Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Lotus of the ancients a tree for today

If you are looking for a large and semi ornamental and fruiting tree to plant in your own Mediterranean Garden, then the European nettle, Celtis australis or the Hackberry as it is commonly known maybe for you. The tree is believed to have been the Lotus of the ancients and has been referred to by both Homer and Tennyson in their writing. Rocks formed during the European Miocene period (between 23.8 and 5.32 million years ago) are found to have traces of the Hackberry. This plant is a therefore a survivor. Modern Mediterranean gardeners will appreciate this plant for its drought tolerance once established. It requires a sunny position and light sandy or loamy soil which is slightly alkaline. The long lived tree produces timber which is prized by wood turners, and a yellow dye can be extracted from the trees bark. Smaller thinner branches are often selected to be walking sticks. The small flowers of the tree are self fertile (hermaphrodite) though pale yellow or green and will produce small edible purple drupes (berries) which can be eaten raw or cooked. The leaves of the Nettle tree are astringent as you may have guessed and have curative properties for stomach disorders. Autumn colour occurs as the leaves turn yellow before falling.

....The mild-eyed melancholy Lotos-eaters came.

Branches they bore of that enchanted stem,
Laden with flower and fruit, whereof they gave....

Lo! in the middle of the wood,
The folded leaf is woo'd from out the bud
With winds upon the branch, and there
Grows green and broad, and takes no care,
Sun-steep'd at noon, and in the moon
Nightly dew-fed; and turning yellow
Falls, and floats adown the air.
Lo! sweeten'd with the summer light,
The full-juiced apple, waxing over-mellow,
Drops in a silent autumn night.
All its allotted length of days
The flower ripens in its place,
Ripens and fades, and falls, and hath no toil,
Fast-rooted in the fruitful soil....

Alfred Lord Tennyson - The Lotus eaters

They went and found themselves 
Among the Lotus-eaters soon, who used 
No violence against their lives, but gave 
Into their hands the lotus plant to taste. 
Whoever tasted once of that sweet food 
Wished not to see his native country more 
Nor give his friends the knowledge of his fate ; 
And then my messengers desired to dwell 
Among the Lotus-eaters, and to feed 
Upon the lotus, never to return. 
                                                              Homer - The Odyssey

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