Hyacinths & Daffodils – 2023

Hyacinths and Daffodils are the flowers that bloom in our garden after the Weeping Pussy Willow. 

Different coloured hyacinths carry different meanings. Pink hyacinths mean Playful Joy while the purple flowers symbolise Deep Regret and White represents Love & Prayer. Each colour flower has a unique fragrance and are commonly used in perfume making.

The Hyacinth is a member of the same family as the asparagus.  They bloom from March to April  

According to Ancient Greek mythology legend, a young Hyacinth was killed when Apollo and Zephyrus were fighting over his affections. It is believed that Hyacinths sprung up from his spilled blood.

Hyacinths originated from Turkey and the Middle East, along the eastern shores of the Mediterranean.  It was first grown in Constantinople in the 16th century. They were later introduced to Europe where hyacinth-lovers bred many new varieties and developed different colours of the fragrant flower. Today, these flowers are mainly grown in Holland.

 Hyacinths are believed to be great for a range of skin disorders such as eczema and nausea. They are also meant to help soothe sore throats and snake bites. 

Hyacinths and Daffodils, like Tulips are planted in early Autumn so that they have enough time to grow solid roots before the winter frost sets in. 

Daffodils were brought to Britain by the Romans.  The Romans believed that the daffodil sap healed wounds. It is only a myth as Daffodil sap contains sharp crystals to deter animals from eating the flower. This irritates the skin rather than healing it.

As per the Greek myth, Echo, a nymph, fell in love with a Greek named Narcissus, who told her to leave him alone. She lived alone, heartbroken. Nemesis, the God of Revenge, heard the sad story and lured Narcissus to a pool. He was so distracted by his handsome reflection that he fell in the pool and drowned. Afterwards he turned into the flower.  That is why Daffodils are also called Narcissus.

Daffodils are the birth flower for March as they are one of the first signs that spring has arrived, it makes sense that these beautiful flowers represent the first month of the season.

Legend says Daffodils are associated with cheerfulness. When they are presented to someone as a bunch, it is meant to provide happiness. However, if they are only given as a single flower, it is meant to mean misfortune.

Daffodils are the official Chinese New Year symbol. In Japan, the daffodil means joy and in France they are a sign of hope.

Daffodils are the 10th Anniversary flowers.  Daffodils, along with tin (now replaced with diamond,) are known as the traditional gifts to celebrate a decade of marriage. It is now, however, a more modern choice to celebrate with diamond jewelry instead of tin.

Daffodils are the National Flower of Wales and are  traditionally worn on St David’s Day coinciding with the time of year daffodils begin to appear.

Canadian Spring & Weeping Pussy Willow

Flowering of the Weeping Pussy Willow signals the onset of spring in our garden.

The Salix Caprea ‘Pendula,’ commonly known as the Goat Willow or Weeping Pussy Willow, which belongs to the Caprea genus of flowering trees. It is also known as Kilmarnock, as the tree was first commercially sold in 1853 by Thomas Lang of Kilmarnock, Scotland.

This tree is grafted – a Weeping Pussy Willow grafted on top of a regular Pussy Willow trunk. The tree grows pendulous branches or weeping branches and can reach up to 8 feet, while the spread of the tree can also be around 6 feet.

The weeping pussy willow is referred to by poets and philosophers as the tree of enchantment. It relates to all that is feminine – dreaming, intuition, emotion, enchantment, healing and revitalisation. The willow’s flexibility symbolises resilience and inspires us to move on with life.

Fuzzy nubs start to appear along the branches, even before the leaves sprout. It is to increase the chances of pollination by wind and the leaves do not get in the way of the pollen riding the wind.

These nubs are flowers that sprout just before they fully bloom. The soft coating of hairs acts as insulation to protect these early bloomers from cold temperatures. Most other willows make similar flowers. The tree derives its name from these soft silver tufts that resemble tiny cats’ paws, feeling so much like cat fur.

Even in full bloom, willow flowers hardly look like flowers at all. They have neither any petals nor any fragrance. Such flowers are called Catkins, derived from the old Dutch word Katteken meaning a kitten. Alder, Birch, Beech, Hazel also produce catkins.

Pussy willows are Dioecious, meaning there are male and female plants. Only male plants produce the fuzzy flowers. The flowers on female plants look more like greenish hairy caterpillars. The male catkins begin to look yellow when the pollen develop on the tips of the anthers.

Catkins usually don’t rely on pollinators to spread their pollen. Instead, they release it into the wind, where it may or may not land on the female flower parts. To hit their targets, the catkins produce a large volume of pollen. Such a massive quantity of pollen released in the atmosphere results in many humans developing allergies and breathing difficulties during this period.

These trees thrive both in sunny sites and sites with partial shade. This willow will need some sun in the afternoons. These trees are tough and are easy to maintain. The tree needs a stake until the roots are well anchored.

Easter Egg and Easter Bunny

During Easter, most greetings I received had either the Easter bunny or the Easter eggs.

Where did the Easter Bunny and Easter Egg come from? There is no Biblical reference to either. When Christ rose from the dead, there were no bunnies around.

Easter bunny has become a prominent symbol of Christianity’s most important holiday, though the Bible makes no mention of a bunny who delivers decorated eggs to well-behaved children on Easter Sunday.

The origins of this mythical mammal are unclear, but rabbits, known to breed prolifically, are an ancient symbol of fertility and new life. Easter occurs in the Northern Hemisphere in spring and that is when the hibernating rabbits come out.

It is believed that the Easter bunny first arrived in North America in the 1700s with German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania and transported their tradition of an egg-laying hare called Osterhase. Their children made nests in which this creature could lay its colored eggs. The custom spread across North America and chocolates, candies and gifts in decorated baskets replaced the nests.

The Easter Eggs are a pagan tradition from their spring festivities where the egg denoted new life. From a Christian perspective, Easter eggs represent Jesus’ emergence from the tomb and resurrection – a new life for humanity.

The ancient Egyptians decorated ostrich eggs in gold and silver as a way of honouring their loved ones, who were buried with these intricate gifts.  Decorating eggs for Easter is a tradition that dates to at least the 13th century, when eggs were a forbidden food during Lent.  So people painted and decorated them to mark the end of the Lent and ate them on Easter as a celebration.

Eggs were very prized at Easter because hens never laid many eggs during winter due to the cold and the lack of sunlight. Hens begin to lay eggs again when the sun came out in spring, meaning eggs became associated with spring and, in turn, Easter.

Easter eggs made of chocolate started in 1725, in the Court of King Louis XIV in Versailles. The widow Giambone poured molten chocolate into empty chicken eggshells, and the first chocolate Easter egg was born.

Easter egg hunts and egg rolling are two popular egg-related traditions. In the White House Easter Egg Roll, a race in which children push decorated, hard-boiled eggs across the White House lawn, is an annual event held the Monday after Easter. The first official White House egg roll occurred in 1878, when Rutherford B. Hayes was the President. The event has no religious significance, although some people have considered egg rolling symbolic of the stone blocking Jesus’ tomb being rolled away, leading to his resurrection.

Eggs are an ancient symbol of new life and they have also been associated with fertility and death.

Earthworm Swarming

April rains bring in May flowers is a Canadian saying. After a heavy downpour last evening, I had to fling a bunch of worms off our driveway and put them back in the flowerbed. Earthworms lying on sidewalks or streets after a heavy rain is a common sight in Canada on the onset of spring. They move out of their burrows and swarm the roads, sidewalks, and driveways.

Why do they do this?

Scientific name for earthworms is Lumbricus Terrestris Lumbricus in Latin means a worm and Terrestris means of the earth.They belong to Oligochaeata class meaning few bristles. The bristles help the worms to stay anchored in the soil as they move. Oligochaetes are distinguished from other worms by their lack of legs. Instead, Oligochaetes move by contracting and relaxing their longitudinal muscles, which run along the length of their body.

Researchers hypothesise several reasons why heavy rain bring these worms out of their soil homes.  Many scientists opine that they come out to the soil surface after a good rain to prevent drowning in their water-filled burrows.

Earthworms do not have lungs.  They breath through their skins. They need moisture-enriched soil with a certain oxygen content to survive. They are least likely to drown and can survive several days fully submerged in water if oxygen levels are right.

Some experts believe that the earthworms surface during rains for migration purposes as it gives them an opportunity to slither through greater distances across the wet soil surface or grass surface than they could through soil.

Certain species of earthworms surface to mate, but only a few of the 4,400 existing species, making it unlikely that mating is a primary reason for this surfacing. Earthworms are hermaphrodites, meaning an individual worm has both male and female reproductive organs. Earthworm mating typically occurs after it has rained and the ground is wet.

Being hermaphrodites, they can fertilise themselves (parthenogenesis,) but is rare. They emerge from the soil and jut out their anterior end. They wait for another earthworm to point in the opposite direction. The two worms join together and a mucus is secreted so that each worm is enclosed in a tube of slime. The eggs of both mates become fertilised with the sperms of the other.

Another explanation involves rain drop vibrations on the soil surface sounding like predator vibrations, like that of moles or birds. Earthworms often come to the surface to avoid falling prey. According to Professor Josef Gorres of the University of Vermont’s Department of Plant and Soil Science, “Rain can set up vibrations on top of the soil like mole vibrations. Similar to how earthworms move upwards and out of the way when predator vibrations are felt, they could move in a similar way for rain vibrations.”

What happens when drought conditions prevail?

During the peak of summer or during draught conditions, earthworms burrow deeper. They may either die or revert to a hibernation called diapause. In a diapause state, they coil up in knots in a little hole with a slimy substance to avoid moisture loss. Eggs in cocoons survive prolonged drought, allowing earthworm populations to survive drought periods.

According to Mary Ann Bruns, Associate Professor of Agronomy/Soil Microbiology in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences at Penn University, “Earthworms dig deeper into the soil where it is moister when conditions are dry. They will do all they can to avoid extreme temperature fluctuations.

Anglers looking for earthworms as baits create vibrations to coax worms from their burrows.  They run a piece of steel or a hand saw across the top of a stake, which causes a rubbing sound to occur as the stake vibrates. These vibrations cause the earthworms to move to the surface. 

Earthworms are the true friend of a gardener or a farmer. Presence of earthworms is a sign of healthy soil. The burrowing and feeding activity of earthworms has a positive effect on soil quality. The burrows help in water infiltration, soil aeration and improve soil porosity. Earthworm are known to easily consume two ton of dry matter per acre per year, partly digesting and mixing it with soil.  Earthworm casts improve soil fertility as they have higher nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and calcium contents. 

In the Netherlands, some soils reclaimed from the sea at first did not have any earthworms. In these soils the formation of topsoil with reasonable organic matter content did not take place, resulting in poor crop growth. Once the cause was established, the government of the Netherlands started a campaign to introduce earthworms. After the introduction of the earthworms, a dark topsoil layer was formed, and crop growth increased substantially.

In the spring mornings, armed with a dustpan and a brush, I collect all the earthworms on our driveway and deposit them in the garden soil.

Tips to encourage or sustain a healthy population of worms in your garden are:-

  • Reduce tilling your soil.
  • Leave organic matter on the surface.
  • Add organic manure and compost.
  • Avoid chemicals – fertilisers, insecticides, pesticides, weedicides, etc.
  • Use an organic mulch to keep soil moist and cool.

Natural science has not come out with any conclusive reasons as to why earthworms surface after a heavy rain in spring, but they continue to surface every spring.