In the mid-nineteenth century, the area around the northern Japanese city of Towada was designated as imperial ranchland, devoted to raising horses for the samurai cavalry.
The most famous of these horses was probably First Frost, which Emperor Hirohito rode for propaganda purposes during World War II. The U.S. Navy claimed to confiscate First Frost but actually left it with Hirorhito's personal property. Admiral "Bull" Halsey had promised to ride Hirorhito's horse when the Americans arrived in Tokyo, so another all-white horse was substituted for a ceremonial ride through town, for propaganda purposes.
Towada recalls its heritage with bronze horses spilling out onto a main street designated officially as Government Administration Road, nicknamed Horse Road. There are also 151 cherry trees along the road.
Mandrake flowers, shown here as buds just beginning to open, are pretty little bell-shaped blossoms, but they are traditionally of little interest. The leaves are heavy and heart-shaped and can grow huge over the course of a summer, but they too are mostly overlooked. With mandrake, a plant native to the Mediterranean region, it's all about the root.
Mandrake root is long and thick and often split into two legs, sometimes arguably resembling the human form. It's also powerfully sleep-inducing when ground and soaked; it was used as an anesthetic in antiquity and into the Middle Ages. In the bible, and perhaps also in the poetry of John Donne, extract of mandrake root cured infertility. In folklore all over Europe, a human-shaped mandrake root in your pocket offered protection even if the church was not on your side; Joan of Arc was charged with "habitually" carrying root of mandrake.
Mandrake was said to spring up in ground drenched with blood or semen from a man being hanged. If you pulled the plant up out of the ground, as Shakespeare warned us, its man-root would scream, and you could die from hearing the scream. There was a report as late as the ninteenth century of a British gardener falling down the stairs and dying after accidentally pulling up a volunteer mandrake.
(In Harry Potter, of course, young witches and wizards wore protection.)
In 1934, "Mandrake the Magician" emerged as the world's first modern costumed superhero, in a newpaper comic strip that ran continuously until 2013. The hero Mandrake's ability to instantly hypnotize bad guys may have been, pardon the expression, rooted in the medicinal tradition of the mandrake plant.
From the Lockridge community near Durham, North Carolina, comes this photo and note from Carol Stack: "My first selfie, with birthday flowers."
This time of year also marks the birthday of our boy John, a.k.a. J.J. Good cheer to both, many happy returns, and let's hear it for one-eyed floral birthday selfies!
Above, the Longwood horticulturists grafted more than a hundred varieties of mums onto a single stem and somehow got them all blooming at the same time.
Below is a single bloom of the 'Nijin Bigo' cultivar, which we are told translates as 'Irregular incurve' Chrysanthemum morifolium.