Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

flag flower bed

parker basket thumb
Princeton, MAINE USA

Friday, August 26, 2005

Please Don’t Weed the Jungle

A free-lance pruner in a New Zealand preserve has killed a rare 100-year-old tree.

imageFlowers of Northern Rata

New Zealand

Photo: Chris Thomasen

In a bizarre case of do-gooderism gone awry, the New Zealand Times reports today that someone thought they’d do a bit of brush clearing in the Mangemangeroa Reserve and wound up killing an endangered tree.

“Friends of Mangemangeroa chairman, Allan Riley said the rare orange rata flower would never be seen flowering again. ‘We don’t think it is deliberate vandalism because things haven’t be hacked at, they have been cut tidily. The selective nature of this unauthorised clearing suggests someone thinks they are making improvements.”

As yes, the co-dependent’s battle-cry: “I was only trying to help.”

The Northern rata, (Metrosideros robusta), once the pride of New Zealand, is now endanged. Its numbers have been depleted by deforestation and the pesky brushtail possum, introduced from—you guessed it—Australia.

imageNorthern rata with roots wrapping a host tree

December 2000 on Aotea Island

Rather than seeding in the ground and growing up, the rata, we have learned, “usually begins life as an epiphyte or plant perched on a host tree. Its roots grow down to the ground, finally enclosing the host tree and producing a huge tree up to 25 metres high with a trunk of 2.5 metres through.” It produces beautiful red blooms, usually around Christmas time, especially popular with nectar-eating birds like the tui, bellbird and kaka.

Project Crimson was begun to protect the islands’ rata and pohutukawa trees from browing possums and to reintroduce these amazing plants by careful seeding. “Growing Northern rata conventionally in soil is second choice and not something that can be hurried because Northern rata prefers ... growing on another tree such as a rimu or a hinau. Although the seeds will germinate in as little as two weeks the progress from then is usually rather slow. There are many losses and trees will usually be at least five years old before they are large enough to plant out.” We commend this ambitious human flower project.

For the zealous pruners out there, take up topiary in your own yard; then, please, leave the shears at home.

Posted by Julie on 08/26 at 10:06 AM

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Kenya’s Flowers of Evil

Three stories describe the flower fields that are poisoning Kenya’s water and maiming its workers.


Field for growing ornamentals being treated with Methyl Bromide, Naivasha, Kenya

Photo: FAO

Where did your flowers come from?

These stories will force you to start asking and keep asking. The Nation (Nairobi, Kenya) describes blinded workers, dead hippos, and slums—all the results of a flower industry that’s lapping up profits at an exorbitant human price.

“The half blind men, the hairless women and the many others with scars on their faces, hands and other parts of the body” are workers in the flower fields of Karagita. Some 50,000 laborers from the Sudan and all over Kenya toil on flower farms here, making Sh 140 a day (that’s $1.85 USD). We’ve read a number of shocking stories but this one is ENOUGH. Flower buyers simply can’t look the other way anymore, decorating the dinner table while workers on another continent are burned by pesticides and animals die drinking out of poisoned lakes.


Processing roses for $1.85 a day, Naivasha, Kenya

Photo: Silent Media

Kenya now supplies 25% of Europe’s flowers. In the chase for profit, even the farm owners can’t get along, and working conditions have become so outrageous, The Financial Times has spoken up. The soul of effete gardening, Robin Lane Fox voiced concern, and then of course smugness. “I had always thought of (flowers) as much more innocent presents to a host than chocolates. Often, they may be, but I now intend to look for labelling that guarantees their source,” Fox writes, and then adds, “I never buy cut flowers. For the next three weeks, I shall be cultivating dahlias with names such as Keith’s Choice and chrysanthemums that flower early and call themselves Red Pamela. I will pick them instead, striking a dubious blow for ecological purity in Kenya and Ecuador.”

Dubious is right. Can’t get worked up about 50,000 African workers? Then how about two dead hippos. Even you, Candide, may want to support to the Fairness in Flowers program.

Posted by Julie on 08/25 at 10:40 AM
Cut-Flower TradePermalink

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

For Those with Pink Thumbs

On the rollercoaster of taste, the lawn flamingo—America’s ersatz flower—has enjoyed a 48-year ride.


In Lieu of a Flower Garden

Photo: Pink Flamingos

At a garden center on the rich side of Austin, Texas, where all personal vehicles are war-ready and the children blond, a hillside is covered most of the year with pink plastic flamingos. Rumor had it that when Bill Clinton was last in town, he dropped by and bought two of the yard birds. On our walk this morning we spotted six of them, each tilting on one leg in a yard otherwise dignified (and dull), covered in English ivy.

Okay, so they’re not flowers. But as this neighbor realizes they add a shock of color to the flower-challenged lawn, an easy out for those of us with too much shade, too harsh sun or too little energy. Plus Emily Young of the Sentinel and Enterprise (Massachusetts) has an article today about the pink plastic flamingo’s creator, Donald Featherstone. Featherstone studied art and then went to work for Union Products, where he was asked to design 3-D lawn ornaments for the booming suburbanite market of the 1950s. Featherstone came up with 700 ideas. He preferred a plastic ostrich but the public overwhelmingly went for the flamingo. “His muse was an Oct. 1957 National Geographic cover, which featured ballerinas in pink.”

The flamingo may have once been a whimsy, something to watch over the wading pool and distract from all that bare yard, but it has since become an object of cultural analysis and, as the Clinton purchase suggests, an item of nostalgia.

Featherstone’s wife Nancy contends, “When the flamingo turned 30, it graduated its status level and the wealthy took it over. It wasn’t tacky anymore, it was trendy.”

imageWhich flamingo has the feather?

We’re not so sure, Nancy. Shifts in cultural status can be on the order of “graduation,” but the flamingo seems more of a transfer student—from low-class to camp. We’ll leave this matter to the Taste Police, and urge both chief officers and beat cops thereof to write in.

To boot, we offer more pink flamingo photos and stuff, plus this call for a boycott of “fake” fake pink flamingos (the arbiters of consumption will not be denied!). Here also is a tremendously silly site On Stagnant Pond, recommended if you’re having a somber day.

Posted by Julie on 08/24 at 11:45 AM
Culture & SocietyGardening & LandscapePermalink

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Cloning—Plants Did It

A new study shows that ancient plants practiced gene duplication in order to evolve their flowers.


Arabidopsis thaliana (today’s mustard)

Photo: Lenta

Cloning, so controversial, has apparently been going on a long time. Plants didn’t know it was immoral, and so we have both mustard flowers and snapdragons.

Researchers at the University of Leeds have managed to track genetic evolution back about 100 million years and discover that by gene duplication plants “experimented” and developed carpels and stamens, the reproductive organs of flowers.

By gene duplication, “a relatively uncommon event in which a single copy of a gene is transformed into two separate copies,” a plant can try out an evolutionary advance without losing “the (likely important) function of the original gene.” Cloning: a.k.a. Have your cake and eat it too.

By studying “synteny” (the order of genes) in snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus) and mustard (Arabidopsis thaliana), the scientists discovered that while the flower organ capacities of both flowers first appeared to have developed from a single gene of a common ancestor, they in fact resulted from the ancestor’s experiment: “a gene-duplicating event.”

“The other genes created in that ancient gene-duplication event became altered, in different ways, so that they now have new functions in Arabidopsis and Antirrhinum.”

Want to learn more? We bet you do. Here’s the citation: Causier et al.: “Evolution in action: following function in duplicated floral homeotic genes.” Publishing in Current Biology, Vol. 15, 1508-1512, August 23, 2005. DOI 10.1016/j.cub.2005.07.063

Find it on line at Current Biology.

Posted by Julie on 08/23 at 09:50 AM
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