Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Lucifer and Friends

Lucifer stands proud in my garden - that tall, very bright red 'Crocosmia'.
Before Lucifer became a by-word for Satan it was the name of the morning star, Venus, shining bright and clear at dawn. That is what Lucifer, the plant, does so well, brightens the mornings, and the afternoons and the evenings. Perhaps especially the evenings when it glows in the dusk.

Lucifer has spread around my garden and has travelled into many other gardens I know. It is so easy, so dramatic, such a joy to pass on to friends and neighbours.
A large part of the pleasure of gardening is to pass things on, to share favourite plants, to exchange a bowl of loganberries for a bowl of blackcurrants. So Lucifer appears, shining brightly in a garden down the road, across the road and over the hill.
I hope I have not be-devilled my neighbours' gardens.

It seems sad that the name of Lucifer, originally something shining and beautiful, should now be generally recognised as devilish.
There are many plants more directly named after Satan, many of them poisonous, barbed, threatening, bright red, horned, long-tongued or otherwise weird. Poor old Crocosmia Lucifer only got the name by being bright red.

Creeping Devil is apparently weird. It's a cactus that lies flat on the sandy ground of the Arizona desert and creeps like a caterpillar, dying at its rear end, growing forward from the front. Weird, but also practical because a cylinder on its side gets more light than one standing upright, and the Creeping Devil is basically a horizontal cylinder.

Devil's Beggar Tick is a nuisance, an irritant, having hooked seeds which attach themselves firmly into clothing, preferably socks. But also clever, because it uses animals and people to distribute seeds well away from the parent plant.

The Devils Walking Stick has very sharp thorns. It is related to Ginseng, and apparently (do not try this at home) a paste made of its poisonous seeds will kill head lice.

Devil's weed, of the Datura family has dangerously poisonous fruits. Devil's Ivy, an attractive houseplant is altogether poisonous, as is the Devil's Backbone, which is related to Jacob's Ladder.
Devil's Tongue is a name for both an very hot pepper and the Snake Palm tree, which grows with a trunk as sinuous as the serpent in the garden of Eden. We don't understand why these plants need to create strong poisons in their systems, or grow in convoluted form or generate such heat in their fruits that they can take the skin off  your mouth, but there will be very sound and sensible reasons if we could but find a key to them.

Here are the seed-pods of Devil's Claw from South Africa. Well, you can see the fingernails, can't you? Obviously devilish, but also useful as an anti-inflammatory and a help to those with arthritis, so not all bad. Imported, ground into pill form and sold by those promoting natural health cures, so not very Satanic after all.

Can any plants be all bad?
Some are poisonous, some are potentially dangerous, but that is undoubtedly because we do not have the knowledge to understand their properties and powers. There is so much we do not know - isn't it wonderful?
So I drink my early morning cuppa and admire Lucifer, the morning star, shining clear and bright and vividly red on even a dull damp morning.

And on a personal note, the roubles did not get squandered in Southern Russia. The paperwork failed us at the last moment. The passport has been nowhere in the last weeks. At some stage I will saunter beside the Black Sea in my gauzy dresses (probably not from November onwards though!).


marigold jam said...

Oh what a shame about your trip to Russia. Interesting post and as you say a shame your Lucifer is now associated with the Devil as it is such a fabulous plant and its colour glows in the early morning or late evening light like a flame - we need all the glow we can get this summer don't we? Interesting info too about the other Devilish plants.

Jenny Woolf said...

I'm sorry about your trip to Russia. And I agree with you about Lucifer. I wonder why it did become associated with the Devil -perhaps because of the brightness of the flames? Or perhaps named after Lucifer matches?

Relatively Retiring said...

Marigold: thank you for your comment. I'm glad that you obviously appreciate Lucifer in the garden too!

Jenny: thank you, too for the comment. Lucifer seems to be an interesting muddle. In its lower case version in the Latin Vulgate it was the name for the Morning Star,the planet Venus. Then Christian tradition adopted it with a capital as Lucifer, the Morning Star, cast out of heaven, and then a small step to Lucifer, the Devil!
Lucifer matches came into use in the 1830s, unstable, volatile and dangerous, and so another short step to Devilish - perhaps?

Jee said...

I think I'd better come and cadge some lucifer for our new flower bed - it might ward off the evil laurel hedge and stop it attacking the new fence. A sort of better the devil you know....

The Elephant's Child said...

I loved this post, and the beauty of your Lucifer. We too have plants that glow in the evening (liliums mostly) and they brighten my heart and soothe my day.
I do hope that Russia becomes possible soon.

Zhoen said...

They just don't want to be eaten, only to reproduce themselves. We don't enter into the equation save as another predator.

Lucifer - bringer of light. Pulsifer - bringer of darkness. The Church did not want illumination, it wanted secrecy and obedience - making anything bringing unwanted brilliance the Devil.

Relatively Retiring said...

Jee: you're welcome any time, but perhaps wait until it's finished flowering to collect some corms.

Elephant's Child: thank you for the kind comment. I'm sure a Russian trip will happen sooner or later.

Zhoen: thank you for two wise comments. I think some people's behaviour is not unlike plants!

Isabelle said...

Your garden looks lovely. Mine is supposed to look like that, but the thugs are taking over. Must go out and discipline them...

Leslee said...

Fascinating the way plants are named and their connotations, although even more fascinating the sheer variety of flora and their properties. I hope things work out with your travels!

Frances said...

Yes, that Satan is called the Bringer of Light has puzzled me. As does the bit in the Lord's Prayer: "lead us not into temptation", suggesting that it is God who leads us into temptation, whereas I always understood it was the other one who did that.
Both of which remind me that there are more things in heaven and earth etc, as well as that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Relatively Retiring said...

Isabelle: I'm sure you have so much more to deal with than thugs in the garden, but yes, the rain and then the warmth have make everything burgeon.

Leslee: the endless variety of plant life is an equally endless joy. I'm currently reading a book about the mathematics of it all.

Frances: yes, that an interesting point about being tempted and by whom, and there are thoughts (must look them up) that Satan came to bring enlightenment.

Fire Bird said...

oh I love crocosmia especially that very bright red one - didn't know it was called Lucifer - thanks for the fascinating devil plant information. Datura is used as a hallucinogenic by Mexican sorcerers - I guess in very controlled amounts