Human Flower Project
Saturday, February 19, 2005
Carrying a Torch for Malaysian Cooking
The petals of torch ginger, flavoring seafood dishes all over Southeast Asia, are key to making Penang Laksa, a staple of Malaysian home-cooking.
Penang Laksa, with torch ginger buds at right
Photo: Cyber Kuali
If you’d care to spend this afternoon in an Asian market and concocting a tangy alternative to roast chicken for dinner, consider this Malaysian favorite—Penang Laksa. It’s a fish and noodle dish, literally souped up with chilies and the petals of a stunning tropical beauty: torch ginger.
Known as bunga kantan in Malaysia, kaalaa in Thailand, torch ginger stumped the botanists.
“In the 1980s, Rosemary Margaret Smith of the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh tackled the gingers and determined this plant belonged to Etlingera, a genus first described in 1792 by Paul Dietrich Giseke. Since then, Axel Dalberg Poulsen of the National Herbarium of the Netherlands has dedicated his studies to these glorious plants. He has discovered there are at least 70 species, many not yet described, spread from India to the Pacific Islands.”
Photo: Dustin P. Roebere
Apparently this gorgeous flower, which blossoms 2 to 3 feet in the air, must be tasted to be believed, since descriptions I’ve found are all over a very fuzzy palate-map: “aromatic,” “spicy” “sweet” “tangy” and vaguest of all “intriguing.” Best try it yourself. So here’s a recipe for Penang Laksa, with translations for some ingredients uncommon to Westerners taken from this handy glossary of Malay cooking terms. Londoners too lazy to cook may order Penang Laksa and other Penang specialties from the menu at this restaurant in Notting Hill.
All you cooks, read on….
Friday, February 18, 2005
Endangered Flower Anchors the Dune
Call it an ecological two-for-one: A rare morning glory planted along Delray Beach may reclaim the area’s disappearing dunes.
Beach cluster vine
Photo: Cynthia Lane
Center for Plant Conservation
Hurricanes last year stripped the beaches of South Florida; hootie-wild development here is killing off native plants. But conservationists and city planners are wrestling back with a brilliant strategy to save a native wildflower and the dunes with one stroke.
Mireidy Fernandez of the Sun-Sentinel reported that biologists from Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Miami, a non-profit group, received $100,000 from the state department of agriculture to study the hurricane-scarred coastline and choose a site where beach cluster vine would stand the best chance to survive. On Wednesday biologists and volunteers planted 100 of these native morning glories along the north end of Delray’s city beach.
Samuel Wright of Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden and
others plant rare Jacquemontia vines at Delray Beach, Florida.
Photo: Andres Gonzalez, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Jacquemontia reclinata was declared an endangered species in 1993. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “Beach jacquemontia is presently known to occur at 12 sites” only, a casualty of “beach erosion, shade from Australian pines (Casuarina spp.), and manicured landscaping.” The federal wildlife service estimates that the number of cluster vine plants remaining “in the wild may total no more than a few hundred.”
But research biologists noted that hurricane damage might actually create hospitable conditions for cluster vine’s revival. “The Virginia Key population thrived” after Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
The Fairchild/Delray effort with Jacquemontia shows how good ecology is compounded. If this white flower takes hold, a vanishing native plant will be fortified, the Delray Beach conserved, and a biological experiment conducted in one swoop. A case of noon, night and morning “glory.”
Thursday, February 17, 2005
Iron Rule in a Red Begonia
How do you wish happy birthday to a dictator? With a show of 30,000 flowers, all named Kimjongilia.
In celebration of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il’s 63rd birthday, Pyongyang cranked up the exuberance machine yesterday. There were “feasts of pheasant and venison for the capital’s elite,” fireworks, “extra rations,” and reports of increased production of shoes for the hoi polloi. According to the United Nations, 6 million of North Korea’s 23 million citizens are malnourished.
Images of Kim Jong-Il and his late father Kim Il-Sung loom above the red begonias that are North Korea’s enough-already national flower, February 2003.
Photo: Julian Rake, for Reuters
Kim Jong Il came to power in 1994, upon the death of his father Kim Il-Sung. In 1988, dear old Dad had Japanese botanist Motoderu Kamo produce a flower to honor Kim the Younger’s 46th birthday. Kimjongilia, which for English-speakers sounds like a large lizard or venereal disease, is actually a bright red perennial begonia. Lovely. But lovely won’t do.
Earlier this month North Korea’s central news agency carpet-bombed the nation with declarations of Kimjongilia’s intergalactic dominion.
“Immortal Kimjongilia is now appreciated by people at home and abroad as a ‘flower of the sun revered by all people’, ‘valuable flower representing the times’, ‘the best flower in the world’, ‘king of flowers’… This flower was awarded a special prize, gold medal, diploma and other top prizes at the 12th International Flower Show held in Czechoslovakia in May 1991, the Nordic Flower Show in Sweden in March 1995….” Etc. etc. “The facts go to clearly prove that Kimjongilia is the most beautiful flower in the world.”
In years past, Kim’s birthday has featured displays and design competitions of the red begonia, even synchronized swimming events with plastic Kimjongilia props. This year, 30,000 Kimjongilia flowers were massed in Pyongyang. One occupational hazard of a tyrant’s job: it’s so hard to know where to draw the line.
On Dear Leader’s behalf, the central news agency took credit for this year’s “unseasonable blossoms of wild flowers, citing them as divine evidence that nature was also celebrating the birthday, the ‘common holiday of the humankind.’”
Wednesday, February 16, 2005
Christchurch’s Motley Festival
Christchurch, New Zealand, needs more than a week for its ingenious Festival of Flowers and Romance: smell it, see it, ride it, wear it.
The Garden City of Australasia —Christchurch, New Zealand—may spoil you for ordinary flower shows, the kind with a couple of rose and chrysanthemum competitions, a parade and garden tour.
The New Zealanders have other ideas and loads of them, enough to fill nine whole days. This year’s Festival of Flowers and Romance, February 11-20, is the most ambitiously unconventional community flower show I’ve heard of yet.
Getting in the spirit
Festival of Flowers and Romance
Christchurch, New Zealand, 2003
All photos: Festival of Flowers and Romance
Yes, there are garden tours. Yes, there are parades, three daily, and one more on the evening of the 17th. Floral attire required, and by that we don’t mean rose-print fabric or a necktie with daisies. All the paraders are flowers, in sepal-collars and narrow long-stemmed skirts.
Wearable Flowers Parade, 2003
The centerpiece of the event is a “floral carpet” along the main aisle of Christchurch Cathedral, a magnificent indoor garden with the church’s rose window hanging like a red jeweled sun above it.
Floral Carpet, Christchurch Cathedral
During festival week, as floral trams roll through the city, Christchurch holds a photography contest and “garden makeover” competition. In the botanical garden, fairies tell children stories. This year a Scented Garden for the Blind has been planted at Cathedral Square, to be “uplifted” to Abberley Park after the festival ends.
There’s more. Check the festival schedule even if you can’t attend, and gather some idea of the difference between a flower show and a human flower project.