As I mentioned last December, seeing the fattened flower buds of trees and shrubs this time of year really keeps me pert during the otherwise dreary winter months. Pieris japonica may very well be the showiest plant when it comes to winter bud display, as you can see from the specimen below, growing in Herald Square.
It seems appropriate that I post about Pieris on the heels of an astronomical post, since Pieris shares its common name with the constellation - and galaxy - Andromeda.
Andromeda was a princess from Greek mythology whose mother, Cassiopeia, was a bit too conceited - she claimed she was more beautiful than the Nereids, daughters of the sea god Nereus. I guess Nereus and Poseidon were tight, so as punishment to Cassiopeia, Poseidon had Andromeda chained to a rock and sacrificed her to Cetus the sea monster. Luckily, Perseus - drunk with his victory of killing Gorgon Medusa - was able to slay the sea monster and rescue Andromeda. They got hitched shortly after.
If this all sounds a bit familiar, perhaps it's because you remember that 'classic' 1981 flick, Clash of the Titans which, incidentally, has been re-made and should be coming to theaters soon.
Anyway, back to the plant. While Pieris japonica is still referred to commonly as Japanese Andromeda, use of this name is discouraged, since there is another plant, bog rosemary, whose scientific name is Andromeda polifolia. Yet another example of how important it is to know the botanical names.
Pieris is in the Ericaceae, or heath, family and is related to mountain laurel, rhododendron, azaleas and blueberries. But Pieris is unique from some species those genera because it's not native to the US and, more pragmatically, it is toxic to animals. As a result, deer tend to stay away from it.
As you can see from the images, the plant comes in white and red (as well as pink) flowering varieties.