Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

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Princeton, MAINE USA

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Repatriation—It’s for Flowers, Too

Dutch ambassador to Pakistan vows to help revive the tulip in its native land.

Tulips conjure thoughts of wooden shoes and windmills. But this beloved spring bloomer, its bulbs being planted all over the U.S. now, is actually a native of Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan.

In the world of art and antiquities, we’ve gradually warmed up to the idea of repatriation: returning cultural treasures to their lands of origin. So what about flowers? Tulips are just one of West’s popular varieties that were received as gifts from Eastern dignitaries or, more commonly, stolen by horticultural prospectors.

The Daily Times of Lakore (Pakistan) reports that the Netherlands has promised to bring tulips back to Pakistan.

The Dutch ambassador to Islamabad “said he wished to share his country’s knowledge and expertise with Pakistan in the field of floriculture, as it could be ‘a better field for cooperation’ between the two nations.

“‘I have handed over my credentials to President General Pervez Musharraf as ambassador to Pakistan,’ he said. ‘But the true ambassadors of the Netherlands are the Dutch flowers, particularly, the tulip…We have decided to let the flowers speak for themselves.”


Wild tulips in Kazakstan     Photo: David Victor

An official from the Pakistani horticulture department cordially thanked the ambassador, calling the tulip ” a symbol of love and friendship.” Really? In Iran, the tulip symbolizes the bloodshed of young heroes who’ve died protecting the homeland.

There’s repatriation, there’s blood, there’s love, and let’s not forget about money. Holland clearly would like to improve the market for its bulbs in Pakistan, and Pakistan’s horticulture executive welcomed the chance for his country’s “traders to meet Dutch companies’ officials and discuss the transfer of technologies and techniques and investment in Pakistan.”

Tulips, start talking.

Posted by Julie on 10/23 at 01:14 PM
Cut-Flower TradeEcologyPoliticsPermalink

Friday, October 22, 2004

The Stuff of Urban Legend, and Florist History

A child picks up silk flowers in Toronto and winds up at the hospital.

First there were razors in candied apples at Halloween, or so somebody said, putting the kabosh on trick or treating. (In my youth, this rumor ran around, and some communities urged parents to have their children’s bubble-gum and Snickers x-rayed.)

Now the Toronto Sun reports that a 10-year-old girl picked up artificial flowers booby-thorned with razor blades.

“Police are worried the incident is a copycat crime in the wake of razor blades found hidden in a beach volleyball court in Toronto last month, and shards of glass found glued to a children’s slide at a Burlington public park this month,” the Sun reported.

Rema Salisbury, the Canadian child, wound up with stitches in her finger. She isn’t the first person to be cut by razor-bearing flowers, though. Gerald McPhail, owner of Airport Florist in Austin, Texas, explained to me that in the 1940s and ‘50s, every sizeable flower shop was equipped with a “picking machine.”

“It would mechanically put a steel pick on the end of a flower,” so that a florist could poke each flower precisely into a funeral spray, McPhail said.

“It’s just a little thin piece of aluminum or tin, razor sharp, and it had barbs on it,” McPhail explained. “There’s very bad stories about young people doing things at funeral homes or stuff they shouldn’t do, throwing and playing catch and grabbing and getting one of those picks and almost literally cutting a finger off.” Florists, too, might be hasty, “getting their finger the wrong way into the machine and picking their finger. It’s off to Brackenridge (Hospital) and a couple of hours surgery to get that pick off of you.”

Posted by Julie on 10/22 at 07:08 PM

The Greying of U.S. Greenhouses

Today’s Parkesburg (PA) Post-Ledger laments the closing of a local greenhouse and ties its demise to NAFTA.

Six years ago, Mark and Kate MacDonald bought a 150-year-old nursery in rural Pennsylvania, with hopes of planting, potting, and hanging in there until retirement. The newspaper in nearby Parkesburg reports, “Today, where seven acres of blooming roses once cheered the town’s 900 residents, there is a field of twisted aluminum, broken glass and dead rose bushes.”

According to Debbie Wygent’s article, the MacDonalds’ Christiana Floral “has joined a growing number of U.S. cut flower growers who are losing their businesses and jobs because they cannot compete with countries like Colombia and Ecuador whose cheap production costs and lack of pesticide regulations have delivered to them 70 percent of America’s cut flower market.”

In better times the business supplied five million roses a year to nearby Reading and along the east coast, especially to Washington, D.C., a city where thousands of diplomatic and ceremonial events create year-round demand for knockout flowers. The couple saw a steep decline in prices “after 9/11, and following the anthrax scares, because the number of special events at the nation’s capital dropped.”

The MacDonalds also said that several years ago Dole Foods shifted much of its fruit and vegetable operation from Hawaii to South America and added cut flowers to production.

“They are Wal-Martizing flowers, driving everyone out of business,” (Kate MacDonald) said. “It’s a whole industry lost to cheap labor with no government supervision of pesticides and working conditions.”  MacDonald says local wholesalers pay them 80 cents per rose but can buy stems from South America for only 23 cents apiece.

According to Mark MacDonald, it was the effects of NAFTA, passed in 1993, that snuffed Christiana Floral. “George Bush came in and said absolutely free trade with no restrictions. The business just died. This White House let it be known that, for whatever reason, they wanted imported flowers. South America has a tremendous lobby in Washington D.C.”

Posted by Julie on 10/22 at 03:58 PM
Cut-Flower TradePermalink

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Ding! Ding! Ding! It’s Mustard Over Humankind

International study shows humanity lags behind roadside weed in contest for the most genes.

The crown of creation just might turn out to be hogfeed.

A team of researchers has confirmed that in the contest for number of genes humans have barely beat out hookworms. (Let’s hope this is a portent of the U.S. presidential election.) But what surprised and humbled even the geneticists was that several common plants beat both two-leggers and fish bait. Arabidopsis thaliana (lab-rat of the plant world) has about 27,000 genes.


Arabidopsis thaliana, a relative of mustard

Photo: Carl Farmer

A website of plants from the Isle of Skye (Scotland) calls it “generally a small insignificant plant… common as a street weed.” Furthermore, the Arabidopsis, to human eyes anyway, has acne:  “Surface of base-leaves covered with pimples that each have a hair in.”

Lest you think the little white flowering mustard is an anomaly, take note that rice has 45,000 genes and corn (hogfeed) 50,000. (Nematodes have 19,500 and people somewhere between 20,000 and 25,000 genes.)

It’s clear that while we don’t flower when left alone on the side of the road, human beings do possess the genetic capacity to pay for skin peels and put ourselves in the best possible light.  “It’s not just the number of genes that matters,” said Eric Lander, co-author of the study. “I think it’s great news, because what it means is we already know a lot about most human genes,” and, it appears,  DON’T know a lot about what plants and flowers can do.

Posted by Julie on 10/21 at 10:44 AM
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