Sunday, December 10, 2017

Cleyera Japonica, Sacred Tree

This tree is native to warm, humid forests, but it seems happy at the UC Botanical Garden. It is sacred in the Shinto religion. Branches are decorated with streamers and used as offerings or as props in ritual dance. Branches are also used in purification and decoration. It is attached to buildings or fences 

More info here:
Cleyera japonicaan evergreen tree whose branches are used in Shinto ritual, for example, as offering wands (tamagushi) presented before a kami. When presented as tamagushi, it is usual to attach paper streamers (shide) to the branch. Branches of sakaki are also used for decoration, purification implements, and as hand-held "props" (torimono) in ritual dance. Sakaki may also be affixed to shrine buildings or fences as a means of designating the interior as sacred space. Theories regarding the etymology of the word sakaki range from those based on the nature of the sakaki as an "evergreen" or "always thriving tree" (sakaeru-ki), and thus point to the sense of prosperity or thriving, to others which derive from the use of the tree as a "border-tree" (sakai-ki) used to demarcate sacred space. In the "divine age" chapters of Kojiki, the term sakaki appears in the episode of the rites observed to draw Amaterasu out of the heavenly rock cave; the passage states that "they tore from the very roots the flourishing masakaki of the mountain Ame no Kaguyama," festooned it with jewel beads, a mirror, and cloth (nigite). A similar passage is found in Nihongi, which also includes a passage in the record of Emperor Keikō that speaks of the "sakaki of Mount Shitsu," while the record of Emperor Chūai refers to a "flourishing (lit., ‘five-hundred branch') sakaki." All of these records note that jewels, swords, and mirrors were hung from the branches. The sakaki has been used since ancient times in divine rituals. While the name originally referred to all evergreens, it gradually was limited to those trees of the tea (Theaceae) family. In practice, however, a number of other trees, including oak (kashi), cryptomeria (sugi), boxwood (tsuge), and fir (momi) are sometimes substituted in ritual use. As the examples of masakaki found in Kojiki and Nihongi suggest, the trees were decorated in a number of different ways: some were adorned with mirrors, jewels, and swords, some with five-colored silks, mirror, jewels and swords, while others were decorated only with five-colored silks. In the Rules for Ritual Procedure at Shrines (Jinja saishiki) implemented in 1875, the term masakaki is used to refer to two poles of Japanese cypress (hinoki), to the tips of which are attached branches of sakaki, and below which are attached five-color silks (blue, yellow, red, white, and purple). The pole on the right (when facing the shrine) is decorated with a mirror and a jewel, and the one on the left with a sword.

-Inoue Nobutaka
An offering of sakaki at Niutsu Hime jinja

Wakayama Prefecture, 2005

©Fujii Hiroaki

Imitation sakaki made of plastic


Courtesy of Shinto Museum of Kokugakuin University

sakaki branch attached to a torii gate at Atsuta Jingū.

Aichi prefecture, 2005

©Ōsawa Kōji
"Establishment of a National Learning Institute for the Dissemination of Research on Shinto and Japanese Culture"
4-10-28 Higashi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, 150-8440, Japan
Copyright ©2002-2006 Kokugakuin University. All rights reserved.
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Holiday Gift Suggestions

Anybody looking for butterfly gifts? My book is great for kids in elementary school.


This movie is wonderful for all ages, although you may need to explain a bit to younger ones. . It is a short of the Monarch lifecycle.

Secret Lives of Monarchs

Last but not least, the 45 minute film that covers many aspects of butterflies; predators, behavior, conservation, etc. The price listed is for those who want to do public shows. If you want to watch at home, it is much cheaper.

This one is best for middle school an up, but it can be shown to younger kids chapter by chapter.

Sunday, November 12, 2017


I love the craggy trunk on this old tree. Or young tree. Since olives have been cultivated for thousands of years, this one is still just a baby, although it is older than most of the ones I have seen. Of course people eat the olives. But the oil has been burned for light and it was massaged into the skin long before moisturizers were available. 

This tree can be considered sacred because it is a part of many religious traditions. In Greek mythology, it was a gift from Athena, and considered the greatest gift to humankind. Although some may think the grape deserves that credit. Muslims used to wood to make prayer beads. Of course, in the bible, there is the story of the dove bringing the olive branch to Noah to let him know that the floods were subsiding. 

Seems like the olive has always been a symbol of peace. 

Saturday, November 11, 2017


I love iris. I have planted many in my yard, but few bloom. They are so fickle! But this beautiful purple and white one bloomed a few years ago. Gorgeous! I like iris because so many have beautiful purple flowers. But they are named iris, after Iris, the Rainbow Goddess, because they come in all colors of the rainbow. So iris is not really a sacred plant. It is just named after a mythical creature. 

Iris are mostly used in gardens for their flowers. But the roots have been used to make perfume. Which, after drying for five years, ends up smelling more like violets than iris. Strange!

Sacred Myrtle

In Greek myth, myrtle is sacred to Aphrodite. She wore a belt of myrtle that made her powerfully attractive. So a myrtle girdle created irresistible eroticism. Sexy! However, in Jewish mysticism, myrtle was a symbol of masculine force, and myrtle branches were given to grooms before they deflowered their new wife. Maybe myrtle is just good for sex, no matter what gender. 

Myrtle is also used during Sokkot, which is sort of a Jewish Thanksgiving. For this holiday, a Sukkah is built of four kinds of plants, citron, palm, willow and myrtle. Then while celebrating, people are supposed to eat in this structure. Ritual and prayer are also involved.  

Myrtle has white flowers and fragrant leaves. It grows about 15' high and can make a lovely evergreen hedge. 


This is the coast live oak growing in my backyard. It started out as a sapling when we moved in, but it is huge now. It is home to many insects, which attracts birds. But this post isn't really about my tree. It is about tree magic. 

To the druids, the oak was sacred. Not much is known about the Druids, because they didn't write anything down. But they worshiped outside in groves of oaks. Trees are also home to many small magical creatures, like elves,sprites, fairies and dryads. 

When the Christians wanted to covert the Druids, they built  churches in the groves. I guess it worked, I think the Druids died out, but it seems sacrilegious to me. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017


Milkweed is the host plant for Monarchs. The butterflies lay their eggs on the the plant and the caterpillars eat the leaves. Seems like most people know that. 

But did you know that the scientific name of this plant is Asclepias curassavica? And it was named after the Greek god of medicine, Asclepius. This plant has been used for "what ails you" for thousands of years. Intestinal parasites? Got it. Warts? Got it. Syphilis? Got it. And the list goes on. 

So, since it was named after a god, I consider it a sacred plant. 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Pomegranate--Another Sacred Plant

In Greek mythology, the pomegranate is a symbol of the underworld. It grew from the blood of Adonis, god of beauty and desire. 

Most people have heard the story of Persephone, daughter of Demeter and Zeus. When she was out picking flowers, Hades came up from the underworld and stole her away. She was probably picking flowers in a botanical garden, which we all know is SO WRONG! Don't pick anything in a botanical garden! The pic was taken in the herb garden. at the UC Botanical Garden.

Demeter, the goddess of agriculture, grain, and fertility was sad and angry. She used her power to cause famine. Zeus decided to use his power to get his daughter back on earth. Here is where the pomegranate, food of the underworld, comes into play. Persephone ate pomegranate seeds while in the underworld, so she was obligated to stay. The gods and goddesses worked out a compromise and Persephone was forced to stay in the underworld part of the year. During that part of the year, winter arrives on earth. 

So we can thank the gods and goddesses for the seasons. 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Growing Pipevine from Seed

So, it takes about a year. In June, cover the Aristolochia californica fruits so that the wasps don't eat the seeds. When the fruits split open, near the end of summer, take out the seeds and plant them. They sprout in January or so. And by June, the seedlings are looking good. My bags are now in place for the next crop.

Thursday, April 20, 2017


For years, I have seen Tortoiseshells at the UC Botanical Garden in March. I have looked for the offspring, but have never found any. Until today!

Today, someone told me that they had found Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars on some ceanothus. I believed that they had seen caterpillars, but Pipevine Swallowtails on Ceanothus? Not likely. But she was able to tell me where so that I could find them. I am calling these Tortoiseshells. I only saw them on one spot on one bush, but there are probably others in the Garden. I will have to keep looking!