Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

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Princeton, MAINE USA

Monday, January 31, 2005

Water Hyacinth—Africa’s Not-So-Pretty Settler

A native of Brazil, the water hyacinth has become the worst aquatic weed in the world. The U.N.‘s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has been fighting back against this greedy beauty across Africa for a decade, with help from a weevil.

imageEichhornia crassipes

Photo: Ricardo Labrada

Too much of a good thing—way too much.

The water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes (Martius) Solms-Laubach) has made a pest of itself across much of the globe, especially in tropical Africa, where it’s grown into a flowering strangler. According to an FAO report by Ricardo Labrada of the Plant Protection Service, the water hyacinth advanced quickly due to its flowery good looks. “Its spread started with its deliberate introduction into North America from Brazil, in the late 19th century, as an ornamental in ponds and subsequently escaped cultivation.” Water hyacinth seems to have arrived in Africa in the 1980s.

imageWater hyacinth clog

Lake Victoria, Uganda

Photo: Ricardo Labrada

Here’s an example of how this lovely plant has become an invader. During the 1990s “dense mats” of water hyacinth had clogged big stretches of Lake Victoria in Uganda, choking off fishing and even transportation. The water hyacinth is not just a water dweller but a vaporizer, its lush leaves “sweating” so much moisture into the air that it “alters the water balance of entire regions.”

Water-hyacinth infestations can also slow the output of electrical power stations, imperil local agriculture, become breeding grounds for poisonous snakes, and bring disease.

The FAO’s weed controls in Africa have included many kinds of measures: surveillance, training, greater inter-country cooperation, and principally the introduction of a natural enemy—Cyrtobagous salviniae, a species of weevil. The FAO says that breeding and releasing this hyacinth-predator is preferable to fighting back with chemicals.

There’s a lot of fascinating information on the FAO site, including a slide show of the ongoing struggles again water hyacinth, water fern and other World Wide Weeds.

Thinking about sneaking a flowering plant back home from your trip to the tropics? Look what the water hyacinth has done, and reconsider.

(Note: Welcome to our recent visitors from Togo. Please let us hear from you about flowers, wanted and unwanted.)

Posted by Julie on 01/31 at 12:15 PM

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Iznik- A Garden in Quartz

A New York exhibition displays the glory of Turkish tiles, with pieces from Iznik’s 16th Century master craftsmen and examples of the city’s contemporary ceramics revival.

image16th C. Iznik tile

Some of the most beautiful floral art of all time came from the Anatolian city of Iznik. Using methods no one yet quite understands, the ceramicists of this town in Western Turkey made radiant tiles decorated with hyacinths, tulips, and carnations to cover the interiors of imperial palaces and mosques.

Peter Hristoff of the School of the Visual Arts in New York has brought together 50 of these pieces, most of them on loan from the Metropolitan Museum, with works by Turkish artists of today. Iznik, Legendary Ceramics from Turkey: An Art Reborn is the first U.S. show of its kind.

In the 16th century, 300 ceramics workshops in the town made, painted and fired both tiles and dinnerware to supply the Ottoman Empire. The amazing works they produced, composed 80% of quartz, are still brilliant today. Hristoff, a native of Turkey, writes, “Not only does one sense the seamless transition of the outside (the enchanted, perfumed garden) into the indoors, but also the beauty and goodness of life and its transitory nature. All western preconceptions about ‘decorative arts’ fall away when one encounters an art that is hundreds of years old but still appears fresh and timeless.”

The Iznik Foundation, formed in 1993, has established “a sprawling compound of studios, laboratories, libraries and kilns,” as well as “a garden…planted with the flowers found on the tiles.” The group’s work to revive this magnificent crafts tradition has already borne results. In just 10 years, 35 ceramics studios have opened in the city; in conjunction with the Moon and Stars Project, the Iznik Foundation also contributed expertise and contemporary works to the current U.S. show.

imageThere’s some good information about Iznik tiles available, describing how its decorative forms and colors evolved over several centuries. Oh, but we want to see these shining gardens for ourselves!

“The Eyüp Mosque and Türbe complex, the Piyale Pasha Mosque, the Topkapi Palace and the great Blue Mosque are all good places to start one’s Iznik education,” Peter Hristoff advises. For those of us on the western side of the Atlantic, there’s the School of the Visual Arts show, which runs through February 26.

(Thanks for the post card, Cyndy!)

Posted by Julie on 01/30 at 12:42 PM
Art & MediaPermalink

Bummer, Cherie

It’s all over the papers in the U.K. The Primer Minister has “other ways” of being romantic.

Shadowed by reporter June Sarpong for 24 hours, Tony Blair obviously was worn out. Otherwise he never would have divulged what hit today’s papers like a cream pie: he’s never bought flowers for his wife, Cherie.

Prime Minister Blair discussed the Iraq War, university fees, and binge drinking, but today’s headlines all carry the same message:

“Blair admits faux pas over flowers”

“Blair: I Never Sent Flowers to Cherie”

“No flowers for Cherie, as Tony admits to past passion for princess” (that being Grace Kelley)

Blair insisits that he’s plenty “romantic” and that were he to send his wife flowers “she would get worried.”

Mr. Prime Minister, you’re the one who needs to be worried now.


Posted by Julie on 01/30 at 10:17 AM
Secular CustomsPermalink

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Zhao Ziyang - Flowers Tell the Story

A funeral for China’s controversial former-leader took place today, with loaner-flowers only and plenty of police.

There’s been speculation ever since Zhao Ziyang’s death on January 17 about how obsequies for China’s former party chief would be carried out. Zhao was driven from command after he opposed the military’s crackdown on dissidents in the spring of 1989, when hundreds, perhaps thousands, of demonstrators were killed over protests in Tiananmen Square. Zhao lived under house arrest for the remainder of his life.


A memorial to Zhao Ziyang, Jan. 21

Victoria Park, Hong Kong

Photo: Bobby Yip, for Reuters

At the news of his death, a huge memorial with floral wreaths and masses of yellow and white chrysanthemums was assembled in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park. In Beijing, meanwhile, Chinese authorities clamped down on public expressions of grief. An AFP story of Jan. 27 reported: “Security has been stepped up, apparently for fear that mourning will spark large-scale protests. Dozens of people have been detained and some viciously beaten, witnesses said.

“They were among some 60 people who last week pinned white paper flowers to their clothes, a traditional Chinese symbol of mourning, said a bystander who took pictures of the beatings and posted them on overseas websites.”

We haven’t come across these photos. Have you?

Not so many days ago, it appeared that Zhao would be denied a “life assessment,” the party’s official record of a public person’s career. But today the Chinese government did release such a statement.

“‘He made beneficial contributions to the party and the people,’ the assessment said, before adding, ‘In the political turmoil of the spring and summer of 1989, Comrade Zhao Ziyang committed grave errors.’”

Police nearly outnumbered guests at the funeral itself, according to Agence France-Presse. Mourners were permitted by invitation only, and many who had come to pay their respects were driven away or detained.


Police led a man with a white mourning flower from the invitation-only funeral of Zhao Ziyang.

Photo: Reinhard Krause, for Reuters

Clearly, the right to bear flowers is a mark of political freedom, or in countries where such freedoms are denied, of power: “Floral arrangements were sent by former parliament chief Qiao Shi, former vice chairman of parliament Tian Jiyun and Yang Baibing, a People’s Liberation Army general and younger brother of the late Yang Shangkun, president during the 1989 crackdown.”

But Zhao Ziyang’s own friends and supporters were banned from such expression. Zhao’s nephew told AFP, “Guests could not even bring their own flowers. They had to use wreaths brought there by the government and they could not even write their own inscriptions on wreaths.”

Those permitted into the service “were given white paper flowers as they entered the funeral hall but guards demanded the flowers back as they left.”

A Chinese AIDS activist told the New York Times, “The main fear is that there would be marches and slogans - things they can’t control….Zhao’s fate symbolizes China’s over the past 15 years: the economy has become more diverse, but the political system remains inert and lifeless.”

Posted by Julie on 01/29 at 02:57 PM
Culture & SocietyReligious RitualsPermalink
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