Posts tagged ‘Day of the Dead’

The Language of Flowers

In literature, mythology, love, and everyday life flowers—light as a feather—are weighted with meaning. In the Victorian era entire guides were published dedicated to the “language of flowers” and the idea that a single flower, or a particular arrangement of flowers, could communicate complex emotions and social cues. Of course, these guides were often at odds with each other and were most likely a faddish folly rather than a prescription for concrete communication in everyday life. One could only hope that if a courting couple were signaling each other with posy holders they were referencing the same book. For instance, a white rose symbolizes “I would be single” according to the 1852 book The Language of Flowers, but in The Illustrated Language of Flowers (1856) a white rose signaled “I am worthy of you.” Unless it was wilted, for then it meant “transient impressions.” Confusion sets in when a white rose was worn with a red rose, which symbolized “unity.” If these books were taken at face value, how easy it would be to send mixed messages. What a beginning to a romantic comedy!

Throughout history flowers have symbolically marked weddings and funerals, the change of seasons, state and national pride, and have symbolized love, hope, rebirth, death, and everything in between. The state flower of Hawaii is the yellow ma’o hau hele (Hibiscus brackenridgei). Hibiscus flowers are often given to visitors to Hawaii as a gesture of welcome. Mexican marigolds (cempasúchil) are known as the flor de muertos and used to decorate the graves of loved ones for Día de los Muertos celebrations.

Flowers find their way into our everyday lives through more personal channels. Our Community of Gardens digital archive is a home for these stories of flowers and gardens and their impact on our daily lives. From the unique peony cultivar developed by a flower-loving neighbor to cakes flavored by the vanilla orchid to memories of a childhood spent in shady backyard abundant with colorful azalea bushes, anyone can share their story with the Smithsonian Institution. We are collecting stories of gardens and plants past and present to preserve for future generations.

Here are some of our favorite flower stories from Community of Gardens—all have a story to tell about the meaning of flowers in our personal histories and culture at large:

Light purple iris in a garden bed

The beautiful “ditch” irises passed down through a family in this Community of Gardens story. The original irises were found on the author’s great-grandparents’ land growing in a swampy area and were transplanted from generation to generation, from garden to garden.

Old photo of a grafted Christmas cactus in a pot

The holidays are just around the corner when the Christmas cactus blooms! At one time Rose Villa Nursery in New Orleans was the largest supplier of grafted Christmas cactus. Read, and listen, to one family’s story of their nursery business and their famous Christmas cactus. 

Close-up of light pin 'Pier Bugnet' rose

The ‘Pier Bugnet’ rose is particularly suited to growing in the cold northern climate of Fairbanks, Alaska. When the rose was in danger of being lost, the Fairbanks Garden Club banded together to save this beautiful flower for their town. Read the full story here.

Do you have a personal story of flowers to share with our archive? We welcome stories about:

  • The development of a particular flower cultivar.
  • Flowers rescued and replanted from family homesteads or lost or destroyed gardens.
  • Family florist businesses or flower farms.
  • Edible flowers. Share your best recipe for squash blossoms with us!
  • Did you grow up in a different country? Is there a flower that reminds you of home, or a flower from your culture you have incorporated into your life in the United States?
  • Flower gardens of all shapes and sizes.
  • What flowers mean to you in your life.

Get started by visiting the Community of Gardens website and clicking on “Share a Story” or emailing us at communityofgardens@si.edu.

 -Kate Fox, Smithsonian Gardens educator

August 17, 2016 at 12:29 pm 2 comments

Celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month with SG!

To celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, I will be doing a two part series. This week I will be discussing the plants growing in our gardens in preparation for the Day of the Dead celebrations. For the second part, I will be discussing Hispanic Heritage related artifacts in our Archives of American Gardens.

In preperation for the Smithsonian’s Day of the Dead celebration we are currently growing ‘Hopi Red Dye’ Amaranth and Orange Marigolds in the gardens around the National Museum of the American Indian and in our greenhouses.

Marigolds

Marigolds in the Three Sisters garden at the National Museum of the American Indian.

The Aztecs, Mayans, and Toltecs commemorated the deceased at fixed times during the year. The Indigenous peoples believed that during these months of the year the deceased could return. To encourage the deceased to return, they offered flowers, food, incense, dancing, and music.

Day of the Dead or “Dia De Los Muertos” is a holiday celebrated in many Latin American countries and in areas of the United States with high populations of Hispanic Americans, including California, Texas, and New Mexico. The festival is celebrated on November 2nd. The culture of the Day of the Dead reinforces the idea that death is not scary or sad but a natural part of life.

Archway Covered in Marigolds, From Wikicommons

Archway Covered in Marigolds, From Wikicommons

During the celebrations, families clean and decorate graves with orange Mexican marigolds (Tagetes erecta) or in Spanish, cempasuchil. In Mexico, marigolds are also called Flor de Muerto or Flower of the Dead. Because of their strong scent and vibrant color, they are thought to attract the souls of the dead to the offerings the living have made. The petals of marigolds are also used to lay a pathway for the dead. Other common icons used in the Day of the Dead celebrations are skulls and candles.

‘Hopi Red Dye’ Amaranth are usually tall plants with broad green leaves and bright purple, red, or gold flowers. Amaranth was a major food source for the Aztecs and was domesticated between 6,000 and 8,000 years ago. Along with being a major crop, amaranth was used in Aztec religious ceremonies in the creation of icons. These icons were formed out of amaranth grains and honey. After being worshiped these images were broken into pieces and eaten. Today, popped amaranth is sold on the streets in many South American countries. During Day of the Dead celebrations, the Aztec tradition is continued through the molding and eating of amaranth seed skulls.

Amaranth Seed Skulls

Amaranth Seed Skulls, From Wikicommons

In the United States, Day of the Dead celebrations are becoming increasingly common. While the use of skulls, marigolds, and candles is still routine, the altars are sometimes included museum exhibits to make a statement about life in America for Latino Americans. Latino Americans are mixing the traditional with the contemporary in the continuation of this tradition and the preservation of their heritage.

Learn more about the Day of the Dead from the Smithsonian Latino Center: http://latino.si.edu/dayofthedead/.

The National Museum of the American Indian in collaration with the National Museum of American History and the Smithsonian Latino Center will be hosting their annual Dia de los Muertos: Day of the Dead on Sunday, October 27, 2013 and Saturday, October 28, 2013 from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The program will include the exhibition of the ofrendas, food demonstrations, music, dance performances, and special film screenings.

-Mattea Sanders, Fall 2013 Horticulture Collections and Education Intern

September 26, 2013 at 3:00 pm Leave a comment


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