The white and the red

The (Christian) liturgical colors for the season: white for Easter Sunday, red for today, Good Friday, the day of crucifixion (and for some churches, red for all of Holy Week). White the color of purity and perfection, and so of Jesus as Christ. Red the color of blood and sacrifice, and so of the crucifixion.

As it happens, yesterday’s events included a visit to the Gamble Garden in Palo Alto, where I encountered two especially notable flowers, one white, one deep red. First, the flowers, not (at first) identified:


(#1) Blanchier


(#2) Rougier

Blanchier. A flower that not everyone will easily identity: could it be a lily, or an amaryllis, or some sort of daffodil / jonquil / narcissus? Blanchier presents a puzzle similar to this plant, from a 4/7/19 posting:


(#3) The Elizabethan mystery plant

Both turn out to be irises: Iris confusa, or bamboo iris, in #1, Iris douglasiana, or Douglas iris, in #3. And this is prime iris season; the more familiar bearded irises are now bursting into bloom; the Gamble Garden has a considerable assortment of gorgeous cultivars (see my 4/23/18 posting “Spring flowers, common and exotic”, with its section on bearded irises). GG also has a selection of stunning Iris japonica, or fringed irises, now in bloom.

From Wikipedia on Blanchier:

Iris confusa (also known as the bamboo iris) is a species of iris … It is a rhizomatous perennial plant, native to Western China. It has flowers which range from white to a soft lavender or pale blue in colour, with orange-yellow crests and purple dots. The plant’s broad, shiny leaves are attached to bamboo-like stems. It is cultivated as an ornamental plant in temperate regions.


(#4) Iris confusa foliage

… Unlike, most irises, the foliage is held at the top of the bamboo-like stems, rather than basally, so it looks more like a palm. The sword-shaped, or strap-shaped, leaves are yellowish-green, to bright green, glossy on the upper side, and glaucous on the underside. They are lighter in colour than Iris japonica leaves, and are normally thought to be evergreen.

Rougier. Rougier is an Anigozathus hybrid (A. flavidus x A. rufus) “Bush Sunset”, a red kangaroo paw . They haven’t appeared on this blog before, but their close relatives have. From my 7/21/16 posting “The kangaroo’s paw”, which has Anigozanthos“Tequila Sunrise” (seen at GG), plus photos of other cultivars in the yellow / orange range,”Bush Harmony” and “Harmony”; other varieties are pink, peach, and (especially) red.

From Wikipedia on Rougier’s coterie:

Anigozanthos is a small genus of Australian plants in the bloodwort family Haemodoraceae [#58 in my running inventory of families] The 11 species and several subspecies are commonly known as kangaroo paw and catspaw depending on the shape of their flowers

… The genus was first named by Jacques Labillardière in his work, Relation du Voyage à la Recherche de la Pérouse, issued in 1800. The French botanist collected and described the type species, Anigozanthus rufus, during the d’Entrecasteaux expedition’s visit to Southwest Australia in 1792. In recent years a number of numerous hybrids and cultivars have been developed. Kangaroo paws are much in demand as house plants and as cut flowers.

The red-and-green kangaroo paw is the floral emblem of Western Australia.

A note on liturgical colors. In Christian practice, liturgical colors are those used — for a liturgical season, holy day, or sacramental practice — in the vestments of the clergy and the hangings in a church. The association of particular colors with particular occasions is mind-bogglingly complex, differing among sects (or even congregations), in different countries and regions, at different times.

White and Red for Easter. As far as I know, neither Blanchier nor Rougier has served  as an emblem of Easter or Good Friday, but some other flowers can fill these roles. Most prominently, Lilium longiflorum, the Easter lily.

From my 4/19/17 posting “Calla, calla, calla, California”:


(#4) “It bears a number of trumpet shaped, white, fragrant, and outward facing flowers.”

[Personal digression. Early in his marriage, my father — a devoted plant person, who for a time bred fancy tulips — established a line of Easter lilies, which multiplied over the years. He carried them along from my parents’ first house to two further houses (then they stayed with that third house when my parents moved to California). Unfortunately, my mother detested Easter lilies, which she called “death lilies” (from her association of them with funerals), so my dad had to find places to plant them where my mother couldn’t see or smell them. In house #3, at this time of the year, you had to go out behind the garage to enjoy them; the neighbors on that side of the property adored them, however, so my dad got a appreciative audience for his garden work.]

White callas are also sold as Easter flowers. And so are white amaryllis plants. From Wikipedia:


(#5) White amaryllis, sometimes also called “Easter lily”

Hippeastrum is a genus of about 90 species and over 600 hybrids and cultivars of perennial herbaceous bulbous plants. They generally have large fleshy bulbs and tall broad leaves, generally evergreen, and large red or purple flowers.

Hippeastrum is a genus in the family Amaryllidaceae … The name Hippeastrum, given to it by William Herbert, means “Knight’s-star-lily”, although precisely what Herbert meant by the name is not certain. For many years there was confusion among botanists over the generic names Amaryllis and Hippeastrum, one result of which is that the common name “amaryllis” is mainly used for cultivars of this genus, often sold as indoor flowering bulbs particularly at Christmas in the northern hemisphere. By contrast the generic name Amaryllis applies to bulbs from South Africa, usually grown outdoors [for instance, Amaryllis belladonna, pink naked ladies].

On the red side, plants with red coloration that are conventionally associated with Christmas can be pressed into service for Good Friday (or all of Holy Week) as well (and Valentine’s Day too). Red amaryllises are especially favored in this role:


(#6) Currently featured at my local Whole Foods

Two crucifixion flowers. So much for liturgically colored flowers. But there are also two flowers conventionally associated with the crucifixion — two flowers that bear a very heavy burden of Christian symbolism. The passion flower and the dogwood.

Passiflora. From Wikipedia:


(#7) Passiflora incarnata flower

Passiflora, known also as the passion flowers or passion vines, is a genus of about 550 species of flowering plants, the type genus of the family Passifloraceae [#95 in my running inventory of families].

They are mostly tendril-bearing vines, with some being shrubs or trees. They can be woody or herbaceous. Passion flowers produce regular and usually showy flowers with a distinctive corona. The flower is pentamerous and ripens into an indehiscent fruit with numerous seeds.

… A number of species of Passiflora are cultivated outside their natural range for both their flowers and fruit. Hundreds of hybrids have been named; hybridizing is currently being done extensively for flowers, foliage and fruit.

… Many cool-growing Passiflora from the Andes Mountains can be grown successfully for their beautiful flowers and fruit in cooler Mediterranean climates, such as the Monterey Bay and San Francisco in California and along the western coast of the U.S. into Canada.

… The “Passion” in “passion flower” refers to the passion of Jesus in Christian theology [from the Latin verb ‘to suffer’; see my LLog posting of  9/4/05 “No pain, no gain?”]. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Spanish Christian missionaries adopted the unique physical structures of this plant, particularly the numbers of its various flower parts, as symbols of the last days of Jesus and especially his crucifixion [a list follows; in particular, the radial filaments are taken to represent the crown of thorns]

Cornus. From Wikipedia:


(#8) Cornus florida

Cornus is a genus of about 30–60 species of woody plants in the family Cornaceae [#96 in my inventory], commonly known as dogwoods, which can generally be distinguished by their blossoms, berries, and distinctive bark. Most are deciduous trees or shrubs, but a few species are nearly herbaceous perennial subshrubs, and a few of the woody species are evergreen. Several species have small heads of inconspicuous flowers surrounded by an involucre of large, typically white petal-like bracts, while others have more open clusters of petal-bearing flowers. The various species of dogwood are native throughout much of temperate and boreal Eurasia and North America, with China and Japan and the southeastern United States particularly rich in native species.

Species include the common dogwood Cornus sanguinea of Eurasia, the widely cultivated flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) of eastern North America, the Pacific dogwood Cornus nuttallii of western North America, the Kousa dogwood Cornus kousa of eastern Asia, and two low-growing boreal species, the Canadian and Eurasian dwarf cornels (or bunchberries), Cornus canadensis and Cornus suecica respectively.

… A Christian legend of unknown origin proclaims that the cross used to crucify Jesus was constructed of dogwood. As the story goes, during the time of Jesus, the dogwood was larger and stronger than it is today and was the largest tree in the area of Jerusalem. After his crucifixion, Jesus changed the plant to its current form: he shortened it and twisted its branches to assure an end to its use for the construction of crosses. He also transformed its inflorescence into a representation of the crucifixion itself, with the four white bracts cross-shaped representing the four corners of the cross, each bearing a rusty indentation as of a nail, the red stamens of the flower representing Jesus’ crown of thorns, and the clustered red fruit representing his blood.

3 Responses to “The white and the red”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    Over on Facebook, Betsy Herrington exclaims:

    Wow! Your top flower in the blog [#1, Iris confusa] looks so much like the catalpas we have around here, but they’re trees. Here’s a pic:

    Catalpas on this blog: in my 5/21/14 posting “You’re planting that old thing?”
    https://arnoldzwicky.org/2014/05/21/youre-planting-that-old-thing/

  2. Robert Coren Says:

    I’m a little surprised that anyone knowledgeable about flowers would have difficulty recognizing #1 as an iris, whereas I was as puzzled as everyone else about #3 when it appeared on Facebook (if not warned otherwise, I would have assumed it to be a lily).

  3. [BLOG] Some Wednesday links | A Bit More Detail Says:

    […] Easter, Arnold Zwicky considered red and white flowers, bearing the colours of the […]

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