Saturday, July 27, 2013

Flora of Eagle Rock: Camphor tree, or Cinnamomum camphora

Man praying at a camphor tree at a Shinto shrine in Japan.  [Photo via Dara in Japan]
An Irishman visiting Japan describes his experience of watching people engage the spirits of sacred 400-year-old camphor trees (Cinnamomum camphora) at a Shinto shrine:
Sometimes you see a person engaging the spirit of a sacred tree. They approach the tree, clap their hands together twice, and then lean towards the tree and stand for a while with their hands pressed against the bark. Having watched these people and become curious, I have tried it myself. People laugh at tree-huggers, but there is no denying the sense of power and calm that comes from touching a great old tree.
[Dara in Japan.]  You may recall a somewhat similar scene of revering the 神 kami [god-like spirit] that dwells in these ancient trees from My Neighbor Totoro.
Engaging the spirit of an ancient camphor tree's kami in My Neighbor Totoro.  [Via Thirteens Atlas]
The largest known camphor tree in Japan, named 蒲生の大楠 (kamou no ookusu : giant camphor tree of Kamou), is located at the Kamou Shrine in Kagoshima prefecture.  It is believed to be between 1500-3000 years old.  Id.

We have our own stand of these revered trees in Eagle Rock, on Shearin Avenue:
Camphor trees along Shearin Avenue
The camphor tree is native to China south of the Yangtze River, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.  [Wikipedia.]  The Chinese character used for the tree in China, Taiwan, Japan (and older Chinese-character based versions of Korean and Vietnamese) is  or   (pronounced zhang or nán in Mandarin, jeong or naam in Cantonese,   [jang] or   [nam] in Korean, nam or nêm in Vietnamese, andくす [kusu] in Japanese).
On Shearin
Beyond its status as a sacred tree host to kami, the camphor tree holds a special place for the Japanese, as a symbol of survival:
[C]amphor trees are not only long-lived, but they are also astonishingly vigorous and capable of surviving even the worst that man can throw at them. A specimen at the Sanno Shrine in Nagasaki was designated a natural monument by that city on Feb. 15, 1969, because it had survived the U.S. atomic bombing of Aug. 9, 1945. Then, on Nov. 3, 1973, the camphor tree was made the official tree of Hiroshima to commemorate those trees that not only survived the U.S. atomic bombing of the city on Aug. 6, 1945, but then recovered quickly and gave inspiration to the people trying to rebuild their lives.
[Japan Times.]
Under the camphor canopy
Ivy climbing  and coating camphor tree

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Flora of Eagle Rock: Cedrus deodara, or the Deodar tree

The Deodar, breathing at night, and dreaming of its Himalayan home.

The Deodar tree, or Cedrus deodara, (also called the Deodar Cedar), is, like so many of us, far from home.  The tree, which has a distinctly alpine look to it -- a look that seems slightly out of place next to Mexican fan palms -- is native to the western Himalayas, in eastern Afghanistan, northern Pakistan, northern India, southwestern Tibet, and western Nepal.  Its native habitat is relatively high: 4,921–10,499 ft.

Deodar, flanked by Mexican fan palms, north of Colorado

The tree is sacred in Hinduism.  "Deodar" comes from from the Sanskrit term devadāru, which means "wood of the gods" (deva (god, divine, deity; cf. deus) + dāru (wood; cf. durum, druid, true)).   Ancient Hindu epics apparently frequently mention Darukavana -- forests of deodars -- as sacred places.

Row of Deodars on Dahlia
When I first saw deodars scattered throughout the neighborhood, I thought it was a bit odd: what were these alpine-looking trees doing in Southern California?  The trees were brought over to Britain from the Himalayas in the 19th century, became ornamental favorites in English gardens, and spread from there.  The adaptability of the tree is remarkable.  It's gone from the snowy foothills of the Himalayas to the 100-degree summers of our neighborhood.  The tree has been spread throughout Europe, and along the west coast and southwest of the U.S.

Detail with incipient cones.

Deodar in the California morning sun.