Rhododendrons

Rhododendrons, from the Greek for rose tree, are a highly invasive species which is not native in the UK.  It is poisonous and it destroys habitats for native wildlife and competes with native plants.  There are over 1,000 species and all parts of the plant contain toxins.  Despite this, we continue to grow them in gardens for pleasure.

I want to start by taking a look at the poison aspect.  When eaten, it causes vomiting, diarrhoea and constipation, slow heart rate, loss of coordination, falling and exhaustion. It tends to be animals that are affected by the poison although it’s still poisonous to humans, it’s just there is less chance of us ingesting it.  Apparently there was a bout of poisoning in 400BC in Turkey that may have been down to toxic honey made from the nectar of the rhododendrons.  Unsurprisingly, in the Victorian language of flowers, this plant symbolises danger and to beware.

The second key aspect of this flower, for me, is that they are big on interbreeding which results in hybrids and new species (hence the vast number of them).  In terms of what this might mean to us if we are drawn to the plant or feel it is sending us a message, I think it’s about boundaries.  Breaking them down and building them up.  It is clearly about sexuality and fertility and creation as well but it’s important to note that the rhododendron isn’t held back by ideas about who it should and shouldn’t breed with.  It isn’t hindered by labels and societal beliefs around race, class, gender and sexuality.  To a certain extent, this feels like an advocate of free love!  Just make sure you keep yourself safe 😉

Outside the sexual arena, this could be asking you to look at collaboration.  Mixing things up.  Taking one idea from one field and using it in another.  Working with someone from a different profession, a different background.  The place where subjects meet is fertile ground for creation of ideas and art works and breakthroughs.  Bring together your passions and see what magic happens!

 

Birthing: A rite of passage?

If this doesn’t read well, please note that it was basically a free writing kind of post.  I sat down 17 minutes ago and just typed and thought.  

I touched on this a bit in my post about periods.  Within the feminist, women embracing, self development, personal growth type of areas, there is a line of thinking which focuses on menstruation and childbirth.  I am not at all saying this is wrong.  These are important things to embrace and both have been significantly damaged by the patriarchy.  The idea that menstruation is dirty, for example, or that child birth should be a clean and medicalised affair.  We have removed the idea of child birth from the idea of sex when surely the two are too heavily intertwined for that.

Anyway, these lines of thinking embrace and celebrate these aspects of life.  They do not necessarily disparage those who are women and do not experience one or both.  There are some people who do that but on the whole, the approach is one of celebration what some women do experience, not isolating those who do not.

I do fully understand the importance of child birth and the need to reclaim it.  A very natural and vital process which has been removed from the sphere of the body somehow.  But this post is not about that.

As a society we don’t really have rites of passages these days.  Possibly leaving home, getting a home, getting married and having children are the closest I can think of.  For women, if we were to look at possible points in life for rites of passage, I imagine most people would go straight to the first time a young women bleeds and then to childbirth.  Neither of these are celebrated and neither of them are something all women will experience.  Not all women have periods and not all women have give birth.

I have written a lot about periods but in summary, I have them and am trying to stop them.  In terms of childbirth, firstly I cannot get pregnant through natural means, secondly being pregnant would potentially worsen my health and thirdly, I cannot look after a child.

So I will not experience this rite of passage.  As I was reading an article about childbirth as a transformative and important experience, I started to wonder about myself.  What have I birthed?  What can I birth?

And actually, the answer was easy for me.  I have birthed myself.  The last few years have been intensely powerful and transformative for me.  And probably in ways that giving birth to a child would not have been.  I have found and owned and continue to seek myself.

I believe the birthing of myself began with deep depression, followed by anorexia and through it a loss of myself.  I disappeared, literally and metaphorically.  And that, whilst a horrific experience, gave me a blank canvas.  A place to start rebuilding.  There are a variety of things which make up my day to day and my sense of self that I don’t think I would have found, or refound, without that experience.  In many senses, I died and was reborn.  I had to work hard for this.  And I still have to work hard.  But I have learnt to parent myself.  To encourage myself and draw me out of my shell.

I may not have given birth to a baby, but I have birthed myself and I continue to nurture myself, this precious being that I put my heart and soul into healing.

Link roundup

I’m not especially intending to make these link posts regular but I keep reading some interesting stuff!

Snowdrop

These delicate flowers are actually hardy plants that permeate the snows and frosts of the early year to brave the cold, wintery air.  The scientific name, Galanthus, comes from the Greek for “milk flower”.  How beautiful and fitting is that?!

In terms of reproduction, they are vigorous and spread rapidly through bulb offsets as well as by seed dispersal and animal and water disturbances.  They tend to be found near human habitation and former monastic sites.  Because they flower so early in the year, they can thrive under deciduous trees who won’t yet have leaves to block the sun.  This gives the snowdrop a specific niche in the woodland that many plants would not be able to survive in.  The more I find out about this plant, the hardier and sturdier they seem to be, despite their delicate appearances.  To push through the snow, they have tough, hardened leaves which can also push through frozen soil.  This is a determined, resolute plant.  The embodiment of power and fragility, strength and softness.

Naturally, given their timing and their colouring, they are celebrated as a sign of spring and the associated purity, birth and fertility.  As the flower of January, they bring hope and remind us that better days are coming.  They are the symbol of candlemas and are dedicated to the virgin mary.

Apparently, when Adam and Eve were forced out of the garden of eden, they entered a world of winter.  Here an angel blow on some snowflakes which turned into snowdrops and were a sign that better things were coming and a lesson that there is always hope, even in the darkest winter.

According to flowermeaning.com, a German legend tells how the snowdrop made a deal with a snowflake:

When God created snow, he gave it the task of visiting the flowers of the earth to gather colors. All the flowers refused, until the snow visited the gentle snowdrop. Seeing that the snowdrop was a kind and generous soul, the snow decided to make a deal. In exchange for her color, the snow agreed to allow the snowdrop to bloom first every spring. The delicate snowdrop agreed and cheerfully blooms amid the snow each spring.

Despite this link to pureness and life, the snowdrop is actually poisonous and can cause death.  A single snowdrop flower is said to signify impending death and should never be bought into the house (possibly because it could be mistaken for something edible?).

For me, the main message from the snowdrop is that of holding duality; life and death, strength and vulnerability.

None of the above should be considered medical advice, do not eat anything unless you’ve done your research.  Plants go by different names in different places and have different properties at different times of year.  Some of the possible uses of this plant have come from folklore and should not be taken as fact.

Lesser Celandine

To the small celandine
Pansies, Lilies, Kingcups, Daisies,
Let them live upon their praises;
Long as there’s a sun that sets
Primroses will have their glory;
Long as there are Violets,
They will have a place in story:
There’s a flower that shall be mine,
‘Tis the little Celandine.

-William Wordsworth

Following on from my dream identification of plantain, I shortly after identified lesser celandine intuitively.  I don’t remember ever learning these plant names, I just have this sense sometimes that I just know something without any idea how or why.  Anyway, for me, this means that the lesser celandine has a personal connection with intuition and knowledge.

Lesser celandine is related to buttercups and is known, less beautifully, as pilewort.  It has heart shaped leaves and little yellow petals which close up in bad weather and display as gorgeous stars in good weather.  Appearing with the swallows in spring, they were traditionally a sign that it was time to sow crops.  This was an important part of the year for our ancestors so the arrival of the little golden flowers will have been significant.

These are not plants that are to be eaten.  If you ingest them raw they can be fatal.  This goes for grazing animals as well.  Despite their pleasant demeanour, they can be deadly.  All plants from the buttercup family contain a chemical which turns into a toxin when the plant is wounded.  This toxin can cause itching, rashes and blistering if it comes in contact with skin.  If eaten, it can cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness, spasms, paralysis and jaundice.

In addition to harming humans and animals, they are harmful to other plants and are considered invasive species in some parts of the world.  They grow to dominate areas rapidly and have an intensive mat of roots.  This, and it’s early flowering, give it a strign advantage over most plants and it can quickly form a monopoly along the rivers and waterways that it prefers.

Despite all this, lesser celandine has been used medicinally.  As you might guess from it’s alternative name pilewort, it was used to treat haemorrhoids in the past.  It also has antifungal and antibacterial properties, but the plant must be heated or dried to alleviate the effects of the toxin.

The lesser celandine also redeems itself through it’s duty to bees.  As it is one of the first flowers to appear after winter, they are an important source of nectar for insects who are emerging from hibernation.  In particular, they provide vital food for queen bees, without whom we would have no bees and pollination the world over would be fatefully affected.

This role as one of the early flowers of the year has led to it symbolising joy to come.  It is a glimpse of the summer sun and the warmth and harvest that will be reaped.

None of the above should be considered medical advice, do not eat anything unless you’ve done your research.  Plants go by different names in different places and have different properties at different times of year.  Some of the possible uses of this plant have come from folklore and should not be taken as fact.

Woodpigeons

Written on 27th July

The humble woodpigeon… I have been compelled to write this by my two friendly garden woodpigeons.  They perch on my fence and coo and dance about and I see them almost every day.  Then this morning, a juvenile woodpigeon literally crashed into my life, or at least my window.  I was sitting on my bed reading and then bang, crash, bang…  As I write this, the little bird is perched on the window ledge looking a bit stunned and confused.  It keeps peeking into my bedroom and doesn’t seem at all fazed by anything.  I’m assuming it’s in shock but I’m also assuming any attempt to help it right now will only worsen things… I’m fairly certain it’s parents are just the other side of the building so I’m hoping they will conduct the rescue mission.

Woodpigeons seem a very mundane animal to consider.  They are our most common pigeon and are found basically everywhere and have a variety of regional names which reflect this; the woody, cushat, cushy-do, quist, ringdow and ring dove.  But perhaps it’s this abundance that we can learn from.  You can probably recognise a pigeon even if you aren’t at all interested in birds.  And even then you’ll almost certain recognise the call of the woodpigeon.

These birds play the background music to our lives.  They sing away in the chorus, not noticed and not appreciated but important all the same.  Like the earthworm, they are overlooked and their role in the world often goes unremarked upon.  Because of this, when they have a message or a lesson for us, they sometimes need to literally crash into our awareness.  They are calling on us to acknowledge the people, the lives and the things which go unseen.  Whether it’s the train driver that gets you to work, the security guard who always opens the door or the person who collects your bins.  It might be gestures from our friends that we take for granted – that cup of tea your partner makes for you first thing in the morning or the friend who drops you a message every now and then just to let you know they’re thinking of you.  And this goes beyond people and animals and asks that we smile at the little beauties we find in our days.  The way the sun beams dance on the walls.  The flower that is growing with such tenacity through the pavement.

Aside: the one on my window ledge has just started moving around so is hopefully coming out of shock.  He still keeps peeking into the room and I’m quietly smiling back, trying to avoid causing more shock!

They are fairly big for British birds and they look bigger than they are as they often fluff up their feathers.  This appearance of being overweight is not helped when they waddle as they walk…  In reality, their feathers weigh more than their skeleton which is amazing!  It takes a lot of effort for the wood pigeon to take flight and they can’t fly through small gaps.  This means that instead of using stealth to escape, they clatter and clamour through the trees, hence another of their names – the clatter dove.  They make a fuss and make sure that you know they are there.  These background birds do try to get our attention and we should do them the honour of listening.

The birds which hop along my fence make me smile and chuckle and I love hearing them coo when I wake up at obscene times of the day and night.  I love that when I was really ill one night, the woodpigeon kept me company.

As with any animal, reproduction is a huge part of life and for the woodpigeon breeding can occur anytime throughout the year but peaks in August.

Courtship displays involve birds flying fairly high before clapping the wings together and gliding down, as well as males strutting and fluffing out their chest feathers. Daddy woodpigeon will bring his mate nesting materials which she then forms into a shallow and flimsy platform like nest.  Whilst this is most likely in a tree, they aren’t fussy and will adapt depending on the environment, nesting inside buildings or on the ground if they need to.

Once the nest is built, the female lays two white shiny eggs.  These are incubated by both parents for about 17 days before they hatch.  They are then fed milk from the other which is formed in her crop and is highly nutritious.  It takes 29-35 days before the babies fledge.  Sadly, especially for my little guy, the majority of young ones die within their first year…

Reactions to woodpigeons are varied.  I love the two I have on my fence, they make me smile.  And I loved the baby who visited me today despite the emotional trauma he put me through!  Some people go out of their way to feed them whilst others see them purely as pests which steal food from bird feeders and cause damage to crops.  It is estimated that they cause at least £3 million worth of damage to agricultural businesses each year in the UK.  Your feelings about them will depend a lot on your own role in life but remember, however you view them, don’t overlook them.  Pay attention to the abundance and don’t take them for granted.

Update: The woodpigeon has finally left my window.  It promptly went and sat in the road for ages and filled me with fear… It did eventually leave and I wish it a happy, long life.

Edited to add: Reading about the passenger pigeon is a helpful illustration of what happens when we take abundance for granted.

Plantain

Plantain came to me in a dream.  Despite not consciously knowing it’s name, when I was asked to identify it in my dream, I was correct.  This plant is also known as ribwort and is not to be confused with the banana like fruit.  There are different kinds of plantain but they all belong to the Plantago family.  Because of this, it’s hard to know which plant different beliefs and practices belong to – many are just referred to as plantain.  In the time these were written, it would likely have been known which type based on local growth.  For the purposes of this post, I’m keeping things general so I really do implore you not to take any of this as advice.

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This plant has a number of medicinal uses including antiseptic and antibiotic properties.  It is used in healing and treating inflammation.  Used externally it can reduce bleeding and is often used in place of a plaster to close a wound.  It is said the leaves can also reduce the pain of bites and stings.

The leaves are also edible, like most leaves they are best when they are young.  They also provide food and valuable nutrition for grazing animals and wildlife.

Plantain has also been called “waybroad” because of it’s tendencies to grow along the edge of roads and trails and paths.  Because of it’s healing properties, it is a good companion to have on a journey or a pilgrimage.

It is one of the nine anglo-saxon sacred herbs.  The others being chamomile, chervil, crab apple, fennel, mugworth, nettle, sainfoin and watercress.  Within this context, it was referred to as the mother of herbs and was known for it’s ability to pull things out of things, whether that was nutrients from the soil or a splinter from a wound.  Symbolically you might want to consider what lessons you can draw from experiences or what bounty you can gather from the world around you.  Look for the beauty and the gold in your life and pull them out from the mundane once in a while to admire them and cherish them.

Despite being considered sacred, it does have a reputation as an abundant weed.  Native Americans apparently called it Whiteman’s Foot as it sprang up everywhere following the arrival and invasion from the Europeans.

This speaks highly to it’s ability to thrive, reproduce and survive.  As the white man invaded, so did the plantain.  Plantain is an excellent grower!  They are found in most of Britain, with the exception of highly acidic grassland.  Despite this, they do not exclude or prevent other plants from thriving as some dominant plants can.  This contrasts harshly with how man approached America.  Where the plant moved in alongside, man went to conquer.

Plantain is tailored for survival.  As we’ve seen, they thrive in most conditions, their seeds contain a watery substance which helps them grow in dry soil and if conditions aren’t right, the seed can survive a long time waiting months or years until it is ready to grow.  This puts me in mind of a quote I’ve used before in other posts:

There is a perfect time for everything. If the tulip surfaces in the heart of winter, the bitter winds won’t give her a chance.
– Rebecca Campbell

Living well and growing strong can mean knowing when it is time to rest and time to act.  We all thrive in different circumstances and getting to know ourselves means we can use this to our advantage.  Instead of battling against the frosts of winter, use that time to nourish yourself and prepare for your wonderful blooming come spring sun.

One of my earliest memories of plantain, although I didn’t know it’s name then, is of sitting in the playground in primary school pulling apart the leaves.  If you’ve never done this it can be quite satisfying.  What I didn’t know then is that you can also use it as a lie detector!  If you pick a leaf, and count the number of ribs, it’ll tell you how many lies you’ve told that day.  I believe the leaves can also be used in love divination which might be more appealing to most people – knowing how many lies you’ve told seems a bit useless and I can’t see how you’re going to get someone else to do it to show you how many lies they’ve told!

None of the above should be considered medical advice, do not eat anything unless you’ve done your research.  Plants go by different names in different places and have different properties at different times of year.  Some of the possible uses of this plant have come from folklore and should not be taken as fact.