The Poisonous Flower with the Very Auspicious Name- FUKUJUSO (福寿草), The GOOD FORTUNE- LONG LIFE FLOWER
By Avi Landau
Like tiny yellow PARABOLIC ANTENNAE, these flowers emerge from the frosty (often snow covered) ground in the first weeks of February- exactly when New Year`s ( O-Shogatsu) fell according to the old Japanese calendar (and the same time the Chinese still celebrate it). It is because of their timely appearance, at what was the most auspicious time of year, that these curious looking, low laying, poisonous plants are considered great symbols of good luck. This is reflected in the name by which they are still called- FUKUJUSO (福寿草), which means the GOOD FORTUNE- LONG LIFE PLANTS. For the same reason they have also been called GANJITSU-SO (元日草), the New Years Day Plant, and during the Edo Period (1600-1868） these stumpy, bright yellow, INDIGENOUS flowers were sold in flower pots, often coupled with other auspicious plants of the season, as New Year`s decorations. Besides the real fukujus0 (called Adonis ramosa in English), painted versions also made for a popular decorative motifs for the beginning of the year.
I have already mentioned that the fukujuso`s flowers remind one of parabolic antennae. They not only look like them, they ACT like them, as well! The flowers actually follow the movement of the sun as it crosses the sky. Because of this, the temperatures inside these flowers becomes quite higher than the surrounding air, which helps ( along with the bright yellow colors) the few insects which have become active in the cold weather. These little critters can often be seen flying about from one fukujuso to another. The pollen spread by these insect helps to put spring into motion.
As the sun sets, the fukujuso`s flowers close up for the night, and then reopen the next morn to follow the suns course once again.
This is an excellent adaptation for a flower which blooms at such a cold time of year. They attract the insects with the heat they build up from the sun, without wasting any energy on producing the sweet nectar which many other plants ( which start blooming when it gets warmer) do to bring in the bugs.
In art, fukujuso is often paired together with plum blossoms, another popular symbol of the traditional New Years season. In fact, it was some plum trees in bloom which led me to discover these flowers in Tsukuba. Noticing from a major road ( HIGASHI O-DORI) that the plums were blooming in Tsukuba`s botanical garden, I decided to go in, and spend some time eating, reading and relaxing near them.
As the time to go approached, I walked down to the garden`s pond and crossed the bridge. On the far side of it, to the right, I found the fukujuso emerging from the ground, making it an extra AUSPICIOUS day.
Telling a friend about my find, I was told that these same rare flowers can be seen at Mt Tsukuba, near the cable car station.
They should be in bloom through May. I hope that you are FORTUNATE enough to spot some this year!
Fukujuso sometimes CAN be dangerous, however, as they can be picked and eaten (before they flower) by wild vegetable (sansai, 山菜) enthusiasts who mistake them for FUKINOTO, a favorite sprout of spring. There have been some well-publicized cases of this, including one in which a cast of reporters for a TV show about SANSAI picking ingested some fukujuso on camera. Luckilly, no one died.