Human Flower Project
Thursday, June 30, 2005
St. Peter’s Yellow Keys
In much of the Catholic world, June 29 is celebrated as the feast of St. Peter: fisherman, coward, concierge, and Pope.
St. Peter with his key
So many of the Catholic saints are, if you’ll excuse me, too saintly. Long on suffering, short on humor, they seem just raring to be tortured and don their wings.
St. Peter is lots more appealing. He was a hothead who liked to fish. After swearing his faith up and down, he fell asleep rather than praying, and when the squeeze was on, replied to the centurions “Jesus who?” What a wimp, and who better to be “a fisher of men”?
A statue of San Pedro
receives a flower shower
Photo: Pilar Olivare, for Reuters
June 29th is St. Peter’s Day, often celebrated in conjunction with the more pious St. Paul, whose feast day is today. In Latin America, San Pedro is especially revered by contemporary fishermen and his celebration tends to be nautical. In Mexcaltitan, on the western coast of Mexico, two canoes race, “manned by the images of St. Paul and St. Peter. If St. Peter wins, tradition and old belief assure a good shrimp season.”
Peter is also weather wise. “Legends ascribe thunder and lightning to some activity of Saint Peter in Heaven (usually bowling). When it snows, he is ‘shaking out his feather bed.’ He sends rain and sunshine, hangs out the stars at night and takes them in again in the morning.” In command of so much celestial force, Peter receives prayers from farmers too.
Many flowers have been associated with St. Peter, among them hypericum quadrangulum (a.k.a. St. John’s Wort) and saponaria officinalis (Soapwort). Plants with especially hairy stems were considered herbs of Peter.
Cowslips, Primula veris
Photo: Association de Mycologues Pharmaciens
One of the flowers most closely associated with him is cowslip, primula veris. Not only are the leaves Peterishly bristly, the stalk and flowers resemble his main attribute: the keys he holds both to the Mother church and the gates of Heaven. Herb Peter, Keyflower, and Our Lady’s Keys all refer to this same lovely plant, once common in the British Isles.
One botany site describes cowslip flowers as examples of heterostyly, “when a plant species has two or more different positional arrangements of its anthers and stigma(s), a genetic polymorphism providing a physical mechanism to promote outbreeding - which natural selection has determined is generally a ‘good thing.’” In other words, when flowers poke out in lots of different directions, jangling as a janitor’s (or Pope’s) set of keys, that’s heterostyly.
Image: Al Zanetti
In pointing out Simon Peter’s less than holy traits, we mean no disrespect. On the contrary, his combination of ardent devotion and sleepyheadedness, conviction and doubt amount to heterostyly in human form. He was just the one to “promote outbreeding,” and spread the message. He was a flip-flopper, and that turned out to be “a good thing.”
Wednesday, June 29, 2005
What would make the Royal Horticultural Society consider succulents?
No one says “verdant” with an American accent. Only English gardens are “verdant”—lush and slightly floppy, crowded with bluebells, cabbage roses, and towers of foxgloves. While we fry on the prairies of America, there’s still the dream of Albion, men with snaggly teeth, and all that greenery.
Sissinghurst: Is cactus coming?
Photo: Rosebud’s Tours
So the Telegraph’s recent gardening story comes as a hideous puncture wound. The paper cites that custodian of verdure The Royal Horticultural Society as announcing that “we in Britain may well have to adjust our planting schemes to compensate for harsher, less forgiving weather and probably drought conditions.”
That’s a polite way of breaking the news. It seems that global warming is reaching the British Isles. Lily of the valley may give way to lantana, and fields of clover to buffalo grass. (Here’s the BBC’s take on the same sad story.)
The Telegraph tries to paste an appealing face on this disaster, interviewing gardening expert—and native New Zealander—Anthony Paul. He’d like to make you believe that succulents can be happy substitutes for “sissy British plants.” For England’s new era, he recommends such species as “hebes, phormiums, many carex species, and griselinia…, libertias, pratias, corokias and Stipa arundinacea.” If you say so.
“I planned and planted the rivers of succulents that flow through the garden, aiming to create an energising life force leading back to the house - mainly with large groups of echeverias, and low cabbage-shaped succulents in glaucous blues and wine reds.” I’m not sure. What if one’s life force is a matter of nasturtiums and gladiolas, rather than “rivers” of anything?
Just as Paul’s pro-Kiwi pitch began to sound convincing, though, we glimpsed the long-range plan: “gravel gardens.” I’m not kidding. Read to the end of the Telegraph story and you’ll see.
Let’s hope that with England’s ancient genius for green plants (plus the RHS and all its friends in His and Her high-places) this article sets off yet another alarm, and activism on global warming. Nothing against New Zealand or its flowers, we’d like England to be verdant forever.
Culture & Society • Ecology • Gardening & Landscape • Permalink
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
Harare: First No Flowers, Now No Food
Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe, has ordered the decimation of the nation’s capital, first the flowers and flower vendors, now the hungry residents and their vegetable gardens.
Jason Moyo Street, Harare, Zimbabwe
(before the Flower Center was destroyed)
Photo: Courtesy of “Borrowdale Dan”
Does this look like “Trash” to you?
It’s Harare, Zimbabwe’s flower market in Africa Unity Square, a landmark in the city center, busy and beautiful for more than 50 years. Now it’s gone.
President Mugabe’s police destroyed the flower market last month as part the dictator’s “Operation Murambatsvina, or Drive Out Trash.” Mugabe and his henchmen call this urban renewal.
The Zimbabwe Independent responded with outrage after the vendors were brutalized and their flowers destroyed May 21.
“There is admittedly much crime and grime that needs to be addressed in the inner city. But the flower sellers in Africa Unity Square were not part of the problem,” said the editorial. It noted that “the burgeoning informal sector is a reflection of (the) government’s failure to nourish and sustain a viable formal sector.” People are surviving through folk economics, because Zimbabwe’s mainline economy has shuttled between non-existence and corruption.
Yesterday we learned that Mugabe is not satisfied to dispossess flower sellers. His latest move is destroying vegetable gardens in the city. The Harare police are now “targeting the homes and livelihoods of the urban poor to the vegetable gardens they rely on for food, saying the crops planted on vacant lots are damaging the environment.”
Flowers are “trash”? Squash plants are “damaging to the environment”?
Oskar Wermter, a Roman Catholic priest in Harare, calls Mugabe’s actions “insane and evil.” Wermter reports that his parish neighborhood is filled with “tiny children and people dying of AIDS” sleeping on the streets. These aren’t ornamental gardens but sustenance. Without their produce, people in Harare will not eat.
“The United Nations estimates the (Mugabe) campaign has left at least 1.5 million people homeless in the winter cold. Police say more than 30, 000 have also been arrested, most of them street vendors.” Zimbabwe has 144% inflation, 80% unemployment and is suffering from drought. Famine is at hand.
Many say that Mugabe is out to punish his opponents. Spokespeople for the Movement for Democratic Changes say that the 81-year-old Mugabe plans to drive “urban voters back to rural areas for ‘re-education,’” a la Cambodia’s Pol Pot, plowman of “the killing fields.”
Take a look at these two aerial photographs of Harare: April 18 at left, June 4 at right. The capital, its people, buildings, and plants, have been hit by a human tsunami, named Robert Mugabe.
Monday, June 27, 2005
A Flowerbed on the Moon
A scientist proposes tulips, ornamental shrubs, and mustard to begin a lunar ecosystem.
Preparing the moon for “life communities” will probably begin with a Human Flower Project.
Bernard Foing, Chief Scientist at the European Space Agency and a moon-mapper, writes for Astrobiology Magazine about plans now in the works to create a lunar biosphere. “What is more beautiful in terms of life communities than a flower?” he asks.
“A flower is not a single system. A flower is a host to a series of organisms. So it is just like a microorganism biosphere that you could bring to another planet. And also, symbolically, pictorially, a flower has a strong meaning.”
In other words, planting flowers in a lunar life-experiment would be good science and great PR.
Foing and friends are already tinkering with a mini-cam that could frame the flower against an impressive, but familiar, backdrop. “I want to see, day after day, this flower grow. We could set up the camera to show Earth in the background, showing in three dimensions how we are bringing life from Earth to another planet.”
I suppose it took an astro-scientist from the Netherlands to think in such terms; and naturally a Dutchman would be pushing for tulips on the moon. “We have to start with a plant that can survive the trip. Because I live in Holland, and I cross the tulip fields on my way to work, I thought tulips could be a nice example. You can freeze a bulb. You can sterilize it. You can transfer it to the Moon and then, with sufficient water, some heat, and an artificial CO2 atmosphere, you could see the flower grow.”
Old timey Earth flowers with full moon
Photo: Hazily Remembered Realms
Foing also is considering ornamentals “to help provide psychological comfort to the astronauts” and Arabidopsis, a tough, fast-growing mustard that’s botany’s lab rat.
May I point out that Central Texas, with its limey soil and white heat, becomes lunar every summer. Foing tells us, “The Moon has no atmosphere, but the soil is rich in minerals.” Just like Texas.
So we nominate wisteria and prickly pear cactus as floral astronauts, and bluebonnets. Though we’ve never handled it, moon dust looks just gritty enough for scarifying bluebonnet seed.