Monday, December 3, 2018

Magical Mistletoe



Mistletoe is traditionally used at Christmas and has a long and colorful history including myth and medicinal remedies. It may be seen in various leafless trees... bright and thriving throughout the winter months.

All Mistletoe plants are parasitic, meaning they attach to a host and thus take from it nutrients and water necessary to live. Over time this process may weaken or even kill the host, giving Mistletoe a rather bad reputation. In the plant kingdom, parasitism has evolved only nine times and Mistletoe has independently evolved five, making it one extraordinary species. It is a large family with over nine hundred species located in Europe, North America and Australia. Without becoming too scientific, it is safe to say that most Mistletoe is completely self-sufficient and adaptive to changes in climate.

The enigma of Mistletoe easily lends itself to lore. It hangs air born between heaven and earth, has no roots yet bears fruit, and remains green and vibrant during the winter months. It was said to have been revered by the Druids as most holy, especially if it appeared on an Oak which was their most sacred tree. The golden berries of the plant were considered a key linking the heavens and underworld. Cut with a golden sickle on December 23rd (the day of the marriage of the solar and lunar forces), it was not allowed to touch the ground but was caught with a white cloth thus ensuring fertility, protection from evil, abundance, and harmony. The ritual of kissing under the Mistletoe has its origin in these pagan beliefs.

Norse mythology has Baldur, the solar hero child of Frigg and Odin, killed by a twig of Mistletoe. As Baldur descended to the Underworld, it was said that he would not return until after doomsday. Then, as the solar god, the light of the heavens, he will usher in an era of peace and light to mankind. His story is long, full of conspiracy and jealousy as the gods and goddesses of old were prone to petty emotions, however the historical power of the plant has remained.

Never to be outdone, the Greeks too have a story with Mistletoe as the centerpiece. Aeneas, a young hero, used the power of a golden bough of Mistletoe as the key which allowed for the safe entrance and return of a mortal to the Underworld. He went below and sought his father for advice and counsel and returned unharmed yet transformed and spiritually reborn.

Among Christians, it is said that Mistletoe was once a vibrant tree which was used as the wood for the cross of the crucifixion of Christ. Afterwards the disgraced tree shriveled and was reduced to a parasitic vine as punishment.

Medicinally, although the berries are poisonous, it has been used as a remedy for epilepsy with wood amulets said to ward off attacks. It has been used to reduce stress related heart palpations, relieve headaches and dizziness caused by high blood pressure, and since ancient times to treat tumors. Recent medical research has promising results with Mistletoe as a cure for cancer.

Whatever the reason to include this marvelous plant… a kiss below it, a wish for good luck, or simply a spot of bright green… it is truly a magical addition to any Christmas decor.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Forcing Paper White Narcissus for the Holidays


 
Ten Days... time for a shot of Gin


The days seem to be passing rather quickly and with the arrival of Thanksgiving it is  time to ‘force’ some bulbs for Christmas. For those unfamiliar with the process, ‘forcing’ is the method by which a bulb is planted and compelled to grow and bloom out of season by exposure to the warm temperature indoors. This process brings the bulbs into bloom long before they would bloom outdoors thus allowing us the pleasure of their company during the winter months.

 

Since their ancestors came from warm areas of the Mediterranean the darling Paperwhite Narcissus requires no cold to bloom and may easily forced. Taking only three to four weeks to flower, they will bloom faithfully providing both fragrance and cheer for the holidays. So easy is the growth habit of these bulbs that anchoring material may include gravel, pebbles, colored glass stones, or moss as acceptable mediums. Any sort of shallow growth container whether pottery, glass, or clay will work as well. 

 

First select large, top-grade, flawless bulbs which are free of sooty mold then choose a favorite container that will be lovely as a centerpiece or focal point. Perhaps select a glass bowl for the added pleasure of watching the roots as they begin to grow and slowly twine about the stones. Grandmother’s shallow crystal bowl filled with red, white, and green glass stones is beautiful for Christmas but more a more rustic selection might include a pottery bowl with polished rocks or pea gravel. If a large container is chosen, more bulbs will be needed and the display will entirely riotous… often more is better!  

 

Fill the bottom of the container with whatever you have chosen to anchor your bulbs making a bed about two to three inches deep. Gently press the bulbs halfway down the bulb mass, wriggling and carefully nestling them until they stand firmly on their own. Try to space the bulbs about two inches apart, remembering to place several in the center as well. After arranging your bulbs, fill the container with enough water to cover your anchoring material, moistening the bulbs approximately half way up. Keep this water level, adding a little each day if necessary and your bulbs will begin to flower in three to four weeks. Remember to give the bowl a shot of gin as the first flower buds appear. The gin will slightly stunt the foliage and force it to stand ‘at attention’ thus preventing the wilt so prevalent with forced Narcissus.

 

As the roots grow, the reed-like foliage will first appear and suddenly many tiny blooms arrive, slowly swelling, then opening over the course of several days. The marvelous sweet smelling flowers will last several weeks before it is time to discard them. Sadly, the temperature-trickery used to force early bloom has confused and destroyed the bulb’s internal clock… they have given their ’all’ this season.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Feed the Birds!






The weather has proven challenging to say the least with surprising temperature plunges. As the winter deepens, feeding the birds becomes serious business for without our help, many may not survive the freezing temperature plunges. True bird aficionados feed year round, but I feel it is best to insist they forage until the weather no longer permits or food is no longer easily obtainable.

We all remember the haunting nursery rhyme:
“The North wind doth blow,
And we shall have snow,
And what will poor Robin do then,
Poor thing?”


The illustration accompanying this little ditty often displays a pitiful Robin lying on its back in deep snow with fixed eyes, twig-like claws, a beak barely opened… clearly dying from either starvation or hypothermia! Notwithstanding the implied cruelty of presenting such images to small children, the visualization of this “Poor Thing” easily instills enough guilt to encourage one to purchase a high quality bag of wild bird feed immediately!

Most birds like the commercial mixtures but if you want to splurge purchase additional sunflower seeds and thistle. Many beautiful songbirds spend the winter indulging in entertaining antics and now that the trees are bare, it is possible to see and hear them far better. Once you begin feeding you will discover every bird has personality traits characteristic to their individual species.

The Blue Jays are excitable, boisterous, rather the bullies and always traveling in a gang. The Cardinals are polite, laid back and lacking in aggression. All species of the Woodpecker family demand and receive respect; their beaks are daunting and their presence can clear the feeder immediately. The darling finches squabble and tumble about while the Black Capped Chickadee and timid Titmouse dart for sunflower seeds. The wonderfully enthusiastic Sparrows are mentioned in the Bible as one of God’s favorites.

Birds eat in regular intervals during the day much as we eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. For this reason the feeder is sometimes chaotically busy with all species feeding together in a feathered fluff of noisy competition while other times the filled feeder stands alone. The word spreads quickly among the bird community and those who provide feed will find themselves at the height of popularity this time of year. With many months of winter, plan to enjoy the bird show from the warmth of your easy chair!