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Adonis

March 4, 2009

By Eric Larson

adonisAdonis was a central figure in various mystery religions, who appears in Greek mythology in Hellenistic times. Closely related to Osiris, Tammuz in the Semitic culture, the Etruscan Atunis and the Phrygian Attis, which all have in common the purview of re- birth and vegetative growth.  The cult was very feminine in nature, being for and about women. He had multiple roles, was annually killed off but reborn, and was responsible for good crops (or bad when he was irked), and generally was associated with life-death- rebirth in all of the cults that he was responsible for.  Adonis is also used to describe a handsome (and often all-too-aware of it) young man.

Our plant is a good example of this attribute, as it has but a short waking life but comes back reliably every year, and its beauty is short-lived but intense.  Adonis is the genus name for a group of herbaceous plants in the Buttercup family, Ranunculaceae.  Many species within the genus are annuals but some are rhizomatous perennials like our plant of the week.  I planted these little beauties about four years ago, and although they are supposed to naturalize (spread to fill an area happily), these have not thrived as I had hoped. It could be that they are planted near a bench where they get a bit too much foot traffic.

In any case, Adonis is one of the earliest blooming perennials that you can plant. They start blooming sometimes in early February if the weather is right, and always by the first of March if you have situated them in a nice little microclimate of early spring warm up.  I love these bulbs partly because they are truly the harbingers of spring, but also because like many of the so-called ‘minor bulbs,’ they are carefree in the landscape. The photo shows Adonis blooming with Snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis.

Minor bulbs are good because they emerge early, bloom, gather and store food to make it through the long ‘off-season,’ and then die back to the ground, usually long before the weeders and the mowers are patrolling the area.  This means that you can plant some of the minor bulbs in swaths right in the lawn.  Those bulbs that have longer life- spans where their leaves are in evidence after the seasonal mowing commences should not be planted where the mowers can cut the foliage off, thereby diminishing the food storage of the bulbs.

One thing to remember is that bulbs generally look better planted in large swaths of at least a couple of hundred (the picture below tells the story of a small planting that just doesn’t have the ‘oomph’ of a larger display).  Also be mindful that although they are low-maintenance, many of the small bulbs (read ‘Crocus’) are considered delicacies by our furry-tailed-rat friends otherwise known as squirrels.  They will dig these up with alacrity and all due haste as soon as they see you go in the house after planting them. Sometimes just to tick you off even more, they will leave them until spring and then come along, pulling the bulbs out of the ground, eat the tasty corm and leave the wilted flower stalks to mock you. Does it sound like I might have had a bad experience or two at the hands of these pirates of the Oaks?  The one crocus that you might try that they don’t seem to relish is the very early Crocus tomasinianus.

Plant Adonis under the canopy of deciduous trees: they prefer full sun to partial shade when blooming but don’t mind the deep shade after the leaves have dropped in mid-spring, just when the Oaks are leafing out.  Average but well-drained soil is good: they don’t like swampy conditions. Natives of Amur River valley, they will live through very dry weather when dormant but don’t tolerate being in soup.  There are other species native to rocky outcrops further west, in Central Asia and even into Europe. They all need good drainage.  A bit of light balanced organic fertilizer when they are growing is good, but not exactly necessary.

Adonis was a central figure in various mystery religions, who appears in Greek mythology in Hellenistic times. Closely related to Osiris, Tammuz in the Semitic culture, the Etruscan Atunis and the Phrygian Attis, which all have in common the purview of re- birth and vegetative growth.  The cult was very feminine in nature, being for and about women. He had multiple roles, was annually killed off but reborn, and was responsible for good crops (or bad when he was irked), and generally was associated with life-death- rebirth in all of the cults that he was responsible for.  Adonis is also used to describe a handsome (and often all-too-aware of it) young man.

Our plant is a good example of this attribute, as it has but a short waking life but comes back reliably every year, and its beauty is short-lived but intense.  Thank Providence I was not gifted with the attributes of an Adonis: not only is great beauty a burden, but having to keep coming back would be loathsome as well.

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