Micro-season 22

蚕起食桑 Kaiko okite kuwa o hamu :
Silkworms start feasting on mulberry leaves.

小満 Shōman (Lesser ripening): May 21-25

Shōman is one of the twenty four seasonal points. By now it is getting much warmer and many plants are growing well. By late May, the fresh, new green leaves have started to turn a darker green color. Traditionally this is also the time when the little cuckoo hototogisu starts to chirp.

Tessen: Clematis florida

I have a great fondness for the many kinds of Clematis: tessen (Clematis florida) that have started to bloom in my neighborhood. Tessen in Japanese means “iron wire” and this refers to the very thin stalks which climb up like tendrils on fences and trellises to support the flowers. There is another reading of this Japanese name meaning “steel hermit”, which connotes the lean and wiry body composition of a spiritual ascetic. The flower seems disproportionately large relative to the extremely thin stem which reinforces the need for an “iron” constitution. The bloom has a beautiful windmill shape and colors range from white, through pink, mauve and dark purple. When I have tried to arrange this in my Ikebana class it has been clear that a hanging vase is well suited allowing the tessen to flow down. It’s much more of a challenge trying to arrange it in an upright fashion as the flower needs to be supported by something external.

Kodemari: Spiraea cantoniensis

Another flower I have been seeing recently is Reeve’s Spiraea: kodemari (Spiraea cantoniensis). This Spiraea is an excellent flowering shrub that is frequently planted in Japanese gardens. It makes quite a focal specimen. Flowering branches are often used in Ikebana flower arrangements. From its base, individual stems grow in clusters with a large number of small white flowers which blossom in a ball shape hence its name kodemari (small handball).

Ki-shōbu: Yellow flag Iris

Another variety of Iris which really stands out right now because of its incredibly bright color is the Yellow Flag Iris: ki-shōbu (Iris pseudoacorus). Interestingly in the reverse direction of migration that Irises have traditionally travelled from Eastern cultures to Western, the Yellow Flag Iris was introduced to Japan in 1896 from Europe and is now widely seen throughout Japan.

The description for the twenty second micro-season refers to the very important silkworm that has been bred for its silk making capacity since ancient times in both China and Japan. It takes approximately one month of feasting on mulberry leaves before it will start to spin a white thread around its body, thus creating a cocoon as the precursor to precious silk.