" of our array of Spring beauties, is loved by our cardinal birds, and only a handful of folk know its name? Yep, a real beauty that blooms in early to mid-May for a couple of weeks that goes by manfolk facial hair aliases, i.e. "grandpa's beard," "Grancy's beard," "old man's beard," and just plain old "graybeard" as well as "snow-drop tree." Ours is more specifically, an American Fringe Tree. And this may surprise ye. It's a member of the Oleaceae family, otherwise known as the Olive Tree of which you will discover the similarity if you decide to proceed . . .
From Greece to Virginia ~
Let's go back to Greece, as we like to do, and examine its name a bit closer here. Chionanthus virginicus, isn't that clear? Of course it is. Chionanthus is the combination of the Greek words chion and anthos, and that means “snow flower” hence little white flowers, kind of like clusters of snowflakes. Virginicus means “of Virginia,” which refers to purity (white inference once again) and maiden.
Resemble fluffy white snow
Many birds love the berries
It Takes Two ~
It takes a while for this gorgeous tree to make it to maturity. They grow only 6 to 10 inches a year. The flowers have a light fragrance in early spring. Another special trait, although it's hard to see, Fringies are boys and girls; and as common in nature, the male's flowers are a bit longer and showier. The female bears the clusters of fruit, you rarely see, since it takes a pollinating visit from Mr. Cuckoo Bumblebee.
Native as far north as Pennsylvania and New York, along our Atlantic coast (i.e. Virginia reference above) to southern Missouri and eastern Texas. It is not really considered indigenous to Illinois, but lucky us being near the river Mississippi, it does very well here, indeed. Our cultivated version is perfect in the landscape, growing from 15 to 20 feet, while the wild version is a bit more sparse and gangly reaching 35 feet in height.
Native areas of Fringe trees
Fruit of the female Fringe tree
Fringe tree seeds
Medicine Treasure Chest ~
The Fringe tree served us well in medicine, too. The bark of the root was used to treat congestion, as a diuretic, and for relief from jaundice. "King's American Dispensatory," a book first published in 1854 that covered the use of herbs and roots to treat numerous ailments in botanical-based American medicine proclaimed the benefits of the Fringe tree. Professor King stated, "that it is an excellent tonic in convalescence from 'exhaustive diseases,' and that it also proves a good local application in external inflammations, ulcers and wounds." In 1843, Prof. I. J. M. Goss, of Georgia, tested it on himself while suffering from an attack of jaundice. He reported success in treating his malady in an eastern journal and considered it to be the best remedy for all cases of jaundice not attributed to gall stones.
Distinctive Fringe tree bark
Botanical drawing of Fringe Tree from King's American Dispensatory
King's American Dispensatory
Our own Fringe Tree at the house of D.D.
Our Fringe up close is a beauty,
Christmas Trees ~
Although our garden has no Conifers growing,
Trisha did a grand job decorating five trees showing . . .
Traditions of eras of yesteryear,
displaying the holiday trend of the pine, juniper, and fir!
Some firsts of our Christmas tradition ~
While Germany started the Christmas tree tradition, the first American Christmas tree is credited to Henrick Roddmore. Henrick was a Hesssian soldier captured at the Battle of Bennington in Vermont in 1776. This would be a gratuitous circumstance indeed for he went to work on Samuel Denslow's family farm in Connecticut where he put up and decorated trees in celebration of Christmas until 1790.
First published image of a Christmas tree, frontispiece to Hermann Bokum's 1836, "The Stranger's Gift"
Clement Clarke Moore published his poem, "A Visit From St. Nicholas" in 1822 which we know now as "The Night Before Christmas"
Even ancient Egyptians used greens in their homes to symbolize life over death, and the tradition continued in the 1800s. It is believed candles were added to the trees thanks to Martin Luther. The story goes that as he was walking home one winter's eve and composing a sermon, awestruck by the brilliance of the stars twinkling through the evergreens inspired him. To recapture and share his experience with his family, he cut a tree and erected it in his main room. He wired the branches with candles. The candles symbolized the light of hope of the birth of the Christ child.
Illustration published in 1840 of Queen Elizabeth and Price Albert with a Christmas tree that started a Christmas tree craze.
In 1851, a couple of weeks before Christmas, a lumberjack, Mark Carr, hauled two ox sleds loaded with Christmas trees to the sidewalks of New York City to set up the first retail Christmas tree lot. Holiday revelers thrilled to have the hard work of traveling in the winter weather and chopping down trees immediately bought out his entire stock of trees. The next year more lumberjacks and farmers followed suit and the open-air Christmas tree market was born and remains a Christmas tradition to this day.
Load of Christmas Trees being delivered to The Washington Market in New York City circa 1912
Victorian Age of beauty ~
Our tree of glitz and glamour as depicted in the Victorian Age of the mid-1800s
Charles Dickens, "A Christmas Carol"
Charles Dickens did his part to spread charity and spending time with family with his wonderful short story, "A Christmas Carol." His book popularized the phrase, "Merry Christmas."
Charles Dickens did his part to spread charity and spending time with family with his wonderful short story, "A Christmas Carol." His book popularized the phrase, "Merry Christmas."
An associate of Thomas Edison, Edward Johnson, created the first string of Christmas tree lights. They were first sold on December 22, 1882, in New York City.
An illustration of an American Christmas circa 1870
Cards and holidays ~
Louis Prang (1824-1909)
While the concept of federal holidays began in 1870, Christmas was not officially declared a federal holiday until 1885.
The first Christmas cards were introduced to the United States in 1875. Louis Prang is considered to be the father of the Christmas card in America for his gloriously illustrated cards. Christmas cards had been popular in England since the 1840s.
Louis Prang Christmas Card
Artificial Christmas trees ~
Feather tree decorated with candles and berries as in the late 1800s.
The first artificial trees were developed in Germany in the 1880s. They were made of goose feathers died green and wired to wooden dowel rods. They were spaced to allow for candles to be attached to the branches and berries as well as other fruits and nuts. These feather trees became popular in America until the 1920s.
The patent for the artificial aluminum or tinsel tree was issued in 1955. These shiny silver trees were the craze from 1958 through 1970. They hit their peak in popularity in the mid-1960s. Because of the negative portrayal of tinsel trees in the Christmas special, "A Charlie Brown Christmas" in 1965, the popularity and subsequent sales of the tree plummeted and have never recoverd.
Our tinsel tree is still shiny.
A branch of holly leaves and berries with a touch of snow.
Hollies date back more than 90 million years belonging in the genus Ilex, in the holly family, Aquifoliaceae of 450 species. It is found on every continent of our planet except for Antarctica (of which no higher plants have been found).
We embark along the ancient road to Rome to begin our journey through time . . .
American Holly Bush ~
A classic beauty we know so well,
holly has quite a story to tell.
Glossy and dark are leaves with spikes,
garnished with ruby berries wildlife likes.
Filled with symbolism throughout the land,
let's explore and wander through the holly so grand . . .
Saturnalia - by Antoine Callet (1783)
In celebration of Saturnalia ~
The ancient Romans honored their god, Saturn, in celebration of abundance, wealth, agriculture, and eventually time originally on December 17th on the Julian calendar, about the time of the winter solstice. The holiday period eventually expanded from December 17th through December 23rd. It was a time of gift giving with a carnival atmosphere. Holly was considered sacred in Roman times and was placed around doors to keep evil spirits away. They believed the Oak Tree king ruled during the summer solstice while the Holy Tree king ruled in the winter.
Celtic Holly Moon ~
A sacred plant of the Druids, the Celtics believed the holly ruled death and winter taking over its reign beginning in mid-July lasting through December. Being the ruler of winter, the evergreen is symbolic of the immortality of nature, unity, courage, masculine energy as well as the stability of hearth and home.
Holly wood was used by ancients in the construction of weapons, chariots, spear shafts as well as for protective magic for the warrior.
Click image to learn more about ancient Celtic tree folklore.
As with the storms associated with the winter and summer solstices and their direct conflict of each other, the holly also symbolized the altercation of these solstices being at odds with each other.
Irish folklore ~
If holly was brought in to decorate a house during fair weather, then the wife would rule the house for that year. Whereas, if holly was brought in during a storm, the house would be ruled by the husband.
Fair weather holly ~ house ruled by wife.
European folklore ~
Stormy weather holly ~ house ruled by husband.
While holly hung around a door repelled evil throughout Europe, in many parts of Europe wreaths of holly were hung on the door inside. Now why would that be, you ask?
It just so happens that holly is the place elves and fairies prefer to hide and play as they await the elf Santa to arrive with gifts and cheer. They believe if they are good they will receive many gifts.
Holly, the perfect place for elves to hide and play.
Hang a holly wreath inside.
Is is important for the holly to be removed by Twelfth Night or the luck will turn bad. It remains a custom to this day for many churches to cut the holly into pieces and give it to the parishioners to so the good fortune remains and protection from evil is shared with all.
Christian symbolism ~
Holly is very symbolic to Christians. The thorny leaves represent the thorns of Christ's crown and the red berries his drops of blood. It is also told that the holly tree used to lose it leaves like the mighty oak tree during the winter.
However, it is told that a holly tree hid the Holy Family from Herod's soldiers by surrounding them with it's leaves as they clung tightly to each other around its trunk. Herod's men passed them by unnoticed allowing them to escape. God rewarded the holly tree and allowed it to keep it leaves all year round, thus making it an evergreen.
Herbal Medicine ~
Although many birds, squirrels, deer, and wildlife may consume the berries, it is not a favorite with wild animals though it will sustain them once the preferred sweet berries are gone. Berries are poisonous to people and pets. Swallowing holly berries can cause vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and drowsiness. Children have had symptoms after swallowing as few as two holly berries.
DO NOT EAT THE BERRIES!
Click image to visit www.poison.org
Holly Tea ~ Now, What Would That Be? . . .
While the berries are decidedly not good for us, holly leaves have been used for centuries for medicinal purposes. Leaves are harvested all year round since this is an evergreen tree. They can be used fresh and even dried for later use when collected in late spring.
Use of tea made from the leaves is said to have a diuretic effect, a laxative effect and induce sweating.
Holly leaves can be dried to make an herbal remedy tea.
From Linneaus to Dickens ~
Known as the "father of taxonomy," Carl Linnaeus was as popular in his time as Dickens was about one hundred years later. Linnaeus was not only the renowned physician, botanist, and zoologist of his day and beyond; he was gleefully celebrated as a wise man and poet of his day. His importance to the holly is his categorization and naming of the species. He was widely quoted and looked up to by scholars and ordinary folk as well, a rock star of his day.
(1707 - 1778)
A favourite expression of Linnaeus ~ "Temporis fila."
"If a tree dies, plant another in its place."
"It is not God, but people themselves who shorten their lives by not keeping physically fit."
"The plant kingdom covers the entire earth, offering our senses great pleasure and the delights of summer."
"Stones grow, plants grow, and live, animals grow live and feel."
Dickens and Holly ~
So fortunate we are in this day and time, to enjoy the classic stories of past Christmas made popular in the 1800s by Charles Dickens.
Click the images to read the entire books in PDF form. Enjoy! ~
(1812 - 1870)
A book by Dickens filled with color illustrations throughout!
Click image to read the book!
Click the play button above and turn up the volume to hear
The Holly Bush Polka
by Daniel Godfrey I
Two stories and illustrations wonderful reading.
Click image to read the book!
A thirty-one day of inspirational quotes and words to live by.
Click image to read the book!
Thank You! to the
Library of Congress
and archive.org for
making these wonderful
What Age Be Ye, Olde Holly Tree? . . .
American Holly Tree
Phone: Call Lavadna at 618.420.0288
Mail: c/o 104 Irene Dr., Collinsville, IL 62234