Micro-Season: “The Common Self-Heal Sprouts”

We have entered the micro-season of “The Common Self-Heal Sprouts”.  This is the first micro-season of the mini-season Winter Solstice.  All the micro-seasons within Winter Solstice are:

  • The Common Self-Heal Sprouts (Dec 22 – Dec 26)
  • The Elk Sheds its Horns (Dec 27 – Dec 31)
  • Beneath the Snow the Wheat Sprouts (Jan 01 – Jan 05)

These seasons were established in 1685 by Japanese astronomer Shibuka Shunkai and are specific to Japan. However, just because the calendar focuses on Japan doesn’t mean it isn’t applicable to others.  No matter where you live you can use these seasons as a starting point for your personal exploration of the world around you. 

To celebrate this season, we will learn about the common self-heal, research Japan’s winter weather, and read some seasonal haiku by Reichhold, Basho, Issa, Buson, and Greves.


The Common Self-Heal

The common self-heal is a plant with many names. In Japanese, it is called utsubogusa and the kanji characters for utsubogusas (靫草) roughly translate to grasses and quiver. Common-self heal may also be called natsukarekusa or summer-withered grass due to the fact that it dries up in June.   The micro-season of “The Common Self-Heal Dries Out”, which runs approximately from June 21 through June 25, marks the end of the common self-heal’s seasonal growth.(1,2)  

The scientific name for common self-heal is Prunella vulgaris.  The common self-heal is a herbaceous, edible plant, that is part of the mint family.  Some other names given to Prunella vulgaris are heal-all, woundwort, heart-of-the-earth, carpenter’s herb, brownwort, or blue curls.(3)

Like other plants in the mint family, the self-heal has toothed leaves that grow opposite of each other on a square stem. These leaves are either egg-shaped or lanced-shaped. The flowers of the self-heal can be violet or purple, and they grow around spikes, or heads, with overlapping bracts.  A bract is a “modified, usually small, leaflike structure often positioned beneath a flower.(4)  Bracts can sometimes be confused with flower petals because of their proximity to the central flower.

The common self-heal grows in fields, gardens, pastures, and along roadsides. The wild versions of the common self-heal may grow to heights of two feet.(5)

Can The Common Self-Heal Really Grow in December?

As I look out my window at the snow, the idea of anything sprouting seems impossible.  However, as we know, the 72-season calendar was explicitly created for Japan, and Japan’s winter climate can be very different from that of the northern United States.

While Japan’s northern prefectures will have temperatures that dip below freezing and have snow.  Southern locations like Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto, average about 47 degrees Fahrenheit (8 degrees Celsius) and get about 4 inches of rain. What this means is that in southern Japan the winters are much milder that the winters in the northern parts of the Northern Hemisphere. This makes it possible to have new plant growth in winter.

In 1685, when the 72-season calendar was adapted to its current form, Heian-kyō, the city now known as Kyoto, was the seat of power.(6) This means that Shibukawa Shunkai, who was the court astronomer at that time, probably would have lived in southern Japan. I can imagine Skunkai walking around Kyoto and noticing the small green sprouts of self-heal against the brown backdrop of winter fields and thinking that this event was unique enough to make it into the calendar.


Winter Plants in Haiku

When thinking about seasonal plant worlds for haiku, the World Kigo Database tells us “Many plants have their main entry in a different season and when mentioned in winter, this has to be added explicitly.”  However, terms such as “fallen leaves” or “withered plants’ are considered winter plant kigo.  A few other winter season plant terms include “Christmas rose”, “leaf peony”, and “decorative cabbage.” 

If we expand our search for seasonal words a little further,  we can access William J. Higginson and Kris Young Kondo’s “The Five Hundred Essential Japanese Season Words”.  Some winter plant kigo from this resource are:

Early plum 

Winter camellia 

Tea flowers 

Spearflower

Fallen leaves 

Cold mums

 Narcissus

Turnip 

Jane Reichold’s A Dictionary of Haiku Classified by Season Words with Traditional and Modern Methods has been described as an American saijik.  A sajiki is “an almanac of seasonal topics and season words used in haiku and linked-poetry composition.”(7) A few examples from Reichhold’s winter plant list are:

Amaryllis

Cedar

Dried weeds

Evergreens

Onions

Oranges

Poinsettia

Sugar pine

With all this in mind, let’s read some winter plant-themed haiku.

Jane Reichhold

bright red leaves
held so high by a winter stem
poinsettia
frost spikes
the growing cold
of withered leaves

Issa

autumn passes--
the crooked shape
of field turnips
(translated by David G. Lanoue)
cedars are tall
in my hometown...
first winter rain
(translated by David G. Lanoue)

Gabi Greve

so bright and orange -
late persimmons
to share with the crows

(retrieved from “Haiku and Happiness”)

Basho

when the winter chrysanthemums go,
there’s nothing to write about
but radishes.
(translated by Robert Hass)
The winter leeks
Have been washed white –
How cold it is!
(translated by Robert Hass)

Buson

I break off a branch of holly
as carefully as I pray
with Buddhist prayer beads
(retrieved from Yosa Buson: Winter Haiku)
blow of an ax,
pine scent,
the winter woods.
(translated by Robert Hass)

A Haiku Invitation

This week’s haiku invitation is to write a haiku or senryu that references plants in winter.  Your haiku could reference what is growing outside or what has been brought inside.

Share your haiku in the comments below, or post on your own page and link back to this post. I can’t wait to read what you write!  


Resources:

  1. 72 Season App
  2. “靫草”; Japanese Dictionary 
  3. “Prunella vulgaris”: Wikipedia
  4. Bract”; Britannica 
  5. “Prunella vulgaris”: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
  6. “Heian-kyō”; Wikipedia
  7. Higginson, William J. and Kondo, Kris Young; “The Five Hundred Essential Japanese Season Words”.
  8. Reichhold, Jane; A Dictionary of Haiku Classified by Season Words with Traditional and Modern Methods 

Jane Reichhold’s haiku were retrieved from A Dictionary of Haiku Classified by Season Words with Traditional and Modern Methods . Issa’s haiku were retrieved from David G. Lanoue’s Haiku Guy. Dr. Gabi Greeve’s haiku was retrieved from Haiku and Happiness. Basho’s haiku were retrieved from “Winter Haiku Collection”. Buson’s haiku was retrieved from “Yosa Buson: Winter Haiku” and “Winter Haiku Collection”.

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49 thoughts on “Micro-Season: “The Common Self-Heal Sprouts”

Add yours

  1. Meadow mown to ground
    So little winter forage
    Animals begging

    I live on the border of preserved woodland in the middle a suburban neighborhood of well maintained landscaping (our land is a more natural) and I am worried about the deer, squirrels and birds this winter. That is the motivation for my haiku

    1. Wonderful haiku that reflects the challenges that our wild neighbors have when we humans come and alter the landscape to meet our needs. Thanks for highlighting the potential unintended consequences of our actions! Thanks for adding to the conversation about winter plants!

  2. last seeds blown
    from the boneset
    snowstorm coming

    [Boneset or Thoroughwort (Eupatorium perfoliatum, same genus as Joe-Pye Weed) blooms late summer into fall and holds its tight packed feathery seed heads into early winter. As the polar vortex bears down on us, boneset flies like its already snowing!]

    1. This is wonderful! This summer I learned a little bit about boneset, goldenrod, and Joe-Pye Weed. The goldenrod and Joe-Pye weed is plentiful around my house, but I need to keep and eye out for boneset. Thanks for sharing your work and adding to the conversation. Have a great weekend and thank you very much for your support!

    1. Thanks for adding this information! I find it fascinating how the weather patterns can vary so much in such a short geographical distance depending on altitude, location of large bodies of water, and other geographic influences. Thanks again for commenting and sharing! Have a great weekend!

  3. Thanks, Mark, for another illuminating post about the self-heal. I just happened upon your June post about the self-heal yesterday when I was cleaning out some old emails.

    poinsettia…
    the winter robin provides
    a spot of color
    ~Nancy Brady, 2022

    dried phragmites
    buffeted by wind and snow–
    blizzard
    ~Nancy Brady, 2022

    http://www.nbsmithblog.wordpress.com

    1. Hi Nancy, The poinsettia is definitely making itself know in the micro-season. Goff James had another poinsettia inspired haiku. You also don’t often see phragmites in haiku. Love it!

      1. Well, it’s an easy kigo since the poinsettia is ubiquitous this time of the year. We visited Kenya in January 2012. There the poinsettias are the size of trees (reminiscent of dogwood trees) and they bloom profusely. I had always thought of them as bushy plants until then.
        Glad you enjoyed the phragmites haiku; thanks. Yes, they’re invasive plants, but they are rather beautiful reeds with the feathery heads on each stalk. I’ve hesitated to write many haiku about them because I don’t know how many people know of the plant, but with the way the weather is today, it just seemed appropriate.

  4. waiting for
    Christmas cactus to bloom
    winter joy

    My mom kept a Christmas cactus throughout my entire childhood and teen years. She is so good with plants.

    1. Eavonka,
      How cool that your mom kept the cactus living so long and blooming. I am sure there was joy to see color in the midst of the grays of winter each year.

      I was proud of the fact that I kept a geranium alive for more than a year although I suspect it will not survive another winter on the back porch especially as the temperatures are frigid right now. Alas…

      1. I have faith that geranium can make it! It is a wonderful thing to watch a plant throughout the year and see what’s possible. I do not have my mom’s green thumb, but I can keep a succulent alive!

    2. Hi Eavonka, What a wonderful image. The joy of the bloom during the winter months is such a wonderful thing. We have a few hibiscus that bloom during the winter and it is so nice to have the color when everything else in 100 shades of grey and white.
      Thanks for sharing your work and I hope that you have a joyful and safe holiday.

  5. This one made me laugh out loud:
    when the winter chrysanthemums go,
    there’s nothing to write about
    but radishes.

    ground frozen solid
    while plants plot their spring debut
    no choice but to wait

    1. I know! That one is one of my favorites and will be my IG post for the week. Finding a good visual for a radish haiku is a little challenging.

      Wonderful plant haiku that highlights the bulbs and the perennials! Hopefully they are all tucked in to survive the winter. Have a great holiday. Heading over to your blog in a minute to see Friday’s haiku photo prompt!

    2. I was trying to grow (this winter) some raddish tops that had greenery – but I left them on the front bay window and the water evaporated and overnight (several nights, infact) they froze and will not be plotting… 🙂

      I did try growing some by seed last spring/summer… but while they produced greenery there wasn’t any veg in the fall.

      1. I’ll try again with the next bag of raddishes…that have extra greenery. And maybe start the raddishes earlier next year. Though I have too many bunnies and squrrels that would problably harvest them before I could 😉

        I did cut the bottom of a cellery stalk (that I’d gotten from the grocery store) and stuck that in my raised square foot garden and sort of forgot about it. While the ribs were thin, there were enough for several salads. And I used the leaves when I made some veg stock with other left overs. Cheers.

      2. I have to think earlier when starting seeds and trying to root ends… Our first frost free planting day is May 15 or so. If I can get a good rooting out of a cut celery end perhaps early mid April maybe I can just get that in my raised garden?

        I know folks can do things with grow lights and hydroponics… but I don’t realy have a space for either of those options. I do attempt some herbs though 🙂

        I read about a gal who planted carrot seeds and forgot about them and finally ended up with huge (perhaps foot long) very thick carrots!

  6. With thanks to Nan…
    These three fit your prompt but there are more Winter ku pairs at the title link;
    December haiku and American Sentence Pairs

    only various
    pines have stayed fresh verdant shades
    most timber is bare

    (Willow, Silver Maples, Horse Chestnuts, the neighbors Oaks and Ash, are bare.)
    ***
    alliums
    cepa and scallions
    in pancakes

    (See next page)

    (Potato pancakes sizzle in oil; top with sour cream or applesauce.)
    ***

    under foot
    under the hard frost
    crunch dead leaves

    (Bundled in layers; below ten degrees outside, I still filled the feeders.)

    © JP/dh – Jules

    1. Hi Jules, These are fantastic! All the haiku on your page are great. I am wondering if you have listened to the latest Poetry Pea podcast where Allyson Whipple talks about Seasonal Food in haiku. The alliums haiku made me think of that. Thanks again for adding to the conversation. Have a wonderful weekend.
      Link to Poetry Pea YouTube channel:

      1. Mark – Thank you for sharing the podcast. I watched the link on your comment. I generally write to prompts or my own observations. I am a bit of a rebel when it comes to form or even using Kigo of any kind.

        I follow a few sites. Do you generally post your weekly prompt on a certain day? I have kept the general link to your site. And am happy when Nan posts so I end up finding your current week.

        Best to you and yours for this winter season and the New Year!

      2. Hi Jules, My goal is to post something every Friday. I have been pretty consistent over the past year, I think I have only missed one or two weeks. I hope I can maintain this consistency next year! I appreciate you joining the prompts, your support is very much appreciated. Have a wonderful week and good holiday!

      3. Thank you. While I’ve given up some prompts over the years (I used to have three blogs…and wrote to prompts seven days a week – now with my hubby retired I’ve cut back some). I don’t think I have one for Friday… I need to make myself a list of prompts I like and when they post.

        All the best, ~J

  7. My favorite winter bloom is the American Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) It smells delightful, and the flowers look like individual fireworks in yellow (or hybrid varieties with orange or pink) showers on bare white branches.

    1. Hi Melanie, that sounds like an amazing display for a winter plant, and I am not familiar with the American Witch Hazel. I may have to go do some research! Thanks for adding to the conversation and I hope you had a great week and a good New Year!

    1. Wonderful job with this haiku! I love that you were able to find a plant that not only meets the season in both life stage and color. Thanks for linking up! Have a great week.

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