Friday, January 1, 2016

Winter Bloomers

Drawing of Winter Blooming Jasmine
Here we are on the first day of 2016, a chilly Friday after a surprising December of days in the 60s and even 70s.  Plants are confused.  Even the Winter Blooming Jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum), the deciduous perennial vine in the Oleaceae family, is ahead of itself.  I usually look forward to seeing its sunny yellow flowers in February knowing that they foretell of warm and sunny days. In Chinese, the plant name translates to the  “welcoming spring flower,” which it usually is.  It usually flowers on the first warm day in January and then stops blooming when a freezing frosty day comes along.  It flowers again in February and March, a welcoming of spring.  But it can bloom all winter long responding to warm temperatures.   We’ll see what happens this winter, but so far it is in bloom.

The flowers of the plant might remind you of  another Oleaceae, Forsythia.  Both plants originally come from China and their flowers emerge directly from naked leafless stems.  But forsythia is a later bloomer, usually in early March or April.

Winter Blooming Jasmine was introduced to England in 1844 by the Scottish plant collector and botanist, Robert Fortune (1812-1880), also known as the man who stole tea plants from China and brought them to India to help create the East India Company’s tea business, but that is another story engagingly told by Sarah Rose in her book on the subject.  

As the New Year begins, I am thinking of a better side of the plant collecting of the aptly named Fortune: Winter Blooming Jasmine, a plant that he bought in a Shanghai nursery and sent back to England’s Royal Horticulture Society where it became a big hit and ultimately found its way to America.

And then there is its name.  I have a personal affinity for “Jasmine,” a plant with many varieties and all with great beauty, and some--unlike the winter jasmine--with a perfumy scent as well. The genus name is originally from the Persian Yasameen, "gift from God" or Yasmin. I had a student this semester named Yasmin, a brilliant student, who wears her name well.  The second part of the name nudiflorum means naked flower and refers to the fact that the flowers bloom on stems bare of leaves.  The Winter Blooming Jasmine is a winter gift and promise of spring—the sun, the flowers, the butterflies, the light. 

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