Human Flower Project


Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Delivered across 2,000 Light Years

NASA finds a rafflesia flower in the constellation Lyra.


Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Harvard-Smithsonian CfA

Ever wonder why we associate flowers with mortality?

Using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, astronomers found this “flower” in the Ring Nebula, 2,000 light years away.

A nebula is created as a star dies. “The ‘ring’ is a thick cylinder of glowing gas and dust around the doomed star. As the star begins to run out of fuel, its core becomes smaller and hotter, boiling off its outer layers.”

Writers for Space Flight Now see “the delicate petals of a camellia blossom.” We see a rafflesia flower. No matter. This is a star’s funeral. Nobody’s ever quite seen the likes of it before.

Posted by Julie on 02/15 at 02:44 PM
Culture & SocietyTravelPermalink

New Caledonia: One in All the World

Welcome to our recent visitors from New Caledonia. As we looked for information about this South Pacific island, we had the good fortune to correspond with Australian writer Philip Game. Thank you, Philip, for this fine introduction to New Caledonia.


By Philip Game

How does one assess natural wealth? If biodiversity be any measure, then the fifth richest country on earth is an unlikely contender: New Caledonia is a refuge for some of the most wildly beautiful and primitive plant species found on earth. Like Australia it is a fragment of the primordial continent of Gondwanaland, cast adrift 80 million years ago.  The world’s finest collection of ancient trees features the Araucarian conifers: monkey-puzzle trees and kauri pines.  Palms, orchids and giant grevilleas enliven the maquis as well as giant geckos and skinks, the cagou and the world’s largest wood pigeon.

The southern half of New Caledonia is no tropical paradise. The bedrock and overlying soils are fabulously rich in metals (nickel, copper, cobalt) but almost toxic to plant life.  Almost every living thing here is unique to the area.


Montrouziera gabriellaei

Endemic to nickel-rich soils

of the maquis minier


A single Nepenthes, a delicate pitcher plant grew between the rocks.  We stopped to admire a single specimen of the majestic, spreading candelabra tree, Araucaria muelleri, covered in creamy flowers rather like a wattle.  The tree flowers without warning, then dies.

Understandably, the first French settlers made a few false starts in coming to terms with the New Caledonian flora. Faux tabac, false tobacco, has big, broad glossy leaves with medicinal applications.  Faux mango wafts a jasmine-like fragrance but its fruit are poisonous; whilst false mimosa is distinguished by long seed pods

The 400-hectare Madeleine Falls Botanic Reserve conserves a rare and fragile landscape, a haven for the last known stands of several endemic plants.  On the riverbank grows the only known stand of Neocallitropsis pancheri, a cypress-like araucarian conifer once harvested for its essential oils but now totally protected. Authorities are busily replanting to repair the degradation caused by campfires and tramping feet.

Posted by Julie on 02/15 at 12:00 PM

Monday, February 14, 2005

A Marrying Kind of Saint

Valentine was no lace doily but a defiant pacifist of Imperial Rome.

imageSt. Valentine

Photo: St. Valentine Church

Bethel Park, Pennsylvania

Somebody brilliant (if you know which somebody, please remind us) wrote: “A man in love is lost to the state.”

That truth is the core of St. Valentine’s story, obscured under seventeen centuries of roses and a billion pink teddy bears. We learned from the New Nation, Bangladesh, that Valentinus was a priest during the reign of Emperor Claudius “the Cruel,” in the 3rd century. “Claudius was frustrated in his efforts to expand the army of Rome because nobody wanted to volunteer. The men of the 60’s, the 260’s that is, had a philosophy of ‘make love, not war.’ Too few wanted to leave their wives and families to embark on military expeditions for Claudius, where they would be gone for months or years and may never come back.”

In exasperation, Claudius banned engagements and weddings. But Father Valentinus defied the law. He performed many marriages in secret until he was discovered, jailed and condemned to death.

“As he awaited execution, his admirers would come to the jail with flowers and notes of support. One of his most ardent supporters turned out to be the daughter of the prison guard, who would talk with Valentine for hours and try to keep his spirits up. The day he was to die, February 14, 269 AD, Valentine wrote her a note of thanks for her friendship and loyalty and signed it, ‘Love from your Valentine.’”

Now, as it ever happens, this day had also been a pagan festival of Juno, goddess of marriage, but let’s not get too archeological—just give those brazen lovers and their Roman priest their due.

Pilgrims may want to know that St. Valentine’s relics lie “in a rough part of Glasgow.” In the U.S. (and on the web), one may visit St. Valentine Church in Bethel Park, Pennsylvania.

Patron of lovers—those lost to the state—St. Valentine also watches over travelers, epileptics, and beekeepers.

Posted by Julie on 02/14 at 10:40 AM
Religious RitualsSecular CustomsTravelPermalink

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Carol’s Calla


Calla lily and pool, Balrampur House

Nainital, India

Photo: Carol Hanner

“Among the calamities of war may be justly numbered the diminution of the love of truth by the falsehoods which interest dictates and credulity encourages”

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

(Thanks to Betty Sykes for the 2005 .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), first produced in 1884 by Thomas Scattergood, a Philadelphia Quaker. And thanks to Carol Hanner and Maria Henson, travelers in India, for bringing back this peaceful morning, flower and pool.)

Posted by Julie on 02/05 at 12:29 PM
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