Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

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Princeton, MAINE USA

Monday, August 22, 2005

Milk Thistle

A floral remedy returns to the fore in treatment of Hepatitis C.


Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum

Photo: Xunta de Galacia

The Ft. Wayne, Indiana, newspaper reports that a 2000 year old treatment for liver toxicity may offer some benefits for people with Hep C. Maureen Gilmer writes that there is some evidence that milk thistle (silybum marianum), credited by medieval herbalists for “carrying off bile,” may “stimulate the growth of new liver cells.”

While there is conflicting evidence about whether milk thistle is an effective liver remedy, the suggestion that it might be is of enormous interest to the thousands of people who are infected with Hepatitis C.

“It has been called the ‘silent epidemic.’ This virus can take from 10 to 30 years to show outward symptoms,” Gilmer writes. “According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1.8 percent of the American population is infected. There is no vaccination, only treatment with Interferon, which is physically difficult, quite expensive and not always effective.”

We don’t practice medicine here at the Human Flower Project, but we do follow cultural trends, and two of those, clearly, are apprehensiveness about conventional scientific treatments and interest in milder, cheaper, older botanical forms of treatment.

We might also note how there are signs of convergence between traditional Western medicine and herbalism, for example this article on milk thistle from the University of Maryland Medical Center. “Today, several scientific studies suggest that active substances in milk thistle (particularly silymarin) protect the liver from damage caused by viruses, toxins, alcohol, and certain drugs such as acetaminophen.” Several sources, including this one out of Maryland, say that milk thistle has been used as an antidote to poisonous mushrooms.

(John Stokes, director of the fine Mary Gardens project, notes that this flower is one of many whose botanical names were “derived from their prior popular religious names.” Silybum Marianum, he writes, was “named from the widespread imaginative legend that the white spots on its leaves (and those of other plants) originated when drops of the Nursing Madonna’s milk fell on them.”)

Hep C afflicts at least one among our nearest and dearest. May Silybum Marianum, and other remedies old and new, provide a cure for them.

Posted by Julie on 08/22 at 10:46 AM

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Tulip, Sunflower, Lily, Rose

Feast your eyes and mind! The BBC’s glorious “Painting Flowers” is a virtual gallery, some 50 masterworks and a quiz.


Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, 1885-86

John Singer Sargent

Tate Britain

Friend Anne Mason has kindly recommended that The Human Flower Project offer “something else.” Anne, today’s post is for you.

“Painting Flowers” is a dazzling site produced by the BBC, put together in conjunction with four broadcasts from 2004. Each was devoted to a flower as represented in the art of major British collections—the sunflower, tulip, lily and rose. Writer Monty Don was host of the programs and, presumably, composed the excellent pages here.

We learned, for example that the lily was “first featured in European paintings around the 1300s, the Sienese artist Duccio plac(ing) a vase of white lilies beside the Virgin to symbolise her purity, establishing a tradition still vigorous with the Pre-Raphaelites over 500 years later.” (Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s version of the Annunciation is especially interesting, Mary looking none too sure about the idea of giving birth to the Christ, even with lilies on hand.)

The site includes some 50 paintings, all well documented, and there’s even a zoom feature so that, for example, you can zero in on Francesco Botticini’s painting of the Assumption and find that indeed, once Mary ascended heavenward, her tomb was filled with flowers.

imageSelf Portrait with a Sunflower, 1633

Anthony van Dyck

Collection of the Duke of Westminster

For art lovers (especially those of us whose weak dollars don’t permit a trip over the Atlantic), the site offers gorgeous works by such luminaries as Fra Lippo Lippi, Van Gogh, and Fantin-Latour, as well as contemporary artists new to us, like Jo Self.

There’s plenty of good info for you botanists, too, with details of which species were introduced to Europe when. (“Lilium regale arrived from China in 1904.”) The site is organized many-which-ways, including by flower type in case, for example, you’re in the mood for tulips only today.

Anne, for people like you and me, there’s even a quiz.

Whose involvement in the 19th century aesthetic movement helped popularise the sunflower in art?

  a) Charles Dickens

  b) Jane Austen

  c) Oscar Wilde

  d) Allen Ginsberg

(O.K., I fiddled with it. And doesn’t van Dyck look a bit like Dickie Smothers?)

Thanks to the BBC and Monty Don for making available this glorious Human Flower Project, “something else” indeed

Posted by Julie on 08/21 at 09:44 AM
Art & MediaPermalink

Saturday, August 20, 2005

In a Drive-By World

Roadside memorials, in the U.S., Ireland, Greece, Italy: Cement and flowers say, “Semper fidelis.”


Memorial to Robert Winkler outside Herrin, Illinois

Photo: Stephen Chalmer

What’s the rush?

A wreath of silk flowers, a teddy bear, wooden cross, or hockey stick will slow you down. They mark not graves but mortality, something that may not otherwise flit across your mind on your way to….

Earlier this month CNN Newsnight aired a segment on roadside memorials. It featured Diana Natale, a Massachusetts mother who was wrangling with local government to maintain a memorial to her son. The town manager said the clump of flowers and ribbons around a tree induced “rubber necking” and might cause another accident, though the reporter failed to ask whether there’d been one on-looker injury. Even so, the city of Norton has instituted a rule limiting roadside memorials to 30 days.

imageFor Sarah Walsh, outside Carrigaline, Ireland

Photo: Irish Roadside Memorials

Memorials are INTENDED to make stiff necks rubbery, closed minds open, and emotions fresh. They’re erected in many lands, and have been for many centuries. Consider this amazing website of memorials.  It includes photographs and stories of hundreds such sites all over Ireland and includes a whole reference library of links, to photographs, to regulations in various countries, to commentary.

Why would someone go to all this effort? The anonymous author writes, in the fragmentary style of a highway marker: Helping make our loved ones universally known, mourned and prayed for.

Across south Texas these markers are known as descansos. Though each pays tribute in its own way, they often include artificial flowers and crosses.

The roadside memorials of Greece tend to look like strong boxes, often made of concrete and decorated with ceramics and ornamental iron. They tend to be beautifully situated, with candles inside and views of the hills and sea.

A recent article by Michele Smargiassi describes and discusses the custom of altarini, (in Italian). Commentator Barbara McMahon notes that Smargiassi “was intrigued by the use of plastic flowers over fresh flowers but came to see that plastic flowers were a way of people saying that their grief will never end while fresh flowers indicated that nothing, especially life, lasts for ever.”


Outside Delphi, Greece, 1957

Photo: Galen Frysinger

McMahon herself, writing for the Guardian, ties the Italians’ affection for fast cars with their custom of marking roadside tragedies. “On a stretch of road between Ravenna and Ferrara, one of the worst accident blackspots in northern Italy, there are dozens of these sad little cemeteries: a miniature statue of David left in memory of Fabio, 18 years old; a piece of marble inscribed to Giuseppe, aged 24 and a cross for Stefano, who was killed in 1975 just before he graduated in science.”

She finds that “the further south in Italy you go, the more likely you are to find ‘altarini’ draped with crucifixes, holy pictures, black ribbons and statues,” whereas memorials in the north tend to more restrained, oftimes with no mention of the deceased by name.

Unfortunately the town manager of Norton, Mass. isn’t alone. Other states and municipalities have placed restrictions on the size and duration of memorials. To this, Diana Natale answers, “I do not work a 9:00 to 5:00 job. And if it took me every day to get up every day and put a wooden cross, nothing else, a wooden cross, up there, I would do that, and Keith would always be remembered at that tree.” The law stops here.

We particularly laud the State of West Virginia for its compassion and wisdom. West Virginia explicitly permits and honors roadside memorials, “both temporary and permanent,” and gives citizens a guide for protecting these tributes and making them as safe as possible.


Memorial to 16 year old Adam Arnold, of Key West, Florida

Photo: Bill Sampson, Roadside Memorials

Martin Nilsson, a scholar of Greek folk religion, wrote that since ancient times the highway was considered a hostile place. “Theseus conquers highwaymen and robbers who resist civilization and are dangerous to it.”  A body that perishes outside the bounds of civilized life may, in the spiritual realm, come afoul of cruel and unruly forces. With flowers and candles, we protect the beloved from such a fate and fill the most desolate places with humanity.

Posted by Julie on 08/20 at 11:43 AM
Culture & SocietySecular CustomsTravelPermalink

Friday, August 19, 2005

Weeding an Underwater Garden

Invasives? Non-native coral may pose a threat to the Gulf of Mexico’s deep and beautiful garden.

While landlubbing gardeners battle knapweed in Colorado, goldenrod in China, even some species of the national flower proteas in South Africa, marine biologists have discerned an invasive threat to an undersea garden.


Madracis coral “landscape” of the Flower Garden Banks.

Photo: Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary

The Houston Chronicle reports today that a non-native coral growing on oil and gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico poses a new threat to the Flower Garden Banks reef.

Located 105 miles south of the Texas/Louisiana border, the Flower Garden Banks is an underwater city, one of only two actively growing coral reefs in the Gulf of Mexico and home to many species of fish and sponges. The colony is “perched atop two salt domes rising above the sea floor,” and began growing there some 10,000 to 15,000 years ago. The combination of “a hard surface for attachment, clear sunlit water, warm water temperatures, and a steady food supply” made an ideal environment for young corals (planulae) washing in from the west to catch hold and thrive. The reef now extends over 385 acres. Snapper fisherman spotted it about 1900 and, seeing its glorious spectrum of colors, named it “Flower Garden.” In 1992, it was designated a national marine sancturary.

The Houston story, based on a federal report released yesterday, says that orange-cup coral, native to the Pacific Ocean, is growing on oil and gas platforms in the area. Emma Hickerson, Flower Garden’s research coordinator, is concerned that orange-cup may be aggressive and overtake the native coral. “We don’t want it on the reef,” she said.  “We don’t know what the impact might be.” (Flower Garden has other problems, too: fertilizer-heavy fresh water coming from the Mississippi River, a bacteria called “white plague,” and climate change.)

“Last year, 46 colonies of orange cup coral were removed from Geyer Bank, a coral mass about 12 miles east of the East Flowers.” Dina Cappiello’s interesting article describes how gulf oil and gas drilling stations also attract marine life; after they’re retired, some become, in effect, artificial reefs, popular with divers even though, in some cases, perilous to other coral communities. Scientists said that eventually the platforms covered with orange-cup might be moved to another undersea spot, away from the Flower Garden.

A timely note: We learned from the Flower Garden’s website that “Ten days after the full moon in August, many of the corals on the bank spawn on one night… some divers say it looks like the ocean is snowing in the wrong direction!” Today’s the August full moon. Mermaids, get ready. Do you have dates for the prom?


Coral spawn   Photo: Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary

Posted by Julie on 08/19 at 10:10 AM
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