June 15, 2011

Gaku-ajisai (Hydrangea macrophylla) flowers in Engaku-ji

In Japan, Ajisai is also called "Shichi-henge." This name means "the seven metamorphoses" because its flower (actually, its calyx) continuously and quickly metamorphoses in color and shape .

The word "Shichi-henge" is derived from the name of the classical Kabuki dance drama in which a sole actor quickly changes his clothes seven times during continuously performing seven different dances on the stage. In Japan, this word is traditionally used to express the quick and continuous transformation.

The flower (calyx) of Ajisai assumes light yellowish green just after coming into bloom because this calyx contains chlorophyll. Soon this green pigment is gradually decomposed with the growth of the calyx and, instead of it, anthocyan (red, blue or purple pigment) continues to be compounded in the calyx to color it red, blue or purple toward its height of beauty.

After passing the peak of bloom, this colorful pigment begins to be decomposed. The calyx loses its vivid color and becomes increasingly faint and dull in color to the last of its short life.

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