Tag Archives: Tagetes tenuifolia

CELEBRATING DAY OF THE DEAD

Inspired by my friend Nina’s beautiful altar that she and her family and friends create every year for the feast of St. Joseph, for the past seven years or so we have been celebrating Día de Muertos with an ofrenda that we set up on our front porch. Placing the ofrenda on the porch over Halloween makes for a wonderful hybrid bridge between American Halloween and the Mexican tradition of honoring the souls of lost loved ones. On Halloween night our porch has become a gathering place where we so very much look forward to seeing our neighborhood friends each year.

Cemetery Macheros, Mexico

The Mexican festivities of Día de Muertos typically begins the night of October 31st, with families sitting vigil at grave sites. Mexican tradition holds that on November 1st and 2nd, the dead awaken to reconnect and celebrate with their living family and friends; on the 1st to honor the souls of children and on the 2nd, to honor adults. The ofrenda, or “offering to the dead,” is a sacred Mexican tradition where those who have passed away are honored by the living.

In late October millions of Monarchs begin to arrive to the magnificent oyamel fir and pine tree forests of the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, located in the heart of Mexico in the eastern regions of Michoacán and western edge of Estado de México. Their return coincides with the annual celebration of Día de Muertos. In Mexican folklore, butterflies represent the souls of departed loved ones, returning to Earth to be remembered by their ancestors. An even older tradition connects the Monarchs with the corn harvest, as their return signified that the corn was ripe. In the language of the native Purpécha Indians, the name for the Monarch is “harvester.”

Oyamel fir tree (Abies religiosa) with Monarchs Cerro Pelon, Mexico

The Day of the Dead finds its roots in the native people of central and southern Mexico. The Aztecs recognized many gods, including a goddess of death and the underworld named Mictecacihuatl.

Mictecacihuatl was linked to both death and resurrection. According to one myth, Mictecacihuatl and her husband collected bones so that they might be returned to the land of the living and restored by the gods. Just as did the ancient Egyptians, the Aztecs appeased the underworld gods by burying their dead with food and precious objects.

Día de Muertos is a celebration blending both indigenous people’s cultural beliefs and observances held by Spanish Catholics. The conquerors found it difficult to convince native peoples to give up their rituals honoring the goddess of death Mictecihuatl. The compromise was to move these indigenous festivities from late July to early November to correspond with the three-day Christian observance of All Saints’ Eve, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.

This year I have been thinking about Camille Saint-Saëns’s Danse macabre, Op. 40, which is based on the French legend that Death packs a fiddle and comes to play at midnight on Halloween, causing the skeletons in the cemetery to crawl out of the ground for their annual graveyard dance party.

Saint-Saëns’s Danse macabre comes from an even older concept, the medieval allegory of the all conquering and equalizing power of death, which was expressed in poetry, music, the visual arts, and drama in Western Europe in the late Middle Ages.

Marigold flowers (Tagetes erecta), known as cempazúchitl or flor de muerto are placed on graves and ofrendas. The cempazúchitl are believed to lure souls back from the dead with their vibrant colors and lovely citrus, musky fragrance

Marigolds (Tagetes tenuifolia) and Painted Lady butterfly

 

Northward Migrating Monarch Butterflies Arrive to Good Harbor Beach and to Our Garden!

While snapping a photo of the divinely scented honeysuckle embowering the outside shower…
Honeysuckle embowered shower enclosure Lonicera japonica 'Purpurea'

I spotted our first female Monarch butterfly of the season.

Monarch Butterfly Marsh MilkweedShe’s arrived a bit earlier than usual this year, or more accurately, the milkweeds in our garden are slightly behind in blossoming time-Marsh Milkweed won’t bloom for another half-week and Common Milkweed won’t flower for another two weeks (both milkweed patches are growing nearby the shower enclosure). However, she did not have nectaring in mind.

Monarch Butterfly Marsh MilkweedPausing at the emerging buds and foliage of the Marsh Milkweed, then to the Common Milkweed, then back to Marsh, and curling her abdomen to the underside, one by one she oviposited golden egg after golden egg.

Monarch Butterfly depositing egg on Marsh Milkweed

Monarch Butterfly depositing egg on Marsh Milkweed

Typically, she searches for the uppermost, freshly emerging foliage in which to deposit her eggs. Click the above photo to make it larger. The newly deposited egg, no larger than the size of a pinhead, is a visible pale yellow dot adjacent to her abdomen.

Monarch Butterfly Marsh MilkweedAfter ovipositing an egg on the Marsh Milkweed, she next deposited several on the Common.

Common Milkweed Asclepias syriaca Monarch Butterfly Eggs

Click the above photo. Five eggs are visible, two on the upper leaf of the plant to the left and three on the upper leaf of the plant to the right.

I never tire of watching butterflies, especially Monarchs, whether in our garden or further afield, and eagerly anticipate their arrival each year. Monarchs are particularly gratifying to observe and record because they are one of the larger butterflies that grace our region. Oftentimes when I am photographing a smaller butterfly such as a Summer Azure, with a mere one-inch wingspan, I don’t know what I have captured through the camera’s lens until returning to the computer to download and edit. Monarchs, with their big and bold wing patterning and approachableness (is that a word?) are a joy to photograph. Because of their extraordinary migration, I believe the Monarch butterflies are one of the natural wonders of the world. We are so blessed to live in a community that plays host to such great numbers. PLANT MILKWEED and you, too, will have Monarchs! I guarentee it!

ommon Milkweed Asclepias syriaca Good Harbor Beach GloucesterCommon Milkweed in full bloom at Good Harbor Beach this week.

ommon Milkweed Asclepias syriaca Good Harbor Beach Gloucester

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) found along the shoreline grows in sandy soil and is exposed daily to windy seaside conditions. In these rough and tumble conditions it typically grows two- to two and a half -feet tall. Conversely, where in our garden it grows in fertile, friable soil and lives in a sheltered corner protected from wind, Common Milkweed often grows six to seven feet tall.

Walking along the boardwalk I often catch the sweet honey-hay fragrance of the Common Milkweed when in full bloom. Marsh Milkweed has little to no fragrance. Several Monarchs were seen while photographing this patch of milkweed.

ommon Milkweed Asclepias syriaca Good Harbor Beach Gloucester

Torch Lily (Kniphofia uvaria)Blooming along the pathway leading to the outdoor shower is the magnificent hummingbird attractant Torch Lily (Kniphofia uvaria) and bee magnet Helenium, commonly called Sneezeweed or Dog Tooth Daisy.

Helenium Sneezeweed Dog Tooth Daisy Mexican marigolds Tagetes tenuifolia

The foliage of the diminutive Mexican marigolds (Tagetes tenuifolia), commonly referred to by the Mexican people as “flowers of the dead,” bears a fabulous spicy citrus fragrance. Flowers and foliage are edible and add both a tangy color and taste. I grow it in a pot, keeping it sometimes near the shower and sometimes moving it to the dining area.

The female Monarch stayed the morning and I have not seen her since. Lucky us, though. I found fifteen eggs, without really trying too hard, and will now have lots of caterpillars and chyrsalids for upcoming butterfly programs!

End Note regarding Japanese honeysuckle: The variety discussed here is a purple-stemmed variant and I have seen it written as Lonicera japonica var. repens and Lonicera japonica ‘Purpurea.’ In our zone 6 garden, I have found it to be well-behaved, neither bearing fruit nor sending runners. I do not recommend planting in zones 7 and above.  Lonicera ‘Purpurea is highly attractive to all manner of bees. As richly scented as the species, the blossoming time of L. ‘Purpurea’ lasts well over six weeks, equating weeks of showering while enwrapped in the spellbinding sweet scent of honeysuckle.

Lonicera japonica var. repens or Lonicera japonica 'Purpurea'Lonicera japonica var. repens or Lonicera japonica ‘Purpurea’