Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2005, Japan Times

IN BLOOM

Nobudo (Porcelain berry)

By LINDA INOKI

Sometimes I pick flowering reeds or the wild pear, or fill my basket with berries and cress. Sometimes I go to the rice fields at the foot of the mountain and weave wreaths of the fallen ears. When I feel energetic and ready for an ambitious journey, I follow along the peaks to worship at the Iwama or Ishiyama temple. On the way back, according to the season, I admire the cherry blossoms or the autumn leaves, pick fern shoots or fruit, both to offer to the Buddha and to use in my house.
From “An Account of my Hut” by Kamo no Chomei (1153-1216), translated by Donald Keene in “An Anthology of Japanese Literature” (Grove Press)

Perhaps the hermit who wrote about his simple life in the hills used to gather berries from the porcelain vine in autumn. They would certainly make a fine offering to the Buddha, since they glow in unusual colors of turquoise, pink and jade green sometimes on a single berry! Nobudo means “meadow grape,” and the plant is a colorful cousin of the grapes we grow for fruit and wine. It is said that the berries are edible, but I think it is wise to leave them for the birds. The plant (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata) is a member of the Vitaceae family of plants and, like the grape vine, has deep roots that help it survive periods of drought. Porcelain berry is a strong climber and can grow up to 7 meters high. In fact, it is so strong that it has become an invasive weed in warm, humid parts of the United States, where it has escaped from gardens. However, in cooler, dryer climates, it dies back each winter and is easier to control. Surprisingly, this vigorous vine can be tamed into a pretty bonsai display for autumn.

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