Tuesday, November 16, 2004

A Flower Fit for an Emperor

Blogger did it again...ate a posting I spent a lot of time on. Well, I'll just have to try it again.

I'm back from the school trip (obviously), and now, in honor of my visit to Kyoto, it's time once again to [nasal voice] TALK ABOUT FLOWERS!!!! [/nasal voice]

This time I'm going to talk about that lovely climbing vine with purple flowers, the wisteria.

The Japanese word for wisteria is fuji, and one tends to find that name root all over the place. There is a very good reason for that. During the Heian Era (9th to 11th centuries, as I've said many times now), when Kyoto first became the imperial capital, the Fujiwara clan (lit. "field of wisteria") was basically the same as the royal family. It was actually written into law that an emperor or crown prince could only marry a Fujiwara. If an emperor had a son by a woman that was not a Fujiwara (as did tend to happen), he was named Genji or Minamoto (same kanji, different reading) in order to ensure his ineligibility for the throne. This fact gave rise to the Heian Era novel The Tale of Genji as well as the later insurrection by the Minamoto descendents that ended the Heian Era and started the shogunate system. Needless to say, the Fujiwara held the reins of power all over the country for a considerable period. Their legacy remains in the form of all the landmarks and towns whose names include the word fuji.

There's also the fact that the wisteria is still a staple of parks and gardens here. It has been a favorite for at least the past 1000 years. Any park or garden of any real size will usually have a sort of shelter that is actually a hanging wisteria garden. The pale, purple flowers usually appear from late spring to early summer. The dense vine clusters and leaves provide an excellent, natural sunshade, a purpose for which they have been used for centuries since the Fujiwara were cast down. In autumn, the leaves fall off, and the sturdy vines lie more or less dormant until the following spring.

Wisteria, actually a member of the pea family, takes a bit of care and effort to grow. As its natural habitat is accumulations of organic debris in the boles of trees, it requires very nutrient-rich soil to grown in. It also tends to need fertilizer (a recommended variety being tomato puree!) added at intervals. A natural creeper, it grows toward the light, naturally spinning in a clockwise direction as it crawls its way up and around its support. It also tends to grow best in a warm, moist environment, meaning seedlings should be cultured in a greenhouse. Once it establishes itself on a firm support, it quickly grows to cover it, putting forth generous leaves as well as its beautiful flowers.


ladybug said...

Wisteria is one of my favorites too! The adobe walk on the Univ. of Santa Clara Campus has wisteria that was over 150 years old (if they haven't cut it down by now). Also, Clackamas Community College has (had?) a beautiful Wisteria by one of the entrances to the Commons-it was very special as the 3-4 vine trunk was woven into a celtic-type pattern before it branched out to cover the seating area.

The Moody Minstrel said...

I'm a Clackamas Community College alum, but I don't remember that. Of course, I doubt I would remember something like that. I was too busy being disgusted by the social culture around me. (Too many morons with even more moronic fashions...it was the early to mid '80s, after all.) My C.C.C. days did me a lot of good, as it turned out (fortunately), but a lot of that experience is a comfortable blur.

Don Snabulus said...

Ah, CCC. I remember boiling off our Lifesaver scented esters in chemistry to overcome the smell of the other students experiments.

I remember giving blood, then enjoying a huge wad of chewing tobacco as it first gave me a massive nicotine buzz followed by waves of nausea.

But most of all, I remember how glad I was to be there instead of high school. People actually studied and valued knowledge instead of acting like neanderthals (most of my high school student body) or tenured conformists with no knowledge of pubescent cognitive processes (most of my high school teachers).