Category Archives: International Travel

What’s In A Name?

The word “weed” conjures up immortal tough grasses with long tap roots that grow down into the belly of the earth and scar your hands when you try to dig them out, and then stubbornly reappear the following year with more vigor. Or the hairy crabgrass that grows wherever the sun hits the ground, along sidewalks, between and in between flower beds, and every nook and cranny of garden space.

When I learned that the agapanthus is considered a weed in New Zealand, I was flabbergasted. This is plant that seems contained, growing in clumps as day lilies do, sending thick, strong stems, 2-4 feet long, at the end of which some 50 – 60 star-shaped purple flowers, each with six dainty petal are arranged in pompom-like clusters.  To me, the agapanthus is a magnificent, stately flower, adaptable to tall, graceful flower arrangements. My sister floats the pompoms like candles in bowls of clear water.

My father, who taught me to love plants and genetically lent me his green thumb, used to define weeds as plants that grow where we’ve decided they shouldn’t. He was particularly fond of the dandelion,those yellow bursts of sunny petals that sprinkle unmowed lawns, or suddenly pop up on manicured ones, and then have the audacity to turn into feathery wisps that children love to blow and make a wish on. Not to mention dandelion wine and salad if you’re so inclined.

Here are some pics of the lovely agapanthus taken near where I live in New Zealand and my poem below.

Immigrant Dandelion

By

Lalita Noronha

Deep within the mud-brown ground                                                                   

of muscle and bone,

pith of water and cell,

a long tap root

sprouts fine fibrous hairs

and runs deep down

into the belly of the earth.

Sunflower yellow blooms

and feathery seeds,

dare to live

anywhere,

between cracks in pavements,

sidewalks,

within gated walls,

between blades of pristine grass

in sculptured lawns.

Undaunted by perennial labels—

(damned nuisance, common weed,)

they grow quietly, striving to succeed.

Ever heard a Tui sing?

Tui in a flax plant

Yesterday, I heard a Tui sing—and that was just one song of her repertoire. It was a beautiful pulsing beat, the sound of a flute, one note, mesmerizing and almost hypnotic. Like us, tuis sing different tunes—joyous, plaintive, flirtatious melodies, and sometimes, they click, cackle, wheeze and grunt. I assume that’s when they’re in a bad mood (like I am now; how could my Ravens not fly to the Super Bowl?) I’m glad I don’t have two voice boxes as tuis do; I’d have a double bout of laryngitis from yelling and cheering. Oh well!

I’ve learned to recognize tuis from their greenish-blue iridescent feathers and the white tufts on their throats, which turn into white shoulder pads when they fly. It’s beautiful to watch a flock in flight. Or even just a solitary little one flitting and flirting about in my sister and brother-in-law’s garden. Next year, there will be many more because the young kowhai (pronounced kofai) tree they’ve planted will burst into bloom—long, yellow, pendulous blossoms, so commonly seen everywhere in Auckland. Tuis feed on their nectar and fruit.

What they love equally well, perhaps even more, is the New Zealand flax plant, whose nectar ferments, causing them to totter a bit, and fly somewhat ungracefully. But hey, they don’t drive, so why begrudge them a little good cheer? Or a night cap?

Here are some pictures taken in Rotorua, about a three hour drive from Auckland, where I presently live.

Kowhai tree not yet in bloom
Tui drinking nectar from flax plant