The Colours of Early Autumn

Today I would like to write a little bit about some special flowers, which defines the beginning of autumn in Japan.

Slowly, all flowers of „Sarusuberi“ Lagerstroemia indica disappear and other flowers popping up everywhere.
This marks the changing of the seasons from summer to autumn.

Who follows Japanese social media, will now see one very filigree flower appearing everywhere.
It’s Higanbana, Lycoris radiata the spider lily.
The spider lily starts blooming around a Buddhist feast, called „higan“.
Almost all Buddhist sects are celebrating this feast. Once in autumn and once in spring around the equinox.
It is said, that its origins lie in the 8th century.
When the farmers had more time again for religion during one year and not so much work on their fields.
There are several ways to celebrate higan today. But it is common to clean the cemetery before it.

Higanbana – ヒガンバナ – 彼岸花
Lycoris radiata
(Red) Spider lily

Origin: China
Height: 60-70cm
Bloom: September
Soil: Sand/clay
Light: Sun
Hardiness: 5b-10. During winter bulbs can be kept in a dark and frost free place (7-13°C)

Another plant, tightly connected with the higan feast is Hagi, Lespedeza, the Bush Clover.
There are several varieties kept in Japan, which all have a special Japanese name.
Haig is a very popular flower in Japan. In parks, Hagi tunnels are built, which give a wonderful feeling when walking through it while the plants are blooming.
Haig is not only connected to the higan feast, it is also one of the seven herbs of autumn.
While there is a special celebration with a special meaning for the seven herbs of spring, there is no special occasion for the seven herbs of autumn.
But they are displayed in several gardens and parks in Japan.
Lespedeza is able to bind nitrogen in their roots and can spend it to other plants on poor soil.
It is great for greening bad soils and preparing them for a richer flora.
It can also be used for stabilization of embankments.
Haig is not green during the winter. It has to be cut down, so new sprouts can grow in spring.

Hagi – ハギ – 萩
Lespedeza bicolor var. japonica
Shrubby Bushclover, Japanese Clover

Origin: Japan
Height: 1-3m
Bloom: July – October
Soil: good for poor soil. Well drained.
Light: Sun to Partial Shade
Hardiness: 4a-7b.

It is an aggressive invader in some part of the US.

The other plant has nothing to do with religious feasts or something like that.
But nonetheless, it is connected to the beginning of autumn.
Its tiny little flowers spread a very recognizable odor all around them.
I am speaking about Kinmokusei, Osmanthus fragrans, the sweet osmanthus or fragrant olive.
Kinmokusei is used in China in several ways. Especially in cuisine.
In Japan, it was also used extensively in the 1970’s, but in a slightly different way. Which led to a loss in popularity.
Today, almost no one wants a Kinmokusei in a new build garden. But it is still common in Japanese gardens, temples, parks and playgrounds.
The smell of Kinmokuseis flowers is superimposing. This was used especially in the ‚70s for toilet odors.
That is why a great part of the Japanese population thinks of toilets when passing by a flowering Osmanthus.

Kinmokusei – キンモクセイ – 金木犀
Osmanthus fragrans
Sweet Osmanthus

Origin: Several countries in Asia
Height: 3-12m
Bloom: September – October
Soil: Well drained soil. Tolerates clay.
Light: Sun to Shade
Hardiness: 7-10.
It is an evergreen shrub.


Part of the pictures were taken with permission from “Japanese Gardens” – Japanese Gardens!

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2 thoughts on “The Colours of Early Autumn

    1. I think, there are also “7 herbs of summer” in one garden. Maybe Mukojima Hyakkaen.. But like 7 herbs of autumn, there is no special meaning like by those of spring..

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