This gorgeous bush is better known as bottlebrush, and can be seen planted all over the warmer areas of the west. Its feathery red flowers, shaped like bottlebrushes, welcome hummingbirds and nectar-eating insects, and its vibrant explosion of beauty improves the view for much of the stretch of I-5 through California’s central valley.
The Aztecs called this plant Tlacoxilohxochitl, and used it for medical complaints such as tension, insomnia, diarrhea, and fevers. Other species of Calliandra are used as Ayahuasca additives, as it is considered a teacher which connects us to the intelligences of the plant kingdom more deeply. The spiritual uses of all types of Calliandra inspired us to work with it.
The Aztecs told the story of Huitzilopochtli, “Hummingbird from the Spirit World”, a legendary hero who found a new world for the people to live in, and helped defend that land in battle. The hero was killed, and a green hummingbird sprang up from the spot where he fell. This tiny bird inspired his followers and led them to victory, later becoming the god of war and the Sun.
Following Huitzilopochtli, the souls of all warriors who die in battle travel to the House of the Sun in Heaven, where they live for four years, orbiting the Sun and eating the nectar of Calliandra, which changes them into hummingbirds. They continue their warrior ways, engaging in mock battles with each other to stay in shape.
After their transformation, they can return to the world of the living, where the physical incarnation of their spirit food, the Calliandra bush, continues to sustain them as living hummingbirds. At night, they are warriors, fighting for good and to restore light to the world. At dawn, the hummingbirds are filled with joy, and the Sun rewards their love with bright feathers that reflect light into the world.
No one who has watched two hummingbirds at one feeder can deny their instinct to battle, but their fierceness also brings colour, energy, and vitality to a garden. They live off sweetness, but embody a fiery spirit, and their swift movements and shimmering colours have made them a symbol of travel between the worlds.
Many hummingbird food plants like Calliandra share the same dual nature- looking like flames, but made of nectar, nourishing the balance between warrior courage and gentleness.
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