A Full Moon By Any Other Name

The Full Moon for April appears tomorrow night and is frequently called the Pink Moon. But it won’t look pink at all.  This will also be our first of two “supermoons” for the year. But it won’t look supersized.

The supermoon term has rather recently been used to describe the astronomical phenomenon when the distance between the Moon and Earth is at its closest. In general terms, supermoons are 15% brighter and 7% bigger than regular full moons, but with the naked eye it won’t really look any bigger or brighter than it did last month if you saw it on a clear, dark night at the right time.

And not to be a lunar downer but the Pink Moon name came not frm the Moon’s color but what was blooming on Earth when this particular month showed a Full Moon.  If it has any color, it’s probably from lighting in the atmosphere from clouds or pollution.

The name had been used by some American Indian tribes for a very long time and it became popularized in the 1930s when the Old Farmer’s Almanac decided to include those  Native American names of the lunar months. It was literally the Full Moon When Pink Wildflowers Bloom, especially Phlox subulata. It is a common wildflower also known as moss pink and it is an early spring flower that grows across the eastern and central parts of North America.

phlox field
A field of pink, white and blue phlox    Photo: PxHere

Now, the plant is cultivated and you find it in many gardens as a ground cover. I see it called creeping phlox, moss phlox, moss pink, mountain phlox and my mother always called it mountain pinks. It covered our front rock garden when I was a child in pink, purple/blue and white and some of those plants traveled with me to my own home garden. As of today, mine are not blooming with this Full Moon, but I see them blooming in our area.

The Full Moon will be visible after the sunset but will be at peak illumination in the late evening. As always, it will look to the eye as “full” tonight and still on Tuesday.

It may not be quite a blooming spring in your backyard. The Algonquin people called this the Breaking Ice Moon. The Dakota referred to it as the Moon When the Streams Are Again Navigable. Obviously, those tribes were north of blooming moss pinks.

The Oglala call it the Moon of the Red Grass Appearing while for the Tlingit people, it’s the Budding Moon of Plants and Shrubs.

Many peoples called the May Full Moon the Flower Moon.

As I keep track of bloom dates in my own area year to year, I know that the dates change. Today, my garden and those of neighbors are full of fading daffodils and lots of tulips and magnolias and other flowering trees are blooming and dropping blossoms all around. Next year’s April Full Moon might not be exactly the same in the garden, but it will be close.

If you are more tuned in to wildlife than plants, you might prefer the names used by other tribes. How about the Frog Moon of the Cree or the Moon When the Ducks Come Back from the Lakota tradition? Do they fit in your microclimate?

One name that I had to research is from the Anishinaabe people. The Anishinabe Indian tribes of Canada were well-known for their birchbark canoes. Their April Full moon is known as the Sucker Moon. That name comes from a legend that during this time of the year, the suckerfish returns to lakes and rivers from the spirit world to purify water and aquatic animals.

The thing that attracts me to write about the Full Moon every month is that the names mean that people see a connection with nature. and with the Earth, heavens, and their own part of the planet.

Published by

Ken Ronkowitz

A lifelong educator on and off the Internet. Random by design and predictably irrational. It's turtles all the way down. Dolce far niente.

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