We’re past half way through September, and not a single post. Blame the weather, upcoming sports days, karate competitions, speech contests and laziness.
The news on the environmental front of late was the terrible landslides in Hiroshima that claimed about 100 lives, and the first known outbreak of dengue fever in and around Tokyo for about 70 years.
Meanwhile, much of western Japan received only about 45% of its average summer sunlight, but 300% of its average rainfall, causing vegetable prices to soar.
I would be stuck for something to write about if it wasn’t for one of our school caretakers who found an interesting fruit and put it on display in the staffroom.
Actually, I am somewhat familiar with the fruit in its autumn-winter form, when everything else around it is withering and the fruit is a red-orange colour.
The fruit in question is Trichosanthes cucumeroides, a plant without a proper English name. Some translate it as snake gourd, which is in fact a related but different plant (Trichosanthes cucumerina). Known in Japan as karasuuri (烏瓜) – literally “crow gourd” or “crow melon” – Trichosanthes cucumeroides also has a number of alternate names, including tamazusa (玉章) in reference to its seeds, which look like folded letters; and kitsunenomakura (狐の枕), literally “fox’s pillow”.
Curiously enough, there seems to be no particular explanation for its most common name.
I was not familiar with the unripe fruit, which is hard to spot when everything else is a mass of green vines, and the distinct white lace-like flowers bloom only at night. (I can’t even claim to have noticed these…) It is thought that the lace-like structure helps moths, which pollinate the flowers, locate them.
The unripe fruit has a name – uribo (瓜坊), literally “gourd priestling” – which is also come to be used for the piglets of wild boar, due to their similar colour patterns of white lines along the length.
While the fruit is generally considered unsuitable for consumption (usual caveats apply…), parts of the plant have been used in folk medicine, the fruit is sometimes used as ornaments; and the seeds are said to bear a resemblance to the magic hammer of folk tales, so are put in wallets or purses for good fortune.
As autumn advances I’m likely to encounter the ripe fruit, and hope to bring you some photos of these.
A large wasp spider (Argiope bruennichi) seen on the roadside.
My 100th post.