Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Monday, August 13, 2012

Daphne hits my nose every afternoon.

With scented plants, I generally like to grow them close to the front door, so I get to smell them when I walk out from, or into, the house. In the case of my Daphne, I almost regret that, just at present.
The scent is so strong it literally "stings" my nose (and perhaps my eyes).

It is only a low-growing plant, a small shrub, so it does not physically "hit my nose". But if you are familiar with the Daphne odora, you probably understand why I have written that.

Daphne odora - seen from my front deck

Daphne odora - close up of flowers

Daphne odora - close up of flowers

The strength of its perfume is dependent upon a number of factors.
  • Wind - strong wind, such as we endured last week, disperses the perfume "bubble" which normally surrounds the plant.
  • Humidity - in late afternoons, as humidity rises, the scent becomes much more prominent.
  • age of the flowers. My plant opened its first flowers last week, and so these flower heads are still maturing, and are just about to reach their peak. So its perfume strength is now at its maximum. As the open flowers age, it will lessen in the strength of its perfume.
There are a number of commonly grown "Species Daphnes", D. x burkwoodi (technically a hybrid, but a nice, small plant and readily available in specialist plant Nurseries in Australia); D. cneorum, and D. mezereum. There are many more "species" of Daphnes, but most will be of interest only to "collectors" of rare and unusual plants.
There are also some common varieties of the D. odora, which have white flowers, and some with variegated leaves.

Incidentally, my ceramicist friend, Celeste taught me something about Daphne, through one of her ceramic art works. She insists on shaping any Daphne figures she might make, with a plant root growing out from her leg (or is it really the other way round?)

According to ancient Greek mythology "Daphne prays for help either to the river god Peneus or to Gaia, and is transformed into a laurel (Laurus nobilis): "a heavy numbness seized her limbs, thin bark closed over her breasts, her hair turned into leaves, her arms into branches, her feet so swift a moment ago stuck fast in slow-growing roots, her face was lost in the canopy. Only her shining beauty was left."
Bernini's sculpture of Daphne and Apollo
Out of artistic enthusiasm,
Bernini left Daphne's breast fully visible
and nicely shaped, if I might say so.

The God who pursued Daphne was Apollo. So, the laurel became sacred to Apollo, and crowned the victors at the Pythian Games. This is the origin of crowning the ancient Olympic champions with wreaths of Laurel leaves.

So, there is an Olympic connection in this post, which is timely.

Daphnes are not classed as related to Laurels, botanically, but there is an obvious similarity in leaf shape, so we can forgive the ancient Greeks for some slight confusion. 

Daphne plants are said to be poisonous in all their parts, so do not attempt to use Daphne instead of a "Bay Leaf" in your next custard.


cloud farmer said...

Dear Denis,
Another fabulous Blog, about one of my favourite nymphs. I shall have to plant Daphne near my front door, too. Currently a bay adorns the stoop...
Thanks for your informative and well written epistles.XX

ZielonaMila said...

Beautiful collection of photographs. I am greeting

mick said...

That's a great description - in imagination I can almost smell the perfume. Plus it brings back memories - it was my Mum's favorite flower.

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Celeste
I shall pick up a Daphne plant for you some time, or I may even have a "spare" in an old pot tucked away in the wilderness.
Glad you liked the story.
And I am glad you explained to me why Daphne's leg is always depicted as growing down into the ground. My Catholic mythology stopped with the "lives of hte Saints", and while Daphne's story has many parallels amongst the list of "Martyrs and Virgins", being Greek, and hence her followers were Orthodox, she never made it to the list.
Note how I avoided using the verb "rooted" in the story.

Denis Wilson said...

Hi ZielonaMila
Welcome to a visitor from Poland.
ZelionaMila's blog is about cycling tours through the amazing castles and churches and forests of Poland.
Well worth a look.
Follow the link in the comment (above).

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Mick
Glad this story resonated with you, and brought back memories of your Mum and her favourite flower.