Friday, September 25, 2015

Variegated Holly: Plant Badge of the Clan MacKenzie

Clan MacKenzie symbols: The crest with the clan motto; 
a MacKenzie tartan in the background; 
and sprigs of variegated holly, the clan plant badge. 
"He could, of course, announce that he did not mean to swear his oath to Colum, and head back to his warm bed in the stables. If he wanted a serious beating or his throat cut, that is. He raised an eyebrow at me, shrugged, and submitted with a fair show of grace to Willie, who rushed up with a pile of snowy linen in his arms and a hairbrush in one hand. The pile was topped by a flat blue bonnet of velvet, adorned with a metal badge that held a sprig of holly. I picked up the bonnet to examine it, as Jamie fought his way into the clean shirt and brushed his hair with suppressed savagery. 
The badge was round and the engraving surprisingly fine. It showed five volcanos in the center, spouting most realistic flames. And on the border was a motto, Luceo non Uro. 
'I shine, not burn,' I translated aloud. 
'Aye, lassie: the MacKenzie motto,' said Willie, nodding approvingly at me.' " 
-- OUTLANDER,  by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 10, "The Oath-Taking"
According to lore, plants associated with individual Scottish clans are referred to as clan or plant badges. The European yew, for example, is the plant badge of Clan Fraser. It is said that clansmen wore sprigs of their badge attached to their caps. Women pinned plant badges to their tartan sashes at the shoulder. (If you have Scottish ancestry and are curious about what plant might be the badge for your clan go here to look it up.)

The Clan MacKenzie has two plant badges:
Deer's grass (also called heath club rush - sometimes confused with club moss) and Variegated holly

I have not succeeded in tracking down the botanical name for deer's grass/heath club rush, so I am not sure what that plant is. If you are familiar with it, please leave me a comment.

The variegated holly, however, is quite easy to reference and find in the local landscape. In fact, here in the Northwest, we have two plants that go by the common name "variegated holly." One is an English holly with leaves that have cream-colored margins. The other is a member of the Osmanthus clan. Both have variegated foliage and prickly leaves.

Botanical Information

Variegated English holly
Family: Aquifoliaceae
Genus: Ilex
Species: Ilex aquifolium 'Argenteo Marginata'

This is an evergreen shrub that can eventually become a small tree, up to 10-15 feet tall and 5-10 feet wide. These plants are quite hardy and do best in the northern part of the US. They produce white flowers in spring, followed by red berries in fall.

English holly berries contain high levels of certain alkaloids, along with caffeine and theobromine. They are regarded as poisonous to humans, although death by holly berry is rarely reported.

In her book, A Druid's Herbal, Ellen Evert Hopman has this to say about the magical uses of English holly, especially at the time of Winter Solstice:
"Holly, with it's warrior-like bristles, is known as an herb of protection. Cast it about to repel unwanted animals and spirits... Holly is one of the evergreens brought into the home by the Druids. It symbolizes a willingness to allow the nature spirits to share one's abode during the harsh, cold season."
Variegated holly (shown in photo above)
Family: Oleaceae
Genus: Osmanthus
Species: Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Goshiki'

Native to Eastern Asia and southern Japan, this shrub's striking foliage makes it a desirable addition to the garden. In Japanese, "goshiki" means 5-colored - look for shades of cream, yellow, pink, white and orange in its foliage.

This variegated holly, sometimes called holly olive, is a slow growing, mound-shaped plant, eventually reaching 3-5 feet in height and width. Because of its compact, dense growth habit, it rarely needs pruning, which is a good thing, given the prickly foliage.

This plant produces clusters of tiny, white, fragrant flowers in late summer and early fall. They are followed by oval-shaped, purple fruits that mature about 9 months later.

Friday, September 18, 2015

It's All About YEW

The Reflection Pool at Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island,
Washington, is surrounded by a formal, clipped yew hedge. 
"The still air of the church shivered suddenly into bits, the echoes of a scream scattering the dust motes. Without conscious thought, Roger was outside, running, stumbling and scrambling over the tumbled stones, heading for the dark line of the yews. He pushed his way between the overgrown branches, not bothering to hold back the scaly twigs for Brianna, hot on his heels. 
Pale in the shadows, he saw Claire Randall's face. Completely drained of color, she looked like a wraith against the dark branches of the yew. She stood for a moment, swaying, then sank to her knees in the grass, as though her legs would no longer support her.
 - from DRAGONFLY IN AMBER, by Diana Gabaldon

Besides this scene in DIA, yews have another Outlander connection: the European yew is the plant badge of the Clan Fraser. It is said that members of the Clan often wear small branches of yew in their caps as a protection.

According to lore, plant badges or clan badges are sprigs of plants used to identify members of specific Scottish clans. Men typically wear these bits of foliage attached to their caps. Women pin the badges to their tartan sashes at the shoulder. For more on the history of these plant badges and a list of which clan wears what, take a look at this Wikipedia page.

When I think of yews, I think of stately, dark evergreen hedges. Unlike spectacular plants that call attention to themselves with  colorful flowers or traffic-stopping fall color, yews are the silent sentinels of the garden. They stand quietly by, creating garden walls and providing a backdrop for the garden showoffs.

That said, there is one garden I can think of where yews play a starring role. It is the Reflection Pool at Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island, Washington (pictured above). This garden features a large, rectangular, spring-fed pond, which is edged with lawn and surrounded by a formally clipped yew hedge. Outside the hedge, majestic conifers stand tall: western red cedar, Douglas fir, and blue atlas cedar. When you enter this garden, you feel a Presence - it's as though you have stepped into a cathedral. If you took away the hedge, it would still be a beautiful place, but the majesty of it would be lost.

(For stunning photos of this garden and others within the Reserve, take a look at this article on The Intercontinental Gardener's website.)

Botanical Information 

Family: Taxaceae
Genus: Taxus
Species: Taxus baccata
Common name: European yew

Yews are evergreen conifers native to Europe, Northern Africa and Southwest Asia. They are some of the longest lived trees in the world. The Fortingall Yew in Perthshire, Scotland, for example, is said to be between 1500 and 3000 years old.

Yews bear small, single-seed cones. As the Latin name "baccata" indicates, they produce small red berries which appear in fall.

Medicinal Uses

Caution: all parts of this plant are poisonous, except for the flesh of the berries. However, compounds contained in the bark of the European yew have been found to be useful in fighting cancer. Taxol, a plant alkaloid derived from the leaves of European yew and it's cousin, the Pacific yew, Taxus brevifolia, is a chemotherapy agent used in the treatment of breast, ovarian, bladder, lung and other cancers.

Monday, September 14, 2015

3 New OUTLANDER Releases This Fall!

Season 2 of the OUTLANDER TV series is rumored to start airing in March or April of 2016 - which is a long way off. Fortunately, three new releases this fall will help us pass the time. Here they are in the order that they will be released. All are available for pre-order now.

September 25, 2015
Volume 2 of Bear McCreary's Original Television Soundtrack for OUTLANDER

September 29. 2015
Volume 2 of the first season of OUTLANDER
Episodes 9 - 16

October 27. 2015
At 656 pages, this will keep us busy for a while!
This COMPANION is for the last 4 books in the series: The Fiery Cross, A Breath of Snow and Ashes, Echo in the Bone, and In My Own Heart's Blood.