Last year around this time I held a rose of jericho in my hand; it felt dead, but strangely elastic. The friendly tour guide at Trausnitz Castle in Bavaria, the partly restored Wittelsbach kunstkammer collection that opened to the public in 2004, had us touch a specimen, no doubt trying to keep the children at bay. I remember thinking, what’s the point? After all she didn’t pour water on it to make it blossom.
But maybe the opportunity to handle the object is the reason why I still remember everything she told us about it: that it is an African desert plant brought to Europe by the Crusaders; that it opens its dead-looking branches and begins to blossom as soon as it is watered; that it was kept in cabinets of curiosities due to its magical, oracular powers (its failure to open symbolised a person’s imminent death); that, according to its Christian symbolism, it was believed to represent the opening of the womb at childbirth, and that it was therefore supposed to blossom only at Christmas.