Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

flag flower bed

parker basket thumb
Princeton, MAINE USA

Monday, June 27, 2005

Chasing the Success of Ethiopian Coffee

Flowers may overtake coffee as Ethiopia’s top export.

Ethiopia produces more coffee than any nation in Africa, between 250,000 and 300,000 tonnes a year. Ethiopians consume half that and sell the other half, about $200 million in coffee exports annually.

At present the country’s flower exports amount to only a tenth of its coffee revenues, but investment in the flower sector is booming. A recent story reports that plants and cut blooms may overtake the java business.

The chairman of Ethiopia’s Horticulture Producers and Exporters Association told Reuters that 32 existing flower farms project earnings of $100 million by 2007, and “Projects by another 100 investors from the Netherlands, Germany, India and Israel—who have acquired 450 hectares (1,111 acres) of land to prepare farms—should generate another $300 million a year by 2007.”

Tsegaye Abebe, the horticulture group’s chairman, said that the nation’s flower industry employs 13,000 people in Ethiopia;  flower farmworkers there earn “seven birr ($0.80) a day.”

Posted by Julie on 06/27 at 09:10 AM
Cut-Flower TradePermalink

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Learn by Example—Bees Do It

A new study finds that bumblebees, encountering unfamiliar flowers, will copy a successful sipper.


Experienced, and Taking Initiative

Photo: The Piccies Page

As humans tend to follow the leader in their taste for flowers—gerbera daisies out, birds-of-paradise in—so do bumblebees.

A newly published study by scientists at the University of London found that ingenue bees copied a successful forager, if they’d never seen a flower-type before.

In the experiment, bumblebees were divided into pair-teams and released one at a time into a box of fake but sugary flowers. The researchers observed “that the bees much preferred to visit flowers where another bee was already at work, rather than buzz around for themselves.”

It’s long been known that honeybees cooperate when searching for nectar, but bumblebees had been considered foraging loners until now. In fact, because bumblebees secrete a message on flowers they’ve visited, to say “don’t bother; this one’s empty,” for bees to copy others’ flower choices came as a surprise. (Obviously,  bumblebee-ese hasn’t been well translated into English yet.)

Even so, bumblebees showed more independent thinking about flowers than most humans do.  “When revisiting a flower species that they had tried before,” the bees “relied upon their own individual initiative.”

All you anti-carnation bigots, please reconsider. It’s time to think for yourself, like any self-respecting bumblebee.

Posted by Julie on 06/26 at 11:12 AM

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Baby Photo

As promised several days ago in our report of a newly discovered flower species from Arkansas, here’s a picture. Many thanks—and congratulations—to Theo Witsell, botanist with the Arkansas State Heritage Commission.


Pelton’s Rose-Gentian

Photo: John Pelton

Greetings to “Pelton’s Rose Gentian,” the new species found in Saline County, Arkansas, by John Pelton and introduced by state botanist Theo Witsell after years of study.

This is the prettiest baby picture we’ve ever seen (perhaps because this flower is actually an ancient Arkansan).

Posted by Julie on 06/25 at 01:50 PM

Friday, June 24, 2005

Raise the Majstang

At the feast of St. John the Baptist, June 24, up goes the Swedish “maypole,” a high sign to both Christians and pagans.


Sweden’s “Maypole” of June

Photo: Gumase

After many months of darkness Midsummer is a pile-on holiday in Scandinavia. In light-deprived lands like Sweden, Finland, and Norway, it’s a season of exhilaration. Who can sleep when night never descends? Here comes the sun, and with it picnic blankets, pickled herring, bonfires, and flowers.

For anyone with eyes to see and crops to grow, summer solstice is a major holiday. But as Christians have been wont to do, the festivities around this natural event were claimed by the church, as the feast day of St. John. Said to have been born June 24,  just as the northern days start diminishing, John was the precursor, cousin, and “Baptist” of Jesus, who would come into a dark world six months later—at winter solstice, when the sun (for those in the northern hemisphere) begins climbing again.

Laden with natural and supernatural significances, Midsommar (in Sweden) or Juhannus (in Finland) weaves pagan and Christian rituals together. For our purposes, it occasions one of the tallest of all Human Flower Projects: the Majstang, or maypole—which these serious northerners have the good sense to erect in June.

“In Sweden, Midsommar is celebrated on Friday around the Majstang, a tall phallic maypole covered with flowers and greenery,” usually birch boughs. “People gather in the afternoon to raise and to sing and dance around the Majstang.”

According to this resource on pagan customs, “folk went to the midsummer-tree to pray that the field might be given growing-strength and laid a cross of leaves on the field so that it would grow with god’s help without being harmed by lightning, thunder, or hail. In Heathen days, such a rite might have been done while calling on the help of orr to ward the fields and hallow them with his Hammer so that they could grow.”

imageMaypole in Finland; Finno, Kokar 1999

Photo: MarieHamn’s Library

In Finland too, especially the Aland Islands where ethnic Swedes predominate, the maypole custom is strong. This site about Finnish culture provides intriguing details:

“To make a Midsummer pole a high and straight spar is felled, preferably in winter and not during sap time. Crossbars are attached, usually three to five if single or two or three if crossed. In the beginning the Midsummer poles were green, covered completely with flowers and leaves.” Contemporary Midsummer poles are often painted white, wrapped with leaf and flower garlands.

“The decorations vary from village to village and from year to year. They have been interpreted in many ways, and the author Valdemar Nyman complained about the interpretations too often being about industry or the weather…. The pole has also been associated with shipping, as it was common to decorate the masts with leaves. A Midsummer pole can be seen as a ship’s mast r(a)ised on land.”

Among the flowers that adorn these totems are lily of the valley, and “the Swedish whitebeam.” Garlands, made on Midsummers Eve, are “hung to form a pattern of an hourglass or of squares.”

Atop Finnish maypoles stands the ‘faktargubbe,’ a little man carved out of wood who wears a cap and uniform. “He spins and waves his arms in the wind symbolizing diligence and work resulting in a good crop. In some districts a truck replaces the ‘faktargubbe.’ ”

There’s clearly a lot to celebrate: fertility and John the Baptist’s birthday, no hail, industry, and the coming of Christ, farming and shipping, oh yes, and trucks.

An unmarried lady may find clues as to her future mate now. “The most common method is to pick nine (sometimes seven) different kinds of flowers and sleep with them under her pillow. The husband to be will be revealed to her in her dream. If she shakes the bunch of flowers in the morning she might find a hair from his head.” (Going about town matching hairs sounds like a good way to meet men.)


A wreath for Midsommar, Gotland 2003

Photo: Sam and Kacy

We learn that “In Jutland and Skane, it was also common for girls and boys to give each other wreaths to wear this night as a sign of their affection.” Other sources suggest it’s mainly girls who weave flower wreaths for themselves to wear (We thought so. Scandinavian men aren’t THAT different from Texans). Floral wreaths also may be hung from the ceiling and a pair of birch branches set at the front door to attract domestic blessings.

As with so many floral customs, the Majstang has been resurrected by Swedes in many locales, whether they live in neighboring Finland or Oregon or New York State.

The Majstang is for anyone who’s high on summer.


Dancing around the Majstang

Photo: Fredrik Sweger

Posted by Julie on 06/24 at 11:51 AM
Culture & SocietyReligious RitualsSecular CustomsPermalink
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