“‘This is becoming a bore,’ I said one day. ‘I should like to go somewhere to hear a hototogisu singing.’ The other women enjoyed the idea and said that they wanted to accompany me. One of them suggested a bridge behind Kamo Shrine. ‘The hototogisu sings there every day,’ she said. ‘Those aren’t hototogisu,’ said someone else. ‘They’re cicadas.’ ”
From the 10th-century “Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon” Translated by Ivan Morris (Charles E. Tuttle)
This modest lily, like the Japanese little cuckoo after which it is named, is small, spotted and lives shyly in the woods. “Cuckoo lily” would be a more attractive name, but perhaps the folks who called it the “hairy toad lily” did not appreciate the poetic nature of Japan’s little bird. However, the English name draws our attention to the plant’s hairy stems, as well as the unusual toadlike bumps at the base of the buds. The flowers, which can bloom into late autumn, provide a welcome drop of nectar to bees preparing for winter. Yellow marks guide insects toward the nectar at the base of the petals, brushing pollen onto the prominent Y-shaped stigmas as they go. In the wild, one may also find a white species, spotted with pink, but the magenta version is generally more popular with gardeners and flower arrangers.