Monday, April 28, 2008


If you haven't been to the Conservatory Gardens yet (in the park at 5th Avenue and 104th Street), I strongly encourage you go now! The large allees of crabapples (Malus) are just past the height of their blooms (which I prefer, because you have thousands of flower petals, not just in the canopy, but dusting the ground as well). Also, the dozens of lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) are in full bloom, which perfumes the whole garden. Below, the lilacs are to the right, in the foreground of the pink crabapples.

As you can see, the tulips are looking pretty good, too.

A friend of mine asked if I knew the Whitman poem about Lilacs. I did not. Whitman wrote When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd, and included it in Leaves of Grass as an elegy for Lincoln.

The first stanza:
When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom'd,
And the great star early droop'd in the western sky in the night,
I mourn'd, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.

In the third stanza, he describes the shrub:
In the dooryard fronting an old farm-house near the white-wash'd palings,
Stands the lilac-bush tall-growing with heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
With many a pointed blossom rising delicate, with the perfume strong I love,
With every leaf a miracle -- and from this bush in the dooryard,
With delicate-color'd blossoms and heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
A sprig with its flower I break.

The botanical name, Syringa, is derivative of the Greek word syrinx which means hollow. Lilac stems can be hollowed out quite easily (as they are pithy) and have been used before to make pipes. The plant is native to the middle east, as is the common name lilac. Laylak is Arabic for blue, and nylak is Persian for blue. The species name vulgaris simply means common.

No comments: