Warning: aestivating plants are not pretty.
Sirius did not earn its name for being just an ordinary star. No. The Greeks christened this astral illuminate Σείριος or Seirios, meaning scorcher. Sirius was so serious, in fact, that Homer devoted a few lines in the Iliad to it:
On summer nights, star of stars,
Orion's Dog they call it, brightest
Of all, but an evil portent, bringing heat
And fevers to suffering humanity
Even Aristotle in his Physics devoted a one-liner to the “dog-days” –an homage to this brightest of stars (apart from the Sun, of course).
(Perhaps my ‘moon burn’ owes its origins elsewhere!)
The Egyptians searched the nighttime skies for Sirius, which appeared just prior to the flooding of the Nile. Ah, the irony, for Sirius here in more northern latitudes signifies paucity, not abundance, of water.
The Romans understood and experienced this irony, and came to refer to those driest and hottest of days (for them, 24 July – 24 August) as diēs caniculārēs, which comes down to us moderns as the “dogs days of summer,” when Sirius illuminates the constellation Canis Major. Perhaps an early recognition of ‘global warming’, The Old Farmer’s Almanac pushed up the beginning of those dog days to 3 July. Editors take heed: that starting date may need to be moved up even further.
This summer in Delaware, the dog days began in mid June. According to the National Weather Service, northern Delaware has experienced its second hottest spring in 116 years, and, for the period April – May, the 4th driest. (Read: it could be worse, though or lack of precipitation in June might very well make this situation worse.) Consequently, the Ostrich ferns and Corydalis flexuousa Purple Leaf varietal have begun aestivation, or summer hibernation, rather early. Last year, the Ostrich ferns did not recede until late July. This is my first experience with Purple Leaf Corydalis, and I have learned that he usually re-emerges once the heat passes and conditions favor his sensitive constitution.
Though we may curse Sirius for heralding ‘heat and fevers to suffering humanity’, and for compelling the more sensitive of the garden pack to hibernate, summer dormancy has one particular perk for the gardener: invertebrates like snails and slugs, as their habitats dry, also aestivate. (And I thought my chemical warfare killed them off.)
So, in between the constant watering, let the gardener enjoy the hostas sans slug damage, temper Sirius’ seriousness with gin and tonics, margaritas, and mojitos, and celebrate the temporary demise of the slug with a very Martha Stewart toast: “It’s a Good Thing!”