is for Chinese Lantern plants
I tend to be a bit reflective around this time of year. It always makes me smile to know that my birthday on July 2 falls (in a normal, non-leap year) at the exact center of the calendar year. There are 182 days before my birthday and 182 days after. I like to think of my celebration day as a day somewhat outside the flow of time, or perhaps more accurately exactly smack in the middle of it. But in any case, it’s a wonderful time to pause and think of what’s come before in the year, and what I’d like to invite in into the second half.
Although one tends to think of the beautiful Chinese Lantern plants more in autumn, they’re on my mind today. While going through my greeting card stash, I came across this one created by artist Shreya Shah.
Entitled “Grow Toward the Light” it reads “Chinese lantern plants have rhizome roots! They are stronger and more likely to thrive because they are connected underground. Even if you pull one stem out, more plants grow in their place. We have a lot to learn from rhizomes, and chinese lanterns, which grow towards the light and let the rest fall away.”
I like the admonishment to “grow toward the light.” And while I hope I’m always headed in that direction, I think I’ll accept it as a particular invitation for the rest of the year.
Chinese Lanterns are members of the Nightshade family, and are alternatively known as Japanese Lanterns, winter cherry, ground cherry, bladder cherry, and strawberry groundcherry.
The plants bear white flowers, but eventually calyxes, papery pods, envelope the flowers. These pods later encase a berry with a seed, and in the fall the pods turn bright orange. One can certainly see the resemblance to traditional Asian lanterns that are lit.
The growing habits of Chinese Lantern are often considered invasive so if you’re tempted to try growing some you might want to keep them confined to a container. They’re also a bit tricky to grow as they can be vulnerable to pests. But those lovely orange papery pods might well be worth the effort. The pods start out green and then mature into orange, at which point you can harvest and dry them. Once dried, although a bit delicate, they can last for years. I think they’re lovely additions to autumn altars.
While I associate them with autumn, the Japanese use them in summer ceremonies. They are used as part of Buddhist Obon ceremonies which are celebrations to honor the spirits of one’s ancestors. The “lanterns” are used to guide the souls of the deceased.
There is also an annual festival dedicated to hōzuki-ichi, the lantern plant. It’s held in Tokyo at Senso-ji Temple, which is the city’s oldest temple built in 628. It is believed that a prayer offered here on July 10 is equivalent to prayer for 46,000 days, and so many people visit during this time.
Sheri Doyle wrote a poem about Chinese Lantern plant for the children’s magazine Cricket, and it has a lovely illustration by artist Irene Rinadi. You can check it out here.
So tell me, are you familiar with these lovely little papery wonders? Have a favorite flower that begins with the letter C? Inspired by the admonition to “grow toward the light”? Do tell – you know I love to hear.