Friday, October 17, 2014

The Legend of Charles Plumier and the Tree of Riches

Several months ago, I came across a delightful little book called Hidden Stories in Plants by Anne Pelowski. The sub-title is: "Unusual and Easy-To-Tell Stories From Around the World Together With Creative Things To Do While Telling Them. "

My favorite story is the pseudo-historical tale of Charles Plumier. He was a real person, but the story is, apparently, completely made up. I don't remember the details exactly, but here is a "creative" retelling for you:

There was once a restless young man named Charles Plumier. Ever since he was a small child, he loved to hear stories of sailors and travelers who had visited strange and exotic places and he dreamed that someday, he would find hidden treasure on a daring adventure in a faraway land. So, as soon as he was old enough, Charles set out to explore the world.

Charles became first an experienced sailor, and later a well-to-do merchant, traveling far and wide and seeing many new and fascinating sights. But he never felt that he had found what he was looking for. Then, one day, having just arrived in the West Indies, he met a kindly old woman who invited him to share a cup of tea. He found himself surprisingly at ease with this woman and spoke to her about his restless search.

The woman smiled and looked directly into Charles's eyes. "On the next full moon," she said, "Go to the cemetery at midnight. Find the tree with white blossoms growing beside the south wall. Give the trunk a good shake and you will find the treasure you are looking for."

So, Charles waited for the next full moon, and when it came, he went to the cemetery and found the tree growing beside the south wall. He took hold of the trunk and as he shook it, a shower of blossoms fell all around him, filling the air with an intoxicating fragrance.

Charles breathed deeply and realized that in the stillness of the cemetery, the beauty of the moonlight, and the loveliness of the flowers, he had found true riches.

With a new sense of wonder, Charles Plumier dedicated the rest of his life to studying the natural world, becoming a distinguished botanist. And the "tree of riches" with the fragrant night blossoms is now known as "Plumeria" in his honor.

[the end]

It's also called "Frangipani," by the way. And here's what it looks like:

So, now, whenever I see this lovely little ornamental, I think of the apocryphal story of Charles Plumier. Apparently, the tree really is traditionally planted in cemeteries in certain countries (in the East Indies, though). 

And Plumeria really is named for the botanist, Charles Plumier who did, in fact, travel to the West Indies. But, (according to Wikipedia) rather than starting out as a fortune-seeking sailor, Plumier became a monk at age 16 and studied math and physics before making his botanical expeditions. Oh well. It's still a nice story, and because it's already a total fabrication, it doesn't really matter if I change the details in my own re-tellings of it.

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