Renaming a Tree

The shorn, rather ugly object above is vitex agnus-castus, otherwise known as a Purple Chaste Tree. Every year around October 1, I prune its luxuriant growth until it looks like this.

In spring, it comes back to life, this year reaching a height of about nine feet. It has grayish-green leaves, palmately divided, and purple flowers with an exotic fragrance, not sweet exactly, but more–well–medicinal. Bees cannot resist it, and nestle in the flowers, doing their thing all summer until the Day of Pruning. With this last cutting, I thought all the bees had gone, but there in the branches I had cut off and thrown to the driveway for hauling to the curb, was one stubborn black creature in the flowers.

The Chaste Tree is important to me. In 2003, in the early hours of Mother’s Day, a tornado hit our city. I awoke to find my property littered with uprooted trees, the roof of my house pierced by two huge evergreen branches that had fallen into it from my neighbor’s yard, and my driveway completely blocked by the debris. It took a long time to fix the damage.

As soon as my dear friend up north heard about it, he selected the Purple Chaste Tree from one of his garden catalogs and had it sent to me. The small rooted shoots, of course, were packed carefully, with instructions included for planting. I dug a hole at the side of my house and followed each direction with utmost care.

Every time I pass the tree or perform the savage pruning, I think of my friend. He has been cursed with ill health for many years, and can no longer garden the wayhe used to. But that tree survives and so does he. And to honor him for his bravery, I have long since given the tree a new name, not as romantic, but much more significant.

I call it the Samtree.


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