Symbolism and introduction
The meaning of the rhododendron, considered the king of shrubs among the evergreen flowering plants of temperate landscapes, is a symbol of elegance, beauty and temperance by virtue of moderation. In the language of flowers, it is also the flower to suggest caution in view of pitfalls, dictated by the toxicity of some species of rhododendron. Ancient rituals and magical spells instead exploited the rhododendrons for the powerful powers of protection, in particular of the home.
Native to the Himalayas and Southeast Asia, the 'rhododendron' (literally 'rose tree', from the Greek 'rhodon', 'rose', and 'dendron', 'tree') was scientifically classified for the first time in the 16th century by the naturalized Dutch French botanist Charles l'Ecluse (1526-1609), later known as Carolus Clusius. The first kind of rhododendron - called 'Alpine rose' due to its origin from the Central European Alps - it was introduced and cultivated in Great Britain in 1656; in 1736, it was imported to America from England following a commercial agreement between the English Quaker Peter Collinson and the American botanist and grower John Bartram. The genus 'rhododendron' and the first precise rules of hierarchy for the systematic use of the name in plants were inserted by the Swedish physician, botanist and zoologist Linnaeus (Carl Nilsson Linnaeus, later Carl von Linné for the acquisition of a noble title) in the two-volume work 'Species plantarum' (1753).
Until the mid-19th century, only small quantities of rhododendrons they were secretly shipped to Europe since access to foreigners was forbidden in China, except for French Jesuits as missionaries. The entry was also granted to the British following the Treaty of Nanking (1842) at the end of the first opium war, so the deputy superintendent of the gardens of Chiswick Robert Fortune, sent on expedition in 1843 by the London Royal Horticultural Society, returned to England with new species in 1862. Hundreds of other varieties were introduced from China and Tibet by Scotsman George Forrest (1873-1932), the greatest rhododendron collector of all, after a trip made in 1904 on behalf of the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh .
Toxicology studies have shown that some species of rhododendron native to northern Asia Minor are in fact poisonous due to the presence in the plant - in particular in the leaves, in the flowers, in the nectar and, therefore, transferred to the honey - of the toxin 'grayanotoxin' which, once ingested, depending on the quantity consumed, it affects the gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, nervous and muscular systems causing symptoms of varying severity. Although the leaves are hard and scarcely palatable, the animals most at risk are grazing animals, horses, birds: death from poisoning can occur within a few hours or at most within two days of the onset of illness. In humans, intoxication or poisoning with grayanotoxin or toxic honey of rhododendron mostly collected by amateur beekeepers lasts about 24 hours, manifests itself with clinical signs - dizziness, weakness, sweating, nausea, vomiting, gastro-aches abdominal, cardiac abnormalities and arrhythmias, lowering of blood pressure - shortly after ingestion (from a few minutes to two or more hours) and is rarely fatal. Several cases of this kind were documented in the 1980s in Turkey and Austria, but the diagnoses did not require hospitalization.
The Greek historian and mercenary Xenophon (ca. 430/425 BC-355 BC) reported the news of the toxicity of rhododendron honey in the work 'Anabasi' (IV century BC), an account of the failure of the armed enterprise of 10 thousand hired mercenaries by Cyrus the Younger to try to usurp the throne of Persia from his elder brother Artaxerxes II, king of Persia and Egypt. He described that, during the army's withdrawal from Babylon in 401 BC, the soldiers encamped on the Armenian hills of Trebizond (founded by the Greeks as Trapezunte, in Turkish Trabzon), on the Turkish southern coast of the Black Sea (in Turkish Pontus Eusinus), consumed in large quantities the honey extracted from the combs of the many beehives on the yellow-flowered rhododendron trees to calm their hunger, but most of them were seized with nausea and vomiting, while those who had staggered binge fell unconscious and were deprived of senses for a whole day. The same misadventure struck in 327 BC. also to the army of Alexander III, king of Macedonia, known as Alexander the Great, on an expedition on the way to India and, in 66 BC, to the troops of the Roman general and politician Gneo Pompeo Magno, in retreat near Trabzon during the third war (75 BC-65 BC) against Mithridates VI, king of Pontus, called Mithridates the Great. In this case, the Greek historian and geographer Strabo (c. 58 BC-c. 21/25 AD) reported that, during an attack, the three squadrons of soldiers who were prey to the effects of the poisoned honey of which they were fed and taken from beehives perhaps deliberately placed along the route by the defenders. In the same region, by a similar stratagem, in 946, the Russian enemies of Olga of Kiev, regent (945-ca.963) for her son Svyatoslav, accepted a large quantity of fermented honey and then 5 thousand of them were massacred while they had fallen. in a stupor. The Roman writer and naturalist Pliny the Elder (Gaius Pliny the Second, 23-79) had already warned about the toxicity of the spring blooms of some species of rhododendrons transferred to honey of this type in the Black Sea area. (77). The Turks, while aware of the potential side effects of locally produced rhododendron honey, added it to alcoholic beverages to intensify its effects. For this purpose, this honey was imported to Europe by the ton in the 18th, after the 'Black Sea rhododendron' shrub was introduced by the French botanist Joseph Pitton de Tournefort (1656-1708) in 1702 after a trip to Asia Minor. .
Rhododendron meaning: Uses
In many parts of the world, bushy plants and rhododendron trees are widely cultivated for commercial and ornamental purposes in landscape architecture. For the size and woody shrub structure, for the inflorescences with large showy and fragrant flowers, usually tubular in the shape of a bell or funnel with bright colors (red, purple, pink, white or streaked with purple), for the shiny foliage evergreen (in many varieties), rhododendrons stand out in gardens or as low-growing hedges. Some introduced species replace the natural undergrowth and are invasive in wooded areas.
The twisted rhododendron tree trunks are used in the processing of handcrafted furniture (chairs, benches, chests, stools, wardrobes, bed frames, etc.) and other products (chests, etc.); the branches are carved to make walking sticks in North Carolina, combat knife handles in India, incense holders to be burned in Buddhist temples. In places where it is easy to collect, it is an excellent firewood.
In India, the aromatic flowers of rhododendron are mainly used in perfumery (air fresheners, etc.); the essential oil with its characteristic fresh herbaceous notes, strong and intoxicating, is also distilled for cosmetic use and to make incense sticks. The 'Guranse' ('rhododendron') wine is prepared with the flowers of a species of Indian rhododendron: after 24 hours of harvesting, the squeezed juice is placed in a wooden barrel, molasses and yeast are added and left to ferment for 25- 30 days and then distilled. In the mountain villages of Lachen and Lachung, in the state of Sikkim in northeastern India, the rhododendron plant extract is used by the local population as a natural insecticide and the sweet-sour corolla is cooked in tasty fries; in areas of Tibet, jam is prepared.
In ancient Indian medicine, dried rhododendron flowers were recommended to relieve diarrhea, dysentery, chronic rheumatism, sciatica, syphilis, while wood and twigs in cases of phthisis and chronic fever. It was found that the rhododendron plant can perform hepatoprotective and anti-inflammatory functions, probably due to the content of effective anti-oxidants (flavonoids, saponins, polyphenols), while the root regulates renal activity. In the territories around the Himalayas, the use of rhododendron essential oil as a physical-mental calming and to relieve rheumatic pain is popular. Incense for local use is prepared with the fragrant leaves of the high mountain rhododendron 'Himalaya Sunpati'.
recovered in China and in the Caucasus, however, the first written records date back to the sixteenth century.
It arrived in Europe only in the nineteenth century, the English botanists began to produce hybrid species. A notable contribution was made by
George Forrest, envoy of the Royal Horticultural Society, who during his long stay in Yunnan, discovered varieties not yet known. Due to the fragility of its flowers, al rhododendron Some believe that it is the emblem of the first declaration of love.
Meaning of flowers: the rhododendron
Today, continuing with our usual Monday appointments regarding the language of flowers, we will explore the meaning of rhododendron. A truly characteristic flower whose name, deriving from the Greek, can be translated as "rose tree"(Rhodon = rose and dendron = tree). Its origins are very ancient: some fragments of this plant have been found in millenary finds from China and the Caucasus. The delicacy of its flowers has made that to his flowering was given the meaning of "fragile enchantment".
The first written records of this flower date back to the sixteenth century. Its "birth" in Europe is relatively recent, since it was only imported to our continent in the nineteenth century. It was then the English who made this flower grow in appreciation and magnificence through the studies and experiments of the botanists who created dozens of hybrid species. It was in particular George Forrest, a scientist of the Royal Horticultural Society, to foster this development.
In fact, during his stay in Yunnan he discovered some unknown varieties of the flower. Even today it is inserted in bouquets of roses that are sold with the intention of attracting the attention of the beloved woman: the result of the ten-year tradition of considering them a symbol of the first declaration of love.
Rhododendron is one of the shrubs most appreciated among evergreen flowering plants. It is often used as a symbol of elegance and beauty, by virtue of its very beautiful flowering but pervaded by a particular aura of moderation. In some cases it also assumes the connotation of caution. In fact, some species of rhododendron are highly toxic.
There is a Ladin legend about this particular flower that we want to tell you about. In an ice castle lived the snow queen with her handsome son, the snow prince. While hunting, the young man came across a flowery expanse inhabited by a beautiful girl, the flower princess.
The young man saw the girl disappear all of a sudden and sadly returned to his mother, crying disconsolately because he was in love with the flower princess and intending to marry her. To please her son, the snow queen went to the flower princess to ask her to marry her son. But the latter did not want to go to a place where no flowers bloomed.
And the princess couldn't even raise them on her own, although she wanted to marry the prince too. The mother had to give the sad news to the snow prince, who began to despair and fell ill. The queen sought help everywhere. And her continuous walking not only consumed her shoes but hurt her feet which started to bleed.
Returning disconsolately to the castle, the prince saw that flowers of a beautiful blood red had sprouted at his mother's feet, while from her tears that had fallen to the ground small white balls had blossomed, the same ones that can be seen in spring rhododendrons. In this way, flowers were also born in the ice castle and the prince was able to marry his princess.
Rhododendron: The genealogy of the rhododendron
The rhododendron is a flowering plant, classified within the ericaceae family and is an evergreen shrub, suitable for cultivation in the garden. This plant comes from Asia although several species are native to Europe, maintaining their characteristic features. It is a plant that is characterized by very robust branches whose leaves have quite large dimensions and are dark green in color. Flowering starts in autumn and continues until late winter with the first cold. The flowers sprout on the ends of the branches (recently generated) and have the corolla divided in half by five lobes. The rhododendron includes 500 species of shrubs and trees, flowering generates particularly large and characteristic inflorescences.
In Italy Edit
Among the spontaneous species in Italy there are: [without source]
- Rhododendron hirsutumL. is an evergreen shrub, up to 50 cm high, frequent on calcareous-dolomitic or rarely siliceous soils with the presence of limestone, of our mountains at altitudes between the mountain and the cacuminal level, but also rarely at much lower altitudes it has tortuous branches that in the apical part they bear leathery and briefly petiolate leaves, ovoid or elliptical in shape, with entire and long ciliated margin, dark green on the upper side and lighter on the lower one. The summer-flowering flowers are supported by hairy peduncles and are gathered in terminal corymbs in a maximum number of 10.The calyx is also bristly and hairy, and ends by dividing into 5 lobes, lanceolate-acute, while the pink or more rarely corolla white, has a funnel shape, with the flap that opens into 5 ciliated lobes it has 10 stamens with filaments that exceed the length of the corolla, and which carry purple anthers. The pistil has the upper ovary divided into 5 lodges and surmounted by a stylus as long as the stem filaments the fruit is an oval capsule.
- Rhododendron ferrugineumL. (Rose of the Alps), can be recognized by the characteristic pink flowers (actually fuchsia). The color of the petals combined with its peculiar characteristics make it a plant absolutely unlike all other known plants.
Among the group of azaleas, grown industrially, we remember Rhododendron indicum with persistent leaves, and the numerous species, hybrids and varieties, with double flowers, originating in China and Japan, such as Rhododendron phoeniceum, Rhododendron mucronatum, Rhododendron simisii is Rhododendron obtusum. Another group of azaleas with persistent foliage is that of the kurumas, with modest development, with small flowers, but with compact and abundant flowering, they are hybrids and cultivars obtained from Rhododendron obtusum.
Among the deciduous azaleas, we remember the Rhododendron flavum (known as the pontic azalea) native to Asia Minor, with large, simple, yellow or orange bell-shaped flowers, which bloom before the vegetative restart, the Rhododendron japonicum (Azalea mollis) native to China and Japan, with purple-red or yellow flowers with spring blooms, and the Rhododendron nudiflorum native to North America.
As an ornamental plant, the rustic species are grown in the ground, in the gardens as isolated groups or in pots on the terraces for the formation of saplings and bushes, or in the greenhouse the more delicate species, for the forced production of potted plants of less greater than 30 cm, for the decoration of the apartments in the Christmas or Easter period, discarding them after flowering. Azaleas are also among the most gifted flowers for Mother's Day.