Say it with narcissi: flowers to celebrate the Chinese New Year

How a scented Mediterranean flower ended up bewitching the Far East

[~ 6 minutes]

Listening to: Yoko Kano,  Aqua

’Tis said that the sense of smell is intimately connected with memory, something that Proust and his madeleines apparently turned into an incontestable truth.

I am not usually assailed by memories when smelling anything in particular; however, there’s one scent that does trigger a Proustian recollection within me, the scent of a flower that blooms every winter in my parents’ garden: paper whites, or Narcissus tazetta L.

Although narcissus aren’t flowers you’d usually associate with Spain, it turns out that the Iberian peninsula actually boasts the greatest biological diversity of this genus: we have them in all shapes, sizes and colours. The ones I’m familiar with belong to one of the few divisions, the Tazettae, whose members bloom profusely on each flower stalk (instead of producing a single bloom at the tip).

Narcissus tazetta

If I had to choose a single word to describe them, if would be fragrant. Their perfume though can be dangerous, or so the ancient Greek myths would have it: some versions of Persephone’s descent into the Underworld featured the narcissus as the sweet-smelling flowers that Hades used to lure the young goddess into his clutches.

Indeed ’tis said that the name narcissus could be related to the Greek root narkao — the same that gave us words such as narcotic. Continue reading

The art of the meaningful flower gift

Lessons in choosing the perfect plant for the perfect occasion

[~ 6 minutes]

Listening to: Deanta, Harp Airs

Close your eyes for a moment, and think about the most memorable gift you’ve ever been given.

The one you hold dearest, the one that’s making you smile right now as you picture it in your mind.

If you’re anything like me, it’s probably not the most expensive gift you’ve ever received—perhaps not the most beautiful one by objective standards either. In my case, it’s something you might even be inclined to throw away were you to see it: a bunch of dry wild carrot umbels, bursting with prickly seeds.

Dry inflorescences of Daucus carota, wild carrot Continue reading