Mother Nature has been painting some very vivid masterpieces full of life in my area. Purple and yellow seem to be the dominant colors of the week with all the lilac, phlox, azalea, wild violets, dandelions, mustard, honeysuckle, and dogwood trees coming into bloom. Along with the many variations of green in the tree leaves, grass, and plants, the landscape is full of texture, dimension, and beauty.
Smelling the Scenery
While running the other day, I caught the scent of lilac permeating through the air. The smell immediately took me back to my childhood days when my sister and I used to play in the lilac bushes along the edge of the yard. Recalling these memories made me wonder how a scent can be tied to a life experience. The answer has to deal with brain anatomy, specifically the olfactory bulb, amygdala, and hippocampus.
The olfactory bulb transmits scents to the amygdala and hippocampus. The amygdala is an almond shaped set of neurons that plays a part in processing emotions. The amygdala links the scent to an emotion or set of emotions. The hippocampus is responsible for processing long term memory and emotional responses. In the hippocampus, memories and emotional responses are linked, and often this link includes the scent that triggered the emotional response, which is in turn stored in memory for future recollection.
Army of Aroma
My running experience also made me wonder what causes lilac to smell the way it does. The fresh, intoxicating aroma can range from subtle and soothing to extremely powerful and annoying. This scent is due to chemical compounds called E-beta-ocimene, lilac aldehyde, and lilac alcohol. The scent is most powerful when the flowers are pollinating. Plants, such as lilac, release more pollen during the day and are pollinated by bees and butterflies. Plants releasing more pollen at night are pollenated by moths and bats.
Lilac is considered to be very useful in aromatherapy, or healing through scent. Long used for its calming effect, lilac connotes a sense of home or peace.
Yesterday while riding my bike, I caught the scent of honeysuckle in the breeze, mixed with dandelion. Though it was not as dominant as the lilac I smelled earlier in the week, it still captured my attention and reminded me of additional childhood memories.
Seeing and smelling the blooms in my area also made me wonder about the etymology, or origin of the plant names and plants themselves. The following is a brief summary of plant names and family information:
- The word lilac originated from the French lilas, Arabic lilak, Persian nilak, and Sanscrit nila, which all translate to a variation of blue. Lilac belong to the olive family, Oleaceae. Much of the cultivating and hybridizing of lilac was done in France.
- Phlox came from Latin and Greek with meanings of flower, flame, and wall flower. Phlox belong to the herb family Polemoniaceae (which also includes some shrubs and vines).
- Azalea is from the Greek azeleos, meaning dry. Azalea belong to the heath family Ericaceae and are related to the genus Rhododendron.
- Violet is from the Anglo French violete and Latin viola. Violets belong to the Violaceae family, which is mainly made up of perennial herbs.
- Mustard is from the Anglo French mustarde and Latin mustum. Wild mustard belongs to the Cruciferae family, so called for the flowers four petals that form a cross.
- Honeysuckle is from the Middle English honysoukel , Old English hunisuce, which came from hunig (honey) and sucan (to suck). Honeysuckle is from the Caprifoliacae family, made up of shrubs with opposite leaves and aromatic tubular flowers.
Value in Variety
Considering the variety of these plant origins and families brought to mind the many different people Jesus encountered. Some had much faith, others had little, yet all had the opportunity to grow in Jesus’ light. Like the plants in my area, each person had his or her own characteristics to make them distinct. Some were poor, others rich, still others fell somewhere in the middle.
Jesus accepted these people as they were and often used them as mechanisms to teach others about life and how God works. He saw value in each of these people and their varied backgrounds. Perhaps this is a lesson that often gets lost in today’s diversified world. We get so caught up in what is different about each person that we don’t see the value in each other. We immediately focus on the negative instead of the positive, allow differences to derail progress, and can’t seem to get past what is on the surface, which may be ugly, pretty, or mediocre.
If, however, we can get past what is on the surface and delve into what lies beneath, we may just find treasure beyond our wildest dreams. As with the flowering plants, we all have the potential to be beautiful in different ways, and to flourish in the light of both the sun and the Son. Some of us are beautiful on the surface, others carry with them the uplifting fragrances of encouragement and inspiration, and still others offer a variety of valuable skills.
Like the plants of spring, we don’t all bloom at the same time, have the same colors, or are able to live in the same conditions. We come in different shapes and sizes with varied scents and structures. Our origins and history offer great variety and opportunities to learn more about the world around us. Often, we need the light of the sun or the Son to open us up, allowing our inner beauty to be exposed.
May the variety of colors in the plants of spring provide inspiration to our souls. May the light of spring open our eyes to the value in the variety around us, allowing the beauty of life to be found and shared.
Spring Blooms Beneath the Sky
Delicate lilac petals amid the leaves
Poking out in lavender within the green
Landscape of spring all around,
Spreading a scent in waves without a sound
Across the grassy fields and hills
By the grace of God’s will
Inspiring the soul to seek
Value to hold in the variety
Of spring blooms beneath the sky
Flourishing in the sun’s light.
Yellow dandelions popping up all around
Like lollipops upon the ground,
Wild mustard waving in the wind
With little petals that send
Pollen to blow in the breeze
Across the hollow through the trees
Where the honeysuckle dots the landscape
With pale yellow spots and an aroma that creates
The essence of spring’s blooms beneath the sky
Offering many hues in the light of life.
Wild violets and phlox in the hills
Catch the raindrops with skill,
Holding the water droplets in the wind
Until the sun shines again
And the azalea brings forth its flowers
In shades of purple and pink to shower
The land with spring blooms beneath the sky
Breaking through the surface with beauty so fine.
-Lisa A. Wisniewski
Resources and Related Links
Calming effect of lilac – http://www.gentle-stress-relief.com/aromatherapy-stress-relief.html
Cause of smells – http://www.compoundchem.com/2015/02/12/flowers/
Hippocampus – http://brainmadesimple.com/hippocampus.html
Honeysuckle – https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/honeysuckle
Lilac definition – https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/lilac
Lilac scent – http://www.compoundchem.com/2015/02/12/flowers/
Olfactory bulb – https://www.britannica.com/science/olfactory-bulb
Scent and pollination – https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-do-flowers-have-scent/