Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Purpled Alcove

The colony resides in a sunny hillside alcove on the Two Hundred Acre Wood, and although it is surrounded by a dense thicket of armored Prickly Ash, it can be seen from quite a distance. Because of the wicked thorns, I usually avoid the area, (although I'm wearing the marks of an encounter this morning), and local deer also give a wide berth to Zanthoxylum americanum. The thicket is a favored nesting place of indigo buntings, and the birds flit merrily in and out in summer, lighting up the hill with plumage in a fetching variation of my favorite color.

In Greek, the word iris means "eye of heaven", and it is the name of a goddess - our sumptuous summer blooms take their name from Iris, goddess of the rainbow. Messenger of the gods on Mount Olympus, she carried messages between heaven and earth along the rainbow, and another of her sacred tasks was carrying the souls of deceased women to the Elysian fields, the final resting place of those who were heroic and virtuous in life.

There has always been something alluring and powerful about irises and the number three.  One form or another of the three-petaled iris grows in almost every tropical or temperate corner of island earth, and the flower has been associated with individual cultures for time out of mind.

In its purple form, the iris symbolizes royalty and divine protection, and it was cherished by Merovingian monarchs (such as Clovis) who used it as a device on military banners and painted it on their walls. To my mind, there is something incongruous about the flower being used as a heraldic device by a legendary confederation of bellicose Frankish tribes. Perhaps they simply liked the color? After the Merovingians along came the combative Carolingian kings, and the iris became the "fleur-de-lis" beloved of France today.

For ancient Indian and Middle Eastern cultures, the iris represented life, virtue and resurrection.  For us, the wildflower (along with the Showy Lady's-slipper) is emblematic of summer, and when it comes to purple, the irises have it all.

1 comment:

littlemancat said...

Love this flower and color - a blue purple. A holy blue, seems to me.