Of the many different kinds of flowers in Japan, seven are described as the “Seven Flowers of Autumn.”
The seven are all native to Japan and have been loved by the people of that island nation since at least the Nara Era (710 -794), and are particularly popular as a topic in haiku poetry.
It’s an interesting group starting with bush clover or hagi. Hagi is a deciduous shrub about 7 or 8 feet tall with arching branches which are covered with small pink flowers in late summer into the fall. In Japan it’s quite common to bring a wildflower or shrub into a garden to create harmony with the surrounding landscape and treating them with great care.
The hagi is the only wild shrub in the courtyard of the Gosho Imperial Palace in Kyoto and is an excellent example of this type of harmony and respect for nature. In flower language the hagi is said to represent meditation, affection and a flexible spirit.
The second flower of autumn is Japanese plume grass or susuki. This clump-forming grass grows to a height of about 6 feet and becomes especially noticeable in the autumn season. The flowers are yellow tassels about 12 to 15 inches long and in the autumn the plant becomes silky, light-giving and whole mountain sides become a bright shimmering sheen. In flower language it represents energy, vitality and reckless youth. Next is a hardy perennial called nadeshiko which is about 15 to 18 inches high with varying shades of pink flowers from mid-summer through the autumn season.
We know it as dianthus. It’s seen in Japan as a symbol for women, a combination of beauty and grace. In flower language it represents innocence, chastity and love. Moving on to number four, yellow patrinia or ominaeshi. It gets its name from the fact that it’s said that it possesses a beauty even greater than the beauty of women and it has been a favorite in Japan since ancient times because of its beauty and elegance.
In flower language it represents kindness, a caring spirit and keeping promises. Next is the fujibakama which is a member of the aster family. It gets its name from its somewhat cylindrical shape which resembles a hakama, part of the formal wear of the samurai.
When dried it has a very pleasant smell and is one of the ingredients in some perfumes and hair wash products. Fujibakama used to be found growing along the banks of rivers, but has been declared an endangered plant and is seldom found in the wild today. In flower language it represents caring, and fond and pleasant memories. Next is the kikyo or the bellflower.
The flower has five blueish-purple petals which some describe as creating a star shape while others describe it as bell-shaped.
With its interesting shape the kikyo has been used through the centuries as a family crest symbol by powerful clans and military commanders. One very interesting example is the lord of the former Kameyama Castle in Kameoka, Mitsuhide Akechi’s light blue kikyo crest. In flower language it represents elegance, refinement and honesty. Number seven is kuzu or East Asian arrowroot which has been used since ancient times as a food source, for weaving baskets and for making fabric.
The main food items for which it’s used are kuzukiri noodles, kuzu cake and gruel which is sort of a porridge. The kuzu stock is used to make kakkon, a herbal tea used as a remedy for colds.
Whether used for food, making baskets or clothing or as a remedy for colds, kuzu has been a part of Japanese life for centuries. It’s appreciated more for its foliage than for its small pink flowers. In flower language it represents healing, vitality and strength of spirit.