If you wish to create a bold and beautiful tropical background to your landscape this summer, now (March/April) is a great time to plant Elephant Ear bulbs.
For about the past 15 years, I have been fortunate to enjoy Elephant Ears in my back yard with very, very little garden work involved. There was only one really very cold winter that I recall when I had to plant a few extra bulbs the following spring, otherwise my Elephant Ears have reliably sprouted and multiplied throughout the years. (That really cold winter I’m speaking of was the very unusual February in 2011 when we had freezing temps and ice on the ground for 3 -4 days straight – during Super Bowl weekend of all inconvenient times!) At any rate, the reason I mention this is because Elephant Ears are tropical plants and thus, are considered annuals in Zones 7b and northward. You will most likely have to dig up the bulbs and overwinter them from year to year if you reside in the less than tropical zones of the U.S. The good news about this practice is it will give you the opportunity to split the corms (or eyes of the bulbs) and produce more plants the following year. I personally live in Zone 8a and as I stated earlier, although my Elephant Ears are 95% of the time perennial, there is always a little wiggle room with the annual/perennial designation depending upon the location in your yard that you plant your bulbs and if you have a particularly cold or warm winter. (For a detailed garden zone map, including lookup by ZIP code, see http://www.garden.org/zipzone/index.php.)
Elephant Ears are fast-growing, huge foliage plants very similar to, but much, much larger than their close relatives, caladiums. Depending upon where you live, Elephant Ears will grow 3 – 6 feet tall and their leaves can become as large as . . . ummm . . . Elephant Ears! Because of their bold appearance and need for ample space both in width and height, it is best to plant Elephant Ears in corners of your home or landscape – or on the back row of your beds. They will give a tropical, summertime feel to any landscape and thus, are especially attractive planted in yards with pools or ponds. You may find bulbs that produce green, variegated or dark purple leaves. So – depending on the color of your home’s brick, rock, wood, etc. you are sure to find striking specimens perfect for your surroundings. Various leaf margins can also be found among the exotic species, such as smooth, ruffled or scalloped.
Unlike most bulbs & tubers, Elephant Ears enjoy warm, humid and oftentimes wet conditions. In very hot areas of the U.S., such as south Texas and Florida, Elephant Ears do best if planted in full to almost full shade. Areas north of these states can plant the bulbs in mostly sunny to partly sunny locations. My Elephant Ears are planted in a corner of my backyard that is mostly shaded and stays a bit damp. They thrive in this (relatively) cool, damp locale, although they do get a burst of sunlight for a couple of hours in the late afternoon – amazingly from the reflections of a couple of my neighbors western facing windows! Sometimes the sun is so intense bouncing off the windows in the Texas heat, I will find the leaves of my plants will have temporarily wilted and dipped to the ground. However, after a quick spray of the water hose they usually perk up by the next morning.
Once you have found the perfect location in your landscape for your Elephant Ears, you will need to plant the bulbs, pointed end up (or sideways if you have a bulb that is hard to differentiate), at about 2 inches under the soil. Typically, the bigger the bulb, the bigger the plant, thus, depending on the size of your bulbs you may wish to leave about 1.5 to 2 feet between each one accordingly.
As I mentioned earlier, in the ornamental sense, Elephant Ears are grown specifically for their large and beautiful leaves. However they do flower on rare occasions. The flowers remind me of those of peace lilies (although about 10 times larger!).
Another interesting fact about Elephant Ears (also called Taro) is their bulbs have been cultivated for many centuries in the tropical areas of Oceanic, Asian and African countries, and still are today an important part of the Hawaiian diet. In fact, Taro is considered a “tropical potato”. Different cultures utilize the bulb (and sometimes the stalk and leaves) in different ways, but it is always cooked thoroughly. If not, the plant can cause quite an upset stomach, among other problems, as it contains calcium oxalate crystals which can produce gout and kidney stones in humans. Since pests are hardly a problem with Elephant Ears, it is thought the spiny calcium oxalate crystals within the raw plant actually deter insects from eating the plant as well.
Incidentally, as I was researching Elephant Ear, or Taro, I came across many photos of people eating Elephant Ear pastries at county fairs. At first I thought they were actually deep fried Elephant Ear leaves! Well, come to find out, it is just another name for a huge pastry – one that does not include chlorophyll, by the way. Elephant Ear pastries, no matter how authentic they look to deep fried leaves, are simply another tasty carnival tidbit similar to funnel cakes and Belgian waffles. Either they don’t routinely bake them in Texas or I simply have overlooked this treat all of my life (which is hard to believe since I love funnel cakes!)
Well, at the close of this post, I’d like to point you to a couple of websites that provided me a wealth of information – but the main reason I’d like you to visit them is to gaze upon the photos to see just how huge an Elephant Ear leaf can get. Truly amazing.
I hope you find the perfect place to create your tropical paradise this year!
I believe I have found the perfect blooming plant for my hanging baskets, the ones that are positioned to get only morning sun. Blue is a cool color that usually fades into the background, but the electric blue of Lobelia is exquisitely vibrant. I personally love blue flowers and I have been admiring this low trailing, blooming plant in other people’s yards and containers for several years now but I just hadn’t come across any to purchase in the nurseries. This year, I found some early and scooped them up. I also ordered seed via catalogue and have a few planted in 4-inch pots. I see sprouts (not many) so I’ll have to let you know how growing from seed turns out in one of my later updates, perhaps.
Well, I’m going to go on and on about this plant’s color. Actually, Lobelia is the genus name for a large group of plants of a variety of heights and bloom colors. For example, Lobelia cardinalis (otherwise known as Cardinal Flower) grows up to 3 feet tall and blooms red in color. Some types, including some trailing types, bloom in pink or white. The particular type I am discussing in this post is Lobelia erinus. While the other types and colors of Lobelia are indeed beautiful, I have found nothing more intense in color as the electric blue of the trailing Lobelia erinus. It is a floral hue that makes you do a double-take when walking by because you simply can’t believe the blooms are real.
Now, having boasted about this plant’s color I’d like to reiterate that it is an low profile edging, hanging basket, and/or filler plant. Its vibrancy indeed makes a powerful statement wherever you choose to place it, but the plant itself is a bit dainty. And being dainty, in general, usually means a little extra TLC may be involved. Such is the case with Lobelia.
Lobelia erinus is a tropical perennial, and thus, in areas north of Zone 10 (pretty much the entire US) it should actually be considered and treated as an annual. Although it is plant of tropical origin and is accustomed to warmer temps, Lobelia is not a full sun candidate – especially in my part of the US – Texas. Lobelia enjoys part sun, part shade and thrives in moderately moist (but well-drained) soil. Thus, if you choose to plant Lobelia in a container or hanging basket you will need to water it more frequently than you would more drought-tolerant plantings. In fact, no matter how beautiful the colors may mix, avoid grouping Lobelia with drought tolerants such as Lantana, Purslane and Moss Rose. Instead, add Lobelia to containers and landscapes that host Liriope, Caladiums, Coleus, and Impatiens. Sweet Alyssum, which benefits from the same part sun conditions, is a great companion to Lobelia in both texture and color.
The Lobelia pictured in my hanging baskets below receive morning sun from about 7 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and I water them daily since they are housed in coconut liners (and thus, the soil dries out rapidly.) I am very pleased with their performance thus far as it has been difficult to find a suitable blooming plant for the area. Fortunately, Lobelia fits perfectly with its part sun-part shade needs, moist but well drained soil preference, and its trailing habit!
With regard to pests, the only thing I’ve found in my research that bothers Lobelia are thrips. Thrips are those tiny “invisible” bugs that sometimes land on and bite humans if you happen to walk in their path. They are especially attracted to white, yellow and yes, you guessed it – blue flowers. The best method to rid your Lobelia of thrips is to give them a spray of organic Insecticidal Soap. Since thrips are so tiny, you might give your Lobelia a spray now and then for preventative measures – just be sure to treat when your plants are in the shade or you may burn them.
An interesting side note about the Lobelia genus is that several plants in this group have medicinal properties. Native Americans historically smoked Lobelia inflata (otherwise known as Indian Tobacco) to alleviate respiratory conditions. In the 19th century, it was used to rid the body of toxins and as such, it earned the name “puke weed” in addition to Indian Tobacco. In today’s herbal medicine world, it is still used (in moderation) to help with asthma. An extract of Lobelia inflata is thought to have properties that may assist with drug addiction and treatment of cancer. Keep in mind herbal medicine is just as powerful, if not more so, than traditional medicine – so never try to diagnose yourself. The “puke weed” reference above should keep you from partaking on your own!
In closing, I hope you are as fortunate as I have been and are able to seek out a few Lobelia pottings in your nearby nursery or garden center. Surely you have a spot in your landscape that can benefit from a little blue electricity this season!
My last blog post was so very long that this time I decided to give everyone a break and simply post a pictorial of some of the beautiful items in my yard that are showing promising signs that Spring is very near. If you get a chance this week or next, take a moment to look closely at the trees, vines, shrubs, and perennials (and animals) surrounding you. You will be surprised to see the preparations being made for the warmer months ahead! Enjoy –
***Unfortunately, due to a temporary glitch with my hosting program earlier this month, I lost connection with some of my subscribers. If you did not receive this post via your email subscription or FaceBook sign-up and you’d like to remain a subscriber, please kindly do so again. Thank you-
Right off, I am going to tell you this post will likely frustrate you. I have been waiting weeks to complete it as I continue to research the benefits (and detriments) of using coffee grounds in the garden, along with how to properly dispose of those little individual coffee pods that have become so popular. Not only have I arrived at opposing views on using coffee grounds in the garden, I’ve also come across a lack of consistency regarding if and how to recycle the plastic pods. I personally would much rather use a subscription service like the one from ironandfire.co.uk where you get bags of coffee beans rather than the plastic pods. Not only does this make for a better cup of coffee in the morning but it also creates far less waste compared to the pods. I love drinking coffee and have it throughout the day so I always have used coffee beans laying around and wasting away so why not repurpose them? I’d like to share what I’ve learned and you can be the judge of the best course of action for you on one or both topics. If you’d like to delve into the topics further, trust me, there are plenty of varying opinions to review on the internet!
Researching the benefits of adding coffee grounds to soil, I learned used grounds have been scientifically tested and the consensus is there are minerals such as potassium, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, and nitrogen found in the spent product. These are all good nutrients to add to your soil, but in small doses unless you are aware you are greatly lacking in one and in that case, you would handle separately and differently. The minerals found in spent coffee grounds are minute and slow absorbing, which I personally believe is a very good thing if you are supplementing already healthy plants.
It is the other ingredient found in coffee grounds – the caffeine – that is considered not so good for plants. (Yes, even used regular and decaf coffee grounds have traces of caffeine left in them after brewing.) Of course, it is the very effect of caffeine (increased alertness) that is the primary reason most of us drink coffee. However, in the horticultural world, caffeine is the substance emitted by some plants that ensures other plants do not crowd them out. Usually found in seed pods (of coffee & cocoa), it is a survival ingredient these plants discharge into the soil that stunts the growth of surrounding plants. Most of my surface internet research found articles greatly touting the benefits of used coffee grounds in gardens, but researching a little deeper led me to an interesting study. I came across a couple of articles that cited the same experiment whereby a researcher planted two identical gardens (of non-caffeine producing plants) and consistently mixed coffee grounds into the soil of one but not the other. The garden that was supplemented with grounds did not grow as fast, tall or healthy as the other garden. It seems the caffeine was doing its intended job – stunting the growth of potential “competing” plants. It is believed, however, there are some non-caffeine producing plants that are not particularly affected by this characteristic of caffeine – namely and fortunately, acid-loving plants such as azaleas and blueberries.
I live in a part of North Texas that has mostly alkaline, clay soil so the addition of a tad of coffee grounds now and then indeed seems to keep my azaleas happy. (Azaleas are not the best shrub to have planted in my part of the state, I admit, but we have a rather shady front yard and my husband is quite partial to them. Thus, we planted a dwarf variety and, consequently, we must supplement the soil around them more so than we do our native plants.)
I also add a tad of coffee grounds every six to nine months to some of my leafy indoor plants. I think it adds the needed minerals mentioned above that eventually become leached from potted plants’ soil. So far, I’ve had no ill effects adding the grounds at such infrequent intervals as my indoor plants are thriving.
In addition to adding minerals and acidity to the soil, some people swear that spent coffee grounds also act as a great insect repellent. I read where one business applied the grounds around their electrical landscape lighting specifically to prevent ants from invading the wiring. I also read where coffee grounds work well to prevent snails and slugs from munching on your hostas and other tender seedlings in the spring. And, continuing the theme of this post, I read the contrary – that worms LOVE coffee grounds and applying them to your soil will create a healthy environment for these particular invertebrates!
So . . . in light of the contradictions and based on my personal experience, I suggest that whether adding coffee grounds to outdoor or indoor areas that you mix with organic potting soil to dilute their effect before applying. Applying straight grounds can eventually cause them to bind together like wet sand or cement, negatively affecting the density of soil – especially that of clay. Note: Do not make a habit of placing large amounts of coffee grounds in your garbage disposal for this reason! If you have done this by mistake, visit www.moffettplumbing.com/areas-we-serve/plumber-newport-beach-ca/ in order to find a plumber who is able to fix this for you. On top of that, I never place grounds or the mixture directly onto a plant’s base. Spreading a mixture of coffee and soil several inches from the base of the desired plant is far better than stacking grounds immediately around its stem/trunk.
My best advice is to use moderation as your guide when mixing spent coffee grounds into beds as a soil amendment or a pest repellent. If you compost, adding them to your pile now and then should allow you to reap benefits without worrying too much about the effects of caffeine. If you collect a lot of grounds, try sharing with others who compost in your area and who may not be coffee drinkers so that you are not inadvertently overloading your mixture. Also, and this is my personal thought, if you sometimes drink flavored coffee, you may wish to forego using those particular grounds in your garden as there may be artificial additives that have additional adverse effects on certain plants. Lastly, if you chose to use grounds solely as a pest repellent it may simply be best to use them away from any prized plants.
Now that we have the pros and cons of recycling coffee grounds out of the way, let’s move onto recycling coffee pods! This is another area of which I have discovered different viewpoints in my research. In the end, however, I think doing what we can to reduce items in our landfills (and other areas) is simply worth the extra time and effort.
I won a pod coffee machine in a contest a year or so ago. I use it and admit I like using it on “work days” when I’m in a hurry in the mornings. In fact, the machine is a lifesaver at the start of the day. It’s nothing special but it does the trick. My friends are avid coffee drinkers like me, and they’ve pointed me in the direction of the full moon cafe who have reviewed the best pour-over coffee machines that are on the market. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never heard of this machine before, but they’ve said that they are supposed to be really good, especially when it comes to getting your coffee fix in the morning. Until I do some more research, I think I’m just going to stick with the pod coffee machine that I already have. I don’t want it to go to waste because it works so well. It is no secret that the coffee pods used in the machine are much more expensive than purchasing ground coffee in a bag. The time saved, convenience, and ability to serve each individual in your household their preference of flavor, strength and level of caffeine are very attractive features of a pod coffee machine and are what make it worth the added expense for most. Still, as I stacked the spent pods on my kitchen counter to recycle their grounds this past month, I was amazed at how those little plastic cups accumulated in my two-person household – especially when we are mostly one-cup-per-day drinkers. (We make coffee in our traditional coffee maker on the weekends!)
Before I move forward with this topic, I must disclose if you aren’t already aware, that there are refillable coffee pods on the market and, in fact, I ordered one last night. (See pic & details in the right sidebar.) These refillable pods will also allow you to individualize your coffee experience as you use your preference of ground, bagged coffee with each serving. There is the added effort of washing the pod after each brew, but it shouldn’t take but a minute or two. I have seen where some refillable pods suggest using tiny disposable paper filters inside, but, in my opinion, that defeats the purpose of protecting the environment from excessive debris. Yes, paper is compost-able, but if you are going to use a refillable pod, I’d suggest using one that doesn’t require the addition of yet another filter. My 2 cents.
If you are like me and have an abundance of plastic pods at home currently and/or you feel you will continue to use one-time pods, below are a few tips regarding recycling them.
Look on the underside of the pod and make certain it is stamped recyclable and make note of the “number” it is labeled. Most companies, including Keurig, are producing their pods in recyclable plastics nowadays. I have a variety of brands in my home and most are recyclable and stamped with the number 5.
Most cities accept plastics 1 – 7 in their recycle programs. Even though the pods are labeled number 5, I have read there are some cities that will not accept coffee pods at all due to their small size. In fact, I was advised by telephone that one local city will not accept them, yet a neighboring city I called does. I understand this relates to the sorting machinery used at each recycling facility. It is highly recommended you call your city or local recycling facility to determine their policy before you go to the next step.
If your city or facility accepts the pods, they likely told you they only accept the plastic portion, therefore you must separate the pod components in order to recycle. I first separated my pods manually, but I admit it was difficult as some of the paper liner inevitably remained on the rim of the cup – which might further negate its ability to be recycled. Therefore, I purchased a handy dandy, “recycle-a-cup” device. (See below and in the side bar.)
Whether using the recycle-a-cup device or separating the pod manually, dump the grounds into an open, wide container that will allow them to dry. You do not want your grounds to mold, if at all possible. I use a plastic, wide-mouth jar that I recycled from a snack product.
Some pods come with a tab that allows you to easily pull off the aluminum top. (See above pic.) This is an easy way to get the grounds out of the pod, but the paper filter will likely still remain attached to the cup. In this case, I peel the tab first, dump the coffee and use the recycle a cup device afterwards to remove the paper filter for a clean cut of the plastic.
If you are composting, you can simply dump the paper filter in your pile along with the grounds.
If you are not recycling coffee grounds, use the recycle-a-cup to separate the parts and just toss everything in the garbage except for the plastic.
Lastly, if you found your area does not recycle coffee pods at this time, you (or your employer) can pay for a mail-in service to do so for you. Yes, I know, paying for this seems a little odd and extravagant but the cost includes shipping the containers to and from your location and there is no need to go to the trouble of separating the pods. I found two services such as this by performing an internet search. The two I researched accept the pods in their whole state – they will separate the contents at their location and recycle accordingly. Based on the criteria, I’d say a business is more likely to benefit from this type of service more so than an individual since each mail-in container supports about 150 pods and they need to be mailed in before the pods have time to mold.
Amazingly, I found a company that will accept separated plastic #5 coffee pods at only the cost of mailing them – and because there is no perishable content, you can send at the least expensive ground shipping rate. In fact you can double your recycling efforts by mailing your #5 pods in a previously used mailing box (think Amazon!). The company uses the plastic pods to create other useful items. Check out their program at Preserve Gimme 5. This is what I am doing with my remaining pods –
I admit this may be a small gesture in the whole scheme of world trash, but I feel I am doing my part by recycling coffee pods in return for having the convenience of a fresh, personalized cup of coffee in the morning. And, as I mentioned earlier, I have ordered a refillable pod to begin using right after I finish up recycling all the plastic pods I purchased on holiday clearance last month!
Summing up, I think the key word for this blog post is moderation – whether it is moderation in drinking coffee, moderation in applying spent grounds to your garden or moderation in what devices you use to brew your coffee. Most of us shouldn’t drink coffee all day as it has unwanted side effects if consumed in large amounts. We shouldn’t overdose our plants with coffee grounds (or any type of fertilizer for that matter) as it, too, will have unwanted side effects. And, modern life yields appliances and devices that make things quicker and easier – i.e., the coffee pod machine – which, also, comes with unwanted side effects of excessive trash. I’m not suggesting everyone give up this modern invention, but I am advocating we balance our use of coffee pod machines by investing in refillable pods or at least by recycling the plastic ones.
I dare say most of us in the temperate zones love the beauty and vibrancy of tropical and subtropical plants although we know they will likely only serve as annuals during our warmer months if not moved inside or protected. Living in North Texas, and maybe a little closer to the tropical zone than most, sometimes my lantana, asparagus fern and other tender perennials will make it through a mild winter (never below 25 degrees) if I mulch them heavily.
However, as I’ve become older and wiser, I almost solely plant trees, shrubs and perennials in ground that are native or very well-adapted to my gardening zone. This practice is better overall for the environment (produces healthier plants and feeds the existing insects, birds and animals) and is certainly better for my back as I am not changing out plantings on a yearly basis! I admit that I supplement small spaces and/or borders with flowering annuals from time to time, but this is only to enhance what I already have permanently in my landscape.
Despite above, I indeed have a few very special, potted tropicals that I go to the trouble of overwintering inside every year. They have a bit of sentimental value to me and, I admit, they are simply beautiful on my patio during the summertime. Fortunately, I have a small sun room that allows me to maintain these plants during the cold months. However, the sun room has become a bit too small for all of my tropicals as they have grown quite tall and wide over the years. Thus, I use our garage for winter plant storage as well. I currently have a lime tree, plumeria, tecomaria and large crown of thorns situated in large pots that rest on wheeled caddies. The lime tree and crown of thorns enjoy the sun room this winter while the others are protected in the garage.
If you have a similar situation where you are raising tropicals/subtropicals that are, or will become, trees or large shrubs I highly recommend that you invest in sturdy, wheeled plant caddies. The caddies are well worth their cost!
This leads me to the main topic of my post. Without doing any extensive research online or otherwise, I wish to tell you here what I have found that works for me regarding overwintering tropical plants.
Place tropicals in an area of your home or garage where they can obtain some sunlight from time to time. If you must use your garage as overwinter storage, open it up on the warmest, sunniest days of winter and allow the sun to bathe your plants even if only for a couple of hours. If you can roll the plants out into the open air for a few hours, do so. (Unfortunately, I live in an urbanized area so I have to caution you to not keep your garage door open if it endangers you or your property. I roll my plants out of the garage a few feet, close the door and reverse the process at the end of the day.)
Speaking of rolling your plants outside, it is optimal to allow for good air circulation among indoor plants to avoid fungal issues as well as to deter some “houseplant pest” infestations from taking hold, such as scale and mealy bugs. If you cannot roll your plants into open air, perhaps you can instead open up a nearby door or window on the warmest of the winter days. (Again, taking heed to safety.)
Water your overwintered plants very sparingly. Over-watering can cause the fungal issues mentioned above as well as root rot. Note: Plumerias are especially susceptible to root rot. In fact, I only water my protected plants when I have rolled them outside on warm days and never more than once per week or two at that.
Remove dead leaves that drop. It is fairly common for tropicals to drop leaves when moved to a new environment. In fact, there have been some winters that my plumeria has dropped all of its leaves. Again, to deter fungal and pest issues, it is best to dispose of dropped leaves on a regular basis.
As spring arrives and temperatures warm, slowly increase sun exposure to your tropicals, allowing them to acclimate over a two – three week period. If you have a partially shaded deck or patio, start their outdoor acclimation in those areas before exposing the plants to all day full sun.
As I mentioned above, I feel fortunate to live in North Texas in Hardy Zone 8a, where the low temps very rarely reach 20 degrees. In fact, some winters we barely reach 30. We are also fortunate to experience more sunny days than cloudy ones. Thus, another bonus I personally experience regarding overwintering tropicals is that during long winter warm spells, my plants may actually bloom. In addition, if the winter has been mild overall, the bees and other pollinators become busy again for days at a time. Below is a recent picture of my lime tree bursting with blooms in mid-December. After rolling it onto the patio for a couple of hours, a bee kindly stopped by to help pollinate. I hope to be getting a head start on a lime crop this year!
If you, too, have a tropical plant, shrub or tree (or more) that you are overwintering this season, I hope the above tips correspond with your actions and/or help you to keep your special plants happy the remainder of the season. I also hope if you’ve ever wanted to invest in a citrus or tropical, that you give it a try this summer and hopefully the tips above will allow you to enjoy it for years to come.
December 21st is the shortest day of the year. You probably are asking, “What do you mean the shortest day of the year? Aren’t there 24 hours in every day?” Absolutely, but allow me to be more specific. December 21st is the date in which there was less daylight hours than any other day in 2011. It is the time of the winter solstice – which in Central Standard Time will occur around 11:30 p.m. this year. The winter solstice usually occurs sometime between December 21 and December 23 every year in the Northern Hemisphere. It is the time of the year when the North Pole is tilted at its greatest distance, 23.5 degrees, away from the sun. The winter solstice also signifies the first day of winter. At the time of the autumnal equinox, September 23rd, daylight and dark were equal in length at 12 hours each. Since then, in the Northern Hemisphere, daylight has progressively decreased with each day. In fact, territories north of the Arctic Circle will experience 24 hours of darkness upon the winter solstice. It is important to mention this seasonal phenomenon is reverse for the Southern Hemisphere. For example, the territory south of the Antarctic Circle will experience 24 hours of daylight on December 21st. And, in the areas between the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn, the balance of daylight and dark hours remains stable and the weather warm and humid. (Thus the reason we must mimic the 12 hours of darkness for native tropical photoperiodic plants such as the Christmas Cactus and Poinsettia to force their blooms/bracts in our part of the world!)
If you’ve done any reading or research about ancient cultures, you are familiar with the fact they viewed the transitions between the seasons as very important. The solstices and equinoxes determined when crops should be planted and harvested, when berries and nuts became ripe and when certain game could be hunted. The winter solstice, in particular, marked the time ancient peoples were to begin preparing and storing food and supplies, obtained from their autumn harvests and hunts, in anticipation of the next three months of cold weather. Ancient civilizations, such as the Aztecs, Druids, Egyptians, Greeks, Mayans, Phoenicians and Romans, among others, erected incredibly accurate temples, pyramids, monuments and calendars that assisted their villages in knowing when the seasonal changes were occurring. Stonehenge, in the photo above, is an example of such a structure. The photo below is of the Megalithic Passage Tomb at Newgrange in Ireland. It is a mounded tomb structure that is estimated to have been built in 3200 BC. There is a roof box over the entrance of the tomb which at sunrise during the winter solstice, a shaft of sunlight breaks through and illuminates the entire interior of the structure.
As with human rites of passage, celebrations and feasts were a major aspect of the ancient seasonal transitions as well, especially during the winter solstice. Fruit and nuts were plenty, beer and wine were fermented and animals thought not to survive through the winter were slaughtered. Food was in abundance at this time of year in the Northern Hemisphere and feasting was done in preparation for potentially 90 days of sparse sustenance. Festivities surrounding mid-winter holidays certainly continue in most cultures of the world today. In fact, Julius Caesar deemed December 25th the date of the winter solstice in early Roman times. And as most of you know, later on, the Christian church adopted this sacred date in honor of the birth of Christ.
In conclusion, you may ask why I have titled this post, Winter Solstice – A Time of Hope, when it apparently marks the time of anticipated harsh, cold weather. As I pondered all the reasons, the scientific one came to mind first. Every day after December 21st brings more sunlight. The ancients knew if they prepared what food and supplies they could for the coming of winter and feasted on that which remained, each day they survived offered them more sunlight and eventual warmth. Hope simply helped them endure the season of long bitter nights and barren days. In today’s world, the winter solstice falls at the time of year (Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa) when most of us, no matter our religious persuasion, strive to mend relationships, are charitable to those in need, and reflect on our personal blessings. It is a time of faith and observance and thanksgiving. It is a time we come together to congratulate and to celebrate. It is a time we come together and mourn those no longer with us – yet we remain determined to continue the traditions that have become all the more meaningful in our loved ones’ absence. It is a time we deeply reflect upon our life and muster the determination to live better physically, emotionally and spiritually in the coming year.
As a Christian, I believe the date of the Roman winter solstice was purposefully chosen to represent Christmas Day, as the spirit of Christmas signifies great hope for all mankind. No matter your faith or circumstances, I wish you the amazing experience of hope this winter season.
Until next time,
This post is dedicated to my nephew, Vincent, who was born 13 years ago on the shortest day of the year!