Sunday, July 31, 2022

Native American Plant Myths - Plants for Deer Hunters

1590 North American Atlantic Coast Natives by John White (c1540 – c1593). 
The village of Pomeiooc (Pomeiock) was a Native America settlement,
 designated on de Bry’s map of Virginia, Americae Pars Nunc Virginia Dicta,
 between today’s Wyesocking Bay & Lake Landing, North Carolina. 
John White called the settlement Pomeyoo.

For thousands of years, Earth's indigenous people from separate ethnic groups inhabiting a variety of the planet's climates & terrains have searched for and created oral myths about plants & animals. They often used nearby plants not only for food but also as medicines to control ailments afflicting them. Many of these myths were passed down from generation to generation as oral tales before written language.

Extracted from: Myths of the Cherokee. 
19th Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology. 
Washington Government Printing Office 1902  
Recorded by James Mooney (1861-1921) who was an American ethnographer
 living for several years among the Cherokee.

Plant Lore

A flowering vine, known as nuniyu'sti, "potato-like," which grows in cultivated fields, and has a tuberous root somewhat resembling a potato, is used in hunting conjurations. 

The bruised root, from which a milky juice oozes, is rubbed upon the deer bleat, a`wi'-ahyeli'ski, with which the hunter imitates the bleating of the fawn, under the idea that the doe, hearing it, will think that her offspring desires to suck, and will therefore come the sooner. 

The putty-root (Adam-and-Eve, Aplectrum hiemale), which is of an oily, mucilaginous nature, is carried by the deer hunter, who, on shooting a deer, puts a small piece of the chewed root into the wound, expecting as a necessary result to find the animal unusually fat when skinned. 

Infants which seem to pine and grow thin are bathed with a decoction of the same root in order to fatten them.

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Earth's Creatures Stop to Smell the Flowers

Spring & Summer are the perfect time to celebrate the rebirth of Earth's Beauty & Bounty.  Flowers gave beauty & inspiration to mankind's basic struggle to live & to populate & to protect his home-base, The Earth.  Holding on to The Sweet Divine - The Lord God took man & put him in the Garden of Eden to work it & to keep it...Genesis 2:15.

The expression came into popular modern use in the 1960s & is a rephrasing of a sentiment found in an autobiography written by the golfer Walter Hagen: “Don’t hurry. Don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.”

Friday, July 29, 2022

Native American Plant Myths - Trees Struck by Lightening

1590 North American Atlantic Coast Natives by John White (c1540 – c1593). 
The village of Pomeiooc (Pomeiock) was a Native America settlement,
 designated on de Bry’s map of Virginia, Americae Pars Nunc Virginia Dicta,
 between today’s Wyesocking Bay & Lake Landing, North Carolina. 
John White called the settlement Pomeyoo.

For thousands of years, Earth's indigenous people from separate ethnic groups inhabiting a variety of the planet's climates & terrains have searched for and created oral myths about plants & animals. They often used nearby plants not only for food but also as medicines to control ailments afflicting them. Many of these myths were passed down from generation to generation as oral tales before written language.

Extracted from: Myths of the Cherokee. 
19th Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology. 
Washington Government Printing Office 1902  
Recorded by James Mooney (1861-1921) who was an American ethnographer
 living for several years among the Cherokee.

Plant Lore

Mysterious properties attach to the wood of a tree which has been struck by lightning, especially when the tree itself still lives, and such wood enters largely into the secret compounds of the conjurers. An ordinary person of the laity will not touch it, for fear of cracks come upon his hands and feet, nor is it burned for fuel, for fear that lye made from the ashes will cause consumption. 

In preparing ballplayers for the contest, the medicine-man sometimes burns splinters of it to coal, which he gives to the players to paint themselves with it so that they may be able to strike their opponents with all the force of a thunderbolt. 

Bark or wood from a tree struck by lightning, but still green, is beaten up and put into the water in which seeds are soaked before planting, to insure a good crop, but, on the other hand, any lightning-struck wood thrown into the field will cause the crop to wither, and it is believed to have a bad effect even to go into the field immediately after having been near such a tree.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Earth's Creatures Stop to Smell the Flowers

 

Spring & Summer are the perfect time to celebrate the rebirth of Earth's Beauty & Bounty.  Flowers gave beauty & inspiration to mankind's basic struggle to live & to populate & to protect his home-base, The Earth.  Holding on to The Sweet Divine - The Lord God took man & put him in the Garden of Eden to work it & to keep it...Genesis 2:15.

The expression came into popular modern use in the 1960s & is a rephrasing of a sentiment found in an autobiography written by the golfer Walter Hagen: “Don’t hurry. Don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.”

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Native American Plant Myths - Poison Oak & Poison Ivy


1590 North American Atlantic Coast Natives by John White (c1540 – c1593). The village of Pomeiooc (Pomeiock) was a Native America settlement, designated on de Bry’s map of Virginia, Americae Pars Nunc Virginia Dicta, between today’s Wyesocking Bay & Lake Landing, North Carolina. John White called the settlement Pomeyoo.

For thousands of years, Earth's indigenous people from separate  ethnic groups inhabiting a variety of the planet's climates & terrains have searched for; and created oral myths about plants & animals; & often have used nearby plants as medicine to control ailments afflicting them & their domestic animals. Many of these myths were passed down from generation to generation as oral tales before written language.

Extracted from:  Myths of the Cherokee.  Nineteenth Annual Report of the Bureau  of American Ethnology. Washington Government Printing Office 1902  Recorded by James Mooney (1861-1921) was an American ethnographer who lived for several years among the Cherokee.

Plant Lore

The poison oak or poison ivy (Rhus radicans), so abundant in the damp eastern forests, is feared as much by Indians as by whites. 

When obliged to approach it or work in its vicinity, the Cherokee strives to conciliate it by addressing it as "My friend" (hi'ginalii). If poisoned by it, he rubs upon the affected part the beaten flesh of a crawfish.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Earth's Creatures Stop to Smell the Flowers

Spring & Summer are the perfect time to celebrate the rebirth of Earth's Beauty & Bounty.  Flowers gave beauty & inspiration to mankind's basic struggle to live & to populate & to protect his home-base, The Earth.  Holding on to The Sweet Divine - The Lord God took man & put him in the Garden of Eden to work it & to keep it...Genesis 2:15.

The expression came into popular modern use in the 1960s & is a rephrasing of a sentiment found in an autobiography written by the golfer Walter Hagen: “Don’t hurry. Don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.”

Monday, July 25, 2022

Native American Plant Myths - The Old Woman & Planting Corn

1590 North American Atlantic Coast Natives by John White (c1540 – c1593). 
The village of Pomeiooc (Pomeiock) was a Native America settlement,
 designated on de Bry’s map of Virginia, Americae Pars Nunc Virginia Dicta,
 between today’s Wyesocking Bay & Lake Landing, North Carolina. 
John White called the settlement Pomeyoo.

For thousands of years, Earth's indigenous people from separate ethnic groups inhabiting a variety of the planet's climates & terrains have searched for and created oral myths about plants & animals. They often used nearby plants not only for food but also as medicines to control ailments afflicting them. Many of these myths were passed down from generation to generation as oral tales before written language.

Extracted from: Myths of the Cherokee. 
19th Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology. 
Washington Government Printing Office 1902  
Recorded by James Mooney (1861-1921) who was an American ethnographer
 living for several years among the Cherokee.

Plant Lore

Much ceremony accompanied the planting and tending of the crop. 

Seven grains, a sacred number, were put into each hill, and not afterward thinned out. 

After the last working of the crop, the priest and an assistant--generally the owner of the field--went into the field and built a small enclosure (detsanûñ'li) in the center. Then entering it, they seated themselves upon the ground, with heads bent down, and while the assistant kept perfect silence the priest, with rattle in hand, sang songs of invocation to the spirit of the corn. 

Soon, according to the orthodox belief, a loud rustling would be heard outside, which they would know was caused by the "Old Woman" bringing  corn into the field, but neither must look up until the song was finished. 

This ceremony was repeated on four successive nights, after which no one entered the field for seven other nights, when the priest himself went in, and, if all the sacred regulations had been properly observed, was rewarded by finding young ears upon the stalks. 

The corn ceremonies could be performed by the owner of the field himself, provided he was willing to pay a sufficient fee to the priest in order to learn the songs and ritual. Care was always taken to keep a clean trail from the field to the house, so that the corn might be encouraged to stay at home and not go wandering elsewhere. 

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Earth's Creatures Stop to Smell the Flowers

Spring & Summer are the perfect time to celebrate the rebirth of Earth's Beauty & Bounty.  Flowers gave beauty & inspiration to mankind's basic struggle to live & to populate & to protect his home-base, The Earth.  Holding on to The Sweet Divine - The Lord God took man & put him in the Garden of Eden to work it & to keep it...Genesis 2:15.

The expression came into popular modern use in the 1960s & is a rephrasing of a sentiment found in an autobiography written by the golfer Walter Hagen: “Don’t hurry. Don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.”

Plants, Gardens,& Landscapes in European Illuminated Manuscripts 6C -16C

Landscape with a Watermill, Image taken from Le Tresor des Histoires: a universal history from the Creation to the time of Pope Clement VI. Treasure of Stories (15th C) - BL Cotton MS Augustus V British Library - Cotton ms Augustus V Technically, the mill evolved a lot during the Middle Ages. The mechanisms were being used for increasingly diverse functions & the variety of hydraulic installations associated with them was growing.
Mostly intended for wheat, they were equipped with horizontal wheels trained by a pirouette (in France they are found in Occitania, Basque Country, Corsica & Finistere), more commonly vertical (receiving water below or above). The latter, the most powerful, were also the most expensive because of the gear they were equipped with. They are all settled on the bank of a stream, or on a boat (newmill). Hydraulic force-activated mussels could grind wheat but also crush eye seed, tinctorial plants, crush ore.


Plants, Gardens,& Landscapes in Illuminated Manuscripts 6C -16C

Illuminations date back to the end of the 4C. Codex, the 1st type of manuscript book replaced the prior written "paper" or parchment roll. The need to illustrate books usually developed with a style specific to each distinct region, civilization & time period. This function, "illuminare" in Latin, was mostly decorative & ornamental at this time & often reflected the myths of times passed.

In Western Europe, from the 6C until the 12C, the illustrated manuscript was mainly religious, created by monk copyists (usually the main scholars of the particular order) in abbeys to spread Christianity. After the Fall of the Roman Empire, Christian monestaries were often the center of social, medical, &
 religious activities for the local populations.

Towards the 13C, with the development of universities; the demand for books increased, & lay workshops were created. The art of illumination became a craft in its own right. At the end of the 15C, the invention of the Western printing press quickly reduced the time-consuming production of books copied & painted by the hand of mankind.

During the 10 centuries of illuminations in the Middle Ages in Europe, several styles evolved: Island Style (British Isles) & Merovingian (before the 9C), Carolingian style (9-10C), Romanesque Style (10-12C), Transitional Period (13C), Gothic Style (14-16C).

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Native American Plant Myths - Plant used to Sway Strangers Positively

1590 North American Atlantic Coast Natives by John White (c1540 – c1593). The village of Pomeiooc (Pomeiock) was a Native America settlement, designated on de Bry’s map of Virginia, Americae Pars Nunc Virginia Dicta, between today’s Wyesocking Bay & Lake Landing, North Carolina. John White called the settlement Pomeyoo.

For thousands of years, Earth's indigenous people from separate  ethnic groups inhabiting a variety of the planet's climates & terrains have searched for; and created oral myths about plants & animals; & often have used nearby plants as medicine to control ailments afflicting them & their domestic animals. Many of these myths were passed down from generation to generation as oral tales before written language.

Extracted from:  Myths of the Cherokee.  Nineteenth Annual Report of the Bureau  of American Ethnology. Washington Government Printing Office 1902  
Recorded by James Mooney (1861-1921) who was an American ethnographer
 living for several years among the Cherokee.

Plant Lore

The root of a plant called unatlûñwe'hitû, "having spirals," is used in conjurations designed to predispose strangers in favor of the subject. 

A priest "takes it to water"--i. e., says certain prayers over it while standing close to the running stream, then chews a small piece and rubs and blows it upon the body and arms of the patient, who is supposed to be about to start upon a journey, or to take part in a council, with the result that all who meet him or listen to his words will be at once pleased with his manner and appearance, and disposed to give every assistance to his projects.

Friday, July 22, 2022

Earth's Creatures Stop to Smell the Flowers

Spring & Summer are the perfect time to celebrate the rebirth of Earth's Beauty & Bounty.  Flowers gave beauty & inspiration to mankind's basic struggle to live & to populate & to protect his home-base, The Earth.  Holding on to The Sweet Divine - The Lord God took man & put him in the Garden of Eden to work it & to keep it...Genesis 2:15.

The expression came into popular modern use in the 1960s & is a rephrasing of a sentiment found in an autobiography written by the golfer Walter Hagen: “Don’t hurry. Don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.”

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Plants in Early American Gardens - Sea Lavender was Dried in the Fall 1793

Sea Lavender (Statice) (Limonium latifolium)

Limonium latifolium bears clouds of delicate, lavender-blue flowers that are perfect for arrangements, both fresh and dried, and also blend beautifully in rock gardens, coastal gardens, and other well-draining sites.

Long admired as a cut flower, Statice was included in the Garden Notes of 1793 by Lady Jean Skipwith of Virginia, who noted “dried - it retains its colour which renders it ornamental for a Mantel-piece in Winter.”

 In The English Flower Garden, first published in 1883, William Robinson called this larger species of Sea Lavender “the finest of all.” 

Native American Plant Myths - Poisonous Wild Parsnips & Evil Spells

1590 North American Atlantic Coast Natives by John White (c1540 – c1593). The village of Pomeiooc (Pomeiock) was a Native America settlement, designated on de Bry’s map of Virginia, Americae Pars Nunc Virginia Dicta, between today’s Wyesocking Bay & Lake Landing, North Carolina. John White called the settlement Pomeyoo.

For thousands of years, Earth's indigenous people from separate  ethnic groups inhabiting a variety of the planet's climates & terrains have searched for; and created oral myths about plants & animals; & often have used nearby plants as medicine to control ailments afflicting them & their domestic animals. Many of these myths were passed down from generation to generation as oral tales before written language.

Extracted from:  Myths of the Cherokee.  Nineteenth Annual Report of the Bureau  of American Ethnology. Washington Government Printing Office 1902  Recorded by James Mooney (1861-1921) was an American ethnographer who lived for several years among the Cherokee.

Plant Lore

The poisonous wild parsnip (Peucedanum?) bears an unpleasant reputation on account of its frequent use in evil spells, especially those intended to destroy the life of the victim. 

In one of these conjurations seven pieces of  root are laid upon one hand and rubbed gently with the other, the omen being taken from the position of the pieces when the hand is removed. 

It is said also that poisoners mix it secretly with the food of their intended victim, when, if he eats, he soon becomes drowsy, and, unless kept in motion until the effect wears off, falls asleep, never to wake again. 

Suicides are said to eat it to procure death. 

Before starting on a journey a small piece of the root is sometimes chewed and blown upon the body to prevent sickness, but the remedy is almost as bad as the disease, for the snakes are said to resent the offensive smell by biting the one who carries it. 

In spite of its poisonous qualities, a decoction of the root is much used for steaming patients in the sweat bath, the idea seeming to be that the smell drives away the disease spirits.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Earth's Creatures Stop to Smell the Flowers

Spring & Summer are the perfect time to celebrate the rebirth of Earth's Beauty & Bounty.  Flowers gave beauty & inspiration to mankind's basic struggle to live & to populate & to protect his home-base, The Earth.  Holding on to The Sweet Divine - The Lord God took man & put him in the Garden of Eden to work it & to keep it...Genesis 2:15.

The expression came into popular modern use in the 1960s & is a rephrasing of a sentiment found in an autobiography written by the golfer Walter Hagen: “Don’t hurry. Don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.”

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Plants in Early American Gardens - Globe Thistle

 

 Globe Thistle (Echinops ritro)
Globe Thistle (Echinops ritro)

Globe Thistle, a Mediterranean plant long in cultivation throughout Europe, is an undemanding perennial suitable for the border or the wild garden.

Williamsburg’s John Custis might have received this species, or its more vigorous cousin, E. sphaerocephalus, from his English patron Peter Collinson in 1738. Both varieties are listed in Parkinson’s early 17th-century herbal, and Philip Miller’s 18th-century botanical dictionary. 

Thomas Jefferson’s gardening mentor, Bernard McMahon, also included Small Globe Thistle in his 1806 American Gardener’s Calendar. 

Today it is popular as a cut flower and for drying, and the flowers attract butterflies.

Native American Plant Myths - The Uses of Bark of Trees

1590 North American Atlantic Coast Natives by John White (c1540 – c1593). The village of Pomeiooc (Pomeiock) was a Native America settlement, designated on de Bry’s map of Virginia, Americae Pars Nunc Virginia Dicta, between today’s Wyesocking Bay & Lake Landing, North Carolina. John White called the settlement Pomeyoo.

For thousands of years, Earth's indigenous people from separate  ethnic groups inhabiting a variety of the planet's climates & terrains have searched for; and created oral myths about plants & animals; & often have used nearby plants as medicine to control ailments afflicting them & their domestic animals. Many of these myths were passed down from generation to generation as oral tales before written language.

Extracted from:  Myths of the Cherokee.  Nineteenth Annual Report of the Bureau  of American Ethnology. Washington Government Printing Office 1902  Recorded by James Mooney (1861-1921) was an American ethnographer who lived for several years among the Cherokee.

Plant Lore

Pounded walnut bark is thrown into small streams to stupefy the fish, so that they may be easily dipped out in baskets as they float on the surface of the water. 

Should a pregnant woman wade into the stream at the time, its effect is nullified, unless she has first taken the precaution to tie a strip of the bark about her toe. 

A fire of post-oak and the wood of the telûñ'lati or summer grape (Vitis æstivalis) is believed to bring a spell of warm weather even in the coldest winter season.

Monday, July 18, 2022

Earth's Creatures Stop to Smell the Flowers

Spring & Summer are the perfect time to celebrate the rebirth of Earth's Beauty & Bounty.  Flowers gave beauty & inspiration to mankind's basic struggle to live & to populate & to protect his home-base, The Earth.  Holding on to The Sweet Divine - The Lord God took man & put him in the Garden of Eden to work it & to keep it...Genesis 2:15.

The expression came into popular modern use in the 1960s & is a rephrasing of a sentiment found in an autobiography written by the golfer Walter Hagen: “Don’t hurry. Don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.”

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Plants for Early American Gardens - Musk Geranium

Musk Geranium (Geranium macrorrhizum)

A European native, Geranium macrorrhizum can be used to scent perfumes and potpourris. In Bulgaria, musk geranium oil is called zdravetz oil, and is sometimes used in perfumery. 

The scientific name comes from the Greek for crane, geranos, referring to the crane-shaped seed heads, while macrorrhizum translates to big root. 

Musk Geranium has been cultivated in gardens since at least 1658, when it was grown in the Oxford Botanic Garden in England.

Native American Plant Myths - Tobacco a Sacred Incense


Tobacco was used as a sacred incense or as the guarantee of a solemn oath in nearly every important function--in binding the warrior to take up the hatchet against the enemy, in ratifying the treaty of peace, in confirming sales or other engagements, in seeking omens for the hunter, in driving away witches or evil spirits, and in regular medical practice. It was either smoked in the pipe or sprinkled upon the fire, never rolled into cigarettes, as among the tribes of the Southwest, neither was it ever smoked for the mere pleasure of the sensation. 

Of late years white neighbors have taught the Indians to chew it, but the habit is not aboriginal. It is called tsâlû, a name which has lost its meaning in the Cherokee language, but is explained from the cognate Tuscarora, in which charhû', "tobacco," can still be analyzed as "fire to hold in the mouth," showing that the use is as old as the knowledge of the plant. 

The tobacco originally in use among the Cherokee, Iroquois, and other eastern tribes was not the common tobacco of commerce (Nicotiana tabacum), but was introduced from the West Indies, but the Nicotiana rustica, or wild tobacco, now distinguished by the Cherokee as tsâl-agayûñ'li, "old tobacco," and by the Iroquois as "real tobacco." 

Image from 1590 North American Atlantic Coast Natives by John White (c1540 – c1593). The village of Pomeiooc (Pomeiock) was a Native America settlement, designated on de Bry’s map of Virginia, Americae Pars Nunc Virginia Dicta, between today’s Wyesocking Bay & Lake Landing, North Carolina. John White called the settlement Pomeyoo.

For thousands of years, Earth's indigenous people from separate  ethnic groups inhabiting a variety of the planet's climates & terrains have searched for; and created oral myths about plants & animals; & often have used nearby plants as medicine to control ailments afflicting them & their domestic animals. Many of these myths were passed down from generation to generation as oral tales before written language.

Extracted from:  Myths of the Cherokee.  Nineteenth Annual Report of the Bureau  of American Ethnology. Washington Government Printing Office 1902  Recorded by James Mooney (1861-1921) was an American ethnographer who lived for several years among the Cherokee.

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Seeds with Stories: Maize (Zea mays)

Old Salem Museums & Gardens tells us in its series Seeds with Stories: Maize (Zea mays) Descended from a grass called teosinte, maize was developed into a high yielding, nutritious crop by indigenous communities of southern Mexico & Central America about 9,000 years ago. 

Often called corn, maize is sacred to Native American tribes, with each nation cultivating & maintaining its own variety. Traits were honed for specialized use as flour, popcorn, grits, hominy & roasting. Maize was often cultivated alongside beans & squash, commonly called the 3 sisters. Maize was a staple crop for the early Moravians of Wachovia. 

Old Salem explores the diverse cultural history of the early South, with special emphasis on the Moravians in North Carolina, enslaved & free people of African descent, & Indigenous peoples of the Southern Woodland.

Friday, July 15, 2022

Earth's Creatures Stop to Smell the Flowers

Spring & Summer are the perfect time to celebrate the rebirth of Earth's Beauty & Bounty.  Flowers gave beauty & inspiration to mankind's basic struggle to live & to populate & to protect his home-base, The Earth.  Holding on to The Sweet Divine - The Lord God took man & put him in the Garden of Eden to work it & to keep it...Genesis 2:15.

The expression came into popular modern use in the 1960s & is a rephrasing of a sentiment found in an autobiography written by the golfer Walter Hagen: “Don’t hurry. Don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.”

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Earth's Creatures Stop to Smell the Flowers

 Spring & Summer are the perfect time to celebrate the rebirth of Earth's Beauty & Bounty.  Flowers gave beauty & inspiration to mankind's basic struggle to live & to populate & to protect his home-base, The Earth.  Holding on to The Sweet Divine - The Lord God took man & put him in the Garden of Eden to work it & to keep it...Genesis 2:15.

The expression came into popular modern use in the 1960s & is a rephrasing of a sentiment found in an autobiography written by the golfer Walter Hagen: “Don’t hurry. Don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.”

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Seeds with Stories: Flax (Linum usitatissimum)

Old Salem Museums & Gardens tells us in its series Seeds with Stories: Flax (Linum usitatissimum) that Flax, one of the oldest cultivated plants, was first domesticated in the Fertile Crescent region about 9000 years ago. People in China, India, Switzerland & Germany all cultivated flax at least 5000 years ago. 

In North America, colonists introduced flax where it flourished & was an important crop in Salem. Flax seeds can be ground into a meal or turned into linseed oil. Linseed oil, obtained by pressing, is a drying oil that can be used in wood finishing & as a pigment binder in oil paints. Linseed oil is also edible & high in omega-3 fatty acid. In addition, flax fibers are used to make linen. The many uses of flax are reflected in its Latin epithet usitatissimum, which means “most useful.”
 
A common practice one might have seen in Salem was flax retting, the process of separating the flax fibers from the stalks, where flax is laid out in a large field & dew is allowed to collect on it. This process normally takes a month or more but is generally considered to provide the highest quality flax fibers.  

Old Salem explores the diverse cultural history of the early South, with special emphasis on the Moravians in North Carolina, enslaved & free people of African descent, & Indigenous peoples of the Southern Woodland.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

How Do We Know Mankind Is Made of "Starstuff?"

The answer to this fundamental question of astrophysics was discovered in 1925 by Cecilia Payne (1900-1979) & explained in her Ph.D. thesis. Payne showed how to decode the complicated spectra of starlight in order to learn the relative amounts of the chemical elements in the stars. In 1960 the distinguished astronomer Otto Struve referred to this work as “the most brilliant Ph.D. thesis ever written in astronomy.”

Cecilia Payne was born in Wendover, England. After entering Cambridge University she soon knew she wanted to study a science but was not sure which one. She then chanced to hear the astronomer Arthur Stanley Eddington (1882-1944) give a public lecture on his recent expedition to observe the 1919 solar eclipse, an observation that proved Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. 

She later recalled her exhilaration: “The result was a complete transformation of my world picture. When I returned to my room I found that I could write down the lecture word for word.” She realized that physics was for her.

Later, at Cambridge Observatory Cecilia told Professor Eddington, that she wanted to be an astronomer. He suggested a number of books for her to read, but she had already read them. Eddington then invited her to use the Observatory’s library, with access to all the latest astronomical journals. 

"There is no joy more intense than that of coming upon a fact that cannot be understood in terms of currently accepted ideas." declared Cecilia Payne

Payne realized early during her Cambridge years, that a woman had little chance of advancing beyond a teaching role, & no chance at all of getting an advanced degree in England. 

Women in the USA had only won the right to vote in national elections in 1920, just 3 years before Payne left England in 1923 for the United States. Here she met Professor Harlow Shapley (1885-1952), the new director of the Harvard College Observatory, who offered her a graduate fellowship. 

Cecilia Payne became the 1st person to earn a PhD in astronomy from Harvard University. Her 1925 graduate thesis proposed that the Sun & other stars were made predominantly of hydrogen, & described as "the most brilliant PhD thesis ever written in astronomy." (Payne received the 1st Ph.D. in astronomy from Radcliffe College for her thesis, since Harvard did not grant doctoral degrees to women.)

But Harvard did have the world’s largest archive of stellar spectra on photographic plates. Astronomers obtain such spectra by attaching a spectroscope to a telescope. This instrument spreads starlight out into its “rainbow” of colors, spanning all the wavelengths of visible light. The wavelength increases from the violet to the red end of the spectrum, as the energy of the light decreases. A typical stellar spectrum has many narrow dark gaps where the light at particular wavelengths (or energies) is missing. These gaps are called absorption “lines,” & are due to various chemical elements in the star’s atmosphere that absorb the light coming from hotter regions below.

The study of spectra had led to the science of astrophysics. In 1859, Gustav Kirchoff & Robert Bunsen in Germany heated various chemical elements & observed the spectra of the light given off by the incandescent gas. They found that each element has its own characteristic set of spectral lines—its uniquely identifying “fingerprint.” In 1863, William Huggins in England observed many of these same lines in the spectra of the stars. The visible universe, it turned out, is made of the same chemical elements as those found on Earth.

Beginning in the 1880s, astronomers at Harvard College such as Edward Pickering, Annie Jump Cannon, Williamina Fleming, & Antonia Maury had succeeded in classifying stars according to their spectra into seven types: O, B, A, F, G, K, & M. It was believed that this sequence corresponded to the surface temperature of the stars, with O being the hottest & M the coolest. In her Ph.D. thesis (published as Stellar Atmospheres [1925]), Payne used the spectral lines of many different elements & the work of Indian astrophysicist Meghnad Saha, who had discovered an equation relating the ionization states of an element in a star to the temperature to definitively establish that the spectral sequence did correspond to quantifiable stellar temperatures. Payne also determined that stars are composed mostly of hydrogen & helium. However, she was dissuaded from this conclusion by Princeton astronomer Henry Norris Russell (1877-1957), who thought that stars surely would have the same composition as Earth. (Russell conceded in 1929 that Payne was correct.) 

In principle, it seemed that one might obtain the composition of the stars by comparing their spectral lines to those of known chemical elements observed in laboratory spectra. Astronomers had identified elements like calcium & iron as responsible for some of the most prominent lines, so they naturally assumed that such heavy elements were among the major constituents of the stars. In fact, Princeton's Henry Norris Russell at Princeton had concluded that if the Earth’s crust were heated to the temperature of the Sun, its spectrum would look nearly the same.


When Cecilia Payne arrived at Harvard, a comprehensive study of stellar spectra had long been underway. Annie Jump Cannon (1863-1941) whose cataloging work was instrumental in the development of contemporary stellar classification.  Annie was nearly deaf throughout her career. She was a suffragist & a member of the National Women's Party.

Annie Jump Cannon (1863-1941)

Annie had sorted the spectra of several hundred thousand stars into seven distinct classes. She had devised & ordered the classification scheme, based on differences in the spectral features. Astronomers assumed that the spectral classes represented a sequence of decreasing surface temperatures of the stars, but no one was able to demonstrate this quantitatively.

Cecilia Payne, who studied the new science of quantum physics, knew that the pattern of features in the spectrum of any atom was determined by the configuration of its electrons. She also knew that at high temperatures, one or more electrons are stripped from the atoms, which are then called ions. The Indian physicist M. N. Saha had recently shown how the temperature & pressure in the atmosphere of a star determine the extent to which various atoms are ionized.

Payne began a long project to measure the absorption lines in stellar spectra, & within two years produced a thesis for her doctoral degree, the first awarded for work at Harvard College Observatory. In it, she showed that the wide variation in stellar spectra is due mainly to the different ionization states of the atoms & hence different surface temperatures of the stars, not to different amounts of the elements. She calculated the relative amounts of eighteen elements & showed that the compositions were nearly the same among the different kinds of stars. She discovered, surprisingly, that the Sun & the other stars are composed almost entirely of hydrogen & helium, the two lightest elements. All the heavier elements, like those making up the bulk of the Earth, account for less than two percent of the mass of the stars.

Most of the mass of the visible universe is hydrogen, the lightest element, & not the heavier elements that are more prominent in the spectra of the stars! This was indeed a revolutionary discovery. Harlow Shapley sent Payne’s thesis to Professor Russell at Princeton, who informed her that the result was “clearly impossible.” To protect her career, Payne inserted a statement in her thesis that the calculated abundances of hydrogen & helium were “almost certainly not real.”

She then converted her thesis into the book Stellar Atmospheres, which was well-received by astronomers. Within a few years it was clear to everyone that her results were both fundamental & correct. Cecilia Payne had showed for the first time how to “read” the surface temperature of any star from its spectrum. She showed that Cannon’s ordering of the stellar spectral classes was indeed a sequence of decreasing temperatures & she was able to calculate the temperatures. The so-called Princeton Hertzsprung-Russell diagram, a plot of luminosity versus spectral class of the stars, could now be properly interpreted, & it became by far the most powerful analytical tool in stellar astrophysics.

From the time she finished her Ph.D. through the 1930s, Payne advised students, conducted research, & lectured—all the usual duties of a professor. Yet, because she was a woman, her only title at Harvard was “technical assistant” to Professor Harlow Shapley. 

In 1933, Payne traveled to Europe to meet Russian astronomer Boris Gerasimovich, who had previously worked at the Harvard College Observatory & with whom she planned to write a book about variable stars. In Göttingen, Ger., she met Sergey Gaposchkin, a Russian astronomer who could not return to the Soviet Union because of his politics. Payne was able to find a position at Harvard for him. They married in 1934 & often collaborated on studies of variable stars. She was named a lecturer in astronomy in 1938, but even though she taught courses, they were not listed in the Harvard catalog until after World War II.

In collaboration with colleague John Whitman, she rendered this early X-ray image of the supernova remnant Cassopeia-A in 1976 using yarn & needlepoint. 

Despite being indisputably one of the most brilliant & creative astronomers of the 20C, Cecilia Payne was never elected to the elite National Academy of Sciences. But times were beginning to change. In 1956, she was finally made a full professor (the 1st woman so recognized at Harvard) & chair of the Astronomy Department.

Her fellow astronomers certainly came to appreciate her genius. In 1976, the American Astronomical Society awarded her the prestigious Henry Norris Russell Prize. In her acceptance lecture, she said, “The reward of the young scientist is the emotional thrill of being the 1st person in the history of the world to see something or to understand something.” 

See:

American Museum of Natural History: Cecilia Payne & the Composition of the Stars

Encyclopedia Britannica: Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin 

Archival Collections:

Collections of Cecilia Payne- & Sergei Gaposchkin. Wolbach Library, Harvard & Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Mass.

Papers of Harlow Shapley, 1906-1966; HUG 4773.10 Box 89. Harvard University Archives, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

Papers of Cecilia Helena Payne-Gaposchkin, 1924, circa 1950s-1990s, 2000; HUGB P182.5, P182.50. Harvard University Archives, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. Link.

Project PHaEDRA. Wolbach Library, Harvard & Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Mass. Link.

Radcliffe College Alumnae Association Records, ca.1894-2004; RG IX, Series 2, box 241. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

Wilbur Kitchener Jordan Records of the President of Radcliffe College, 1943-1960; RG II, Series 3, boxes 27, 60. Radcliffe College Archives, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

Bibliography: 

Bartusiak, Marcia. 1993. “The Stuff of Stars.” The Sciences, no. September/October: 34–39.

Boyd, Sylvia. 2014. Portrait of a Binary : The Lives of Cecilia Payne & Sergei Gaposchkin. Penobscot Press.

DeVorkin, David. 2010. “Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence: C.H. Payne, H.N. Russell & Standards of Evidence in Early Quantitative Stellar Spectroscopy.” Journal Od Astronomical History & Heritage 13 (2): 139–44.

Gaposchkin, Cecilia Helena Payne. 1984. Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin: An Autobiography (“The Dyer’s Hand”) & Other Recollections. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press.

Gaposchkin, Sergei. 1970. The Divine Scramble. Self-Published.

Gingerich, Owen, Katherine Haramundanis, & Dorrit Hoffleit. 2001. The Starry Universe: The Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin Centenary. L. Davis Press.

Popova, Maria. 2017. “Stitching a Supernova: A Needlepoint Celebration of Science by Pioneering Astronomer Cecilia Payne.” Brain Pickings (blog). May 10, 2017. 

Woodman, Jennifer. 2016. “Stellar Works: Searching for the Lives of Women in Science.” Dissertations & Theses, June.

"We Are Made of Starstuff.”

This landscape of “mountains” & “valleys” speckled with glittering stars is actually the edge of a nearby, young, star-forming region called NGC 3324 in the Carina Nebula. Captured in infrared light by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, this image reveals for the 1st time previously invisible areas of star birth. (NASA)

Dear old Hubble & the new James Webb Telescope, the largest space observatory to date, & thousands of scientists around the world will lead us into countless universes & 100 billion galaxies of composed of dying stars expelling dust & gas - elements & gases interchangeable with ours. We are part of infinity living on a tiny blue dot in space. “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”

“Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

"The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

"Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

"The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

"It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.”

―American astronomer Carl Sagan (1934-1996), Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

Earth's Creatures Stop to Smell the Flowers

Spring & Summer are the perfect time to celebrate the rebirth of Earth's Beauty & Bounty.  Flowers gave beauty & inspiration to mankind's basic struggle to live & to populate & to protect his home-base, The Earth.  Holding on to The Sweet Divine - The Lord God took man & put him in the Garden of Eden to work it & to keep it...Genesis 2:15.

The expression came into popular modern use in the 1960s & is a rephrasing of a sentiment found in an autobiography written by the golfer Walter Hagen: “Don’t hurry. Don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.”

Monday, July 11, 2022

Seeds with Stories: Gaillardia/Blanket Flower (Gaillardia pulchella)

 Old Salem Museums & Gardens tells us in its series Seeds with Stories: Gaillardia/Blanket Flower (Gaillardia pulchella) that this colorful native of both North & South America was named after M. Gaillard de Charentonneau, an 18C French magistrate who funded various botanists. 

The common name, blanket flower, is believed to be a reference to the brightly colored flowers, which some believe resemble Native American traditional blankets in their colors & patterns.

The flower has another name on the North Carolina island of Ocracoke which carries with it a legend of love & loss. The flower is called Joe Bell there, & legend says that a man by that name was a member of a well-known family from Little Washington, North Carolina. His love rejected him, & he ran away to Ocracoke where he wandered, heartbroken. 

Locals left him baskets of food which he returned filled with blanket flowers. Later, he was found dead, surrounded by the flowers which would, from then on, carry his name. There are several versions of this myth, & though it is unclear if the story is true in any way, it certainly adds an air of heartache & romance to this beautiful flower. 

Old Salem explores the diverse cultural history of the early South, with special emphasis on the Moravians in North Carolina, enslaved & free people of African descent, & Indigenous peoples of the Southern Woodland.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Earth's Creatures Stop to Smell the Flowers

Spring & Summer are the perfect time to celebrate the rebirth of Earth's Beauty & Bounty.  Flowers gave beauty & inspiration to mankind's basic struggle to live & to populate & to protect his home-base, the Earth.  Holding on to The Sweet Divine - The Lord God took man & put him in the Garden of Eden to work it & to keep it...Genesis 2:15.

The expression "stop to smell the flowers" came into popular modern use in the 1960s & is a rephrasing of a sentiment found in a 1956 autobiography written by the golfer Walter Hagen: “Don’t hurry. Don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.”

Saturday, July 9, 2022

Seeds with Stories: Wisteria

Old Salem Museums & Gardens tells us in its series Seeds with Stories: Wisteria that depending on who you talk to, it is a beautiful, fragrant bloom or an unstoppable, invasive curse that is devastating to gardens & the grounds around them.

The most common varieties are wisteria sinensis, introduced from China in 1816 & wisteria floribunda, introduced from Japan in 1830.  These highly invasive varieties were sought after for the larger size of their blooms compared to the native wisteria frutescens, which has smaller, slightly less fragrant blooms. 

The introduced varieties offer 2 weeks of blooms in April & May while growing aggressively in sun or shade, up to 25 feet per year.  Fuzzy seed pods are often carried by birds to unsuspecting & unprepared innocent landscapes.  These varieties can choke out all other plants.  

The vines climb on the ground as well as up trees, fences, & woods girdling the trees until they die to get more sunlight to the vines growing upon the ground, which then pushes up more flowers to seed.  

If you admire these introduced varieties but don’t want your landscape overrun perhaps the native variety, wisteria frutescens may work.  Despite its quick growth, 15 feet per year, it is often considered the dwarf wisteria, because the leaves & blooms are smaller in size.

The fragrant flowers range from purple to  blue. The individual flowers resemble pea flowers. This super pollinator blooms on new wood from May to July & can be trained to grow in tree form or on a trellis by astute pruning in the winter. 

Old Salem explores the diverse cultural history of the early South, with special emphasis on the Moravians in North Carolina, enslaved & free people of African descent, & Indigenous peoples of the Southern Woodland.

Friday, July 8, 2022

Earth's Creatures Stop to Smell the Flowers

Spring & Summer are the perfect time to celebrate the rebirth of Earth's Beauty & Bounty.  Flowers gave beauty & inspiration to mankind's basic struggle to live & to populate & to protect his home-base, The Earth.  Holding on to The Sweet Divine - The Lord God took man & put him in the Garden of Eden to work it & to keep it...Genesis 2:15.

The expression came into popular modern use in the 1960s & is a rephrasing of a sentiment found in an autobiography written by the golfer Walter Hagen: “Don’t hurry. Don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.”