“Tomoko got off the train at Nikko, and a chill unknown to Tokyo at this season bit into her. Silver-gray pampas grass spread out on both sides of the road. Within this sea, autumn bellflowers, valerians, gentians, teasels and burnet waved in the wind.”
From “The End of Summer” by Harumi Setouchi (b. 1922) Translated by Janine Beichman (Kodansha International)
Great burnet is a common wayside plant with many slender, candelabralike branches. It grows up to 1 meter tall, so dragonflies often perch on its tips while seeming to consider their next move. Each “flower” is actually a cluster of many that open, from the top downward, like cells in a tiny honeycomb. Approximately seven species grow in Japan, from Hokkaido to Kyushu, while others in this widespread family grow from Siberia to Britain. As the great burnet’s Latin name, Sanguisorba officinalis, indicates, this herb can “absorb blood,” or stop bleeding. It starts blooming in summer, but its deep, tawny colors, blending with silvery grasses, somehow best suit the Japanese autumn.