Human Flower Project

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Monday, September 19, 2005

Can Flowers Police Ayodhya?

A garden is proposed to ease violent tensions in Northern India. Is peace the true purpose, or is it surveillance?


Hindu extremists take the Babri Masjid mosque

Ayodhya, India, December 1992

People think of flower gardens as quiet, but in Eden and ever since, a garden always expresses human intentionality. You don’t have to be loud to be brazen.

From Indian newspaper Midday we have Vinay Krishna Rastogi’s report that the land around a disputed Hindu temple in Ayodhya may be turned in a Valley of Flowers.

This was where the Babri Masjid mosque stood until December 1992, when a mob of Hindu extremists destroyed the Muslim holy site. Some Hindus have believed that this spot high in the mountains was the birthplace of Rama, the ancient Hindu hero, and thus rightfully had to be reclaimed.

What does all this have to do with a garden? In July of this year, Indian authorities foiled a Muslim plot to take the holy land back and blot out the Sri Ram Janmabhoomi temple a Hindu sect has built there. According to Rastogi’s story, “The area which surrounds the demolished Babri Masjid is overgrown with shrubs. This peculiar terrain helped Pakistan terrorists to launch the attack on July 5.”

Government spokespeople say that chopping out the underbrush and constructing a “valley of flowers” around this contentious place will “bring some peace to the area, soothe the spirits of pilgrims and strengthen security.” But obviously that all depends on which sort of pilgrim you are, where your “security” lies.

Knowing so little about this matter, we appreciated the insights of Anand, a Bombay blogger, who wrote last December: “For a ‘secularist,’ today it is politically correct to say that the issue should be settled in court…. But I think a truly secular government should be willing to undo the wrong, and the right thing to do is to rebuild the masjid there. If I advocate anything less than this, I can’t but feel that I’m indirectly siding with the demolishers.”

How’s that for an idea? Rebuild the masjid first, and let a true peace garden come afterward.

Posted by Julie on 09/19 at 10:04 AM

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Runway Lights

Fluorescence provides a glowing flight path to pollen and nectar.


Cinquefoil, potentillia intermedia L.

with fluorescent “bull’s eye” direction

Photo: Bjorn Rorslett

A new study of fluorescence in flowers opens a bee-and-bat’s eye view of blossoms. Biochemists at the University of Murcia , Spain, studied the glow emitted by four o’clock flowers and concluded that their evening shine attracts night pollinators, like bats. Mirabilis jalapa , also known as Marvel of Peru, is called “four o’clock” because it blooms in late afternoon and into the early nighttime.

Nature magazine published the study but is not available free online. We thank Roger Highfield of the Telegraph for his report and explanation. “...The fluorescence emitted by one pigment, a yellow betaxanthin, is absorbed by another pigment, a violet betacyanin, to create a green fluorescent pattern on the petals.”

Lead researcher Francisco Garcia-Carmona contended, “To date fluorescence has not been considered a signal” for pollinators.

image Cinquefoil

potentillia intermedia L.

to the human eye

Photo: Bjorn Rorslett


Actually, we found someone in Norway who has put together a staggering on-line gallery of flower photos showing their fluorescent properties. A flurry of bat applause and roar of bee cheers for Bjorn Rorslett! Rorslett’s human flower project gives eye-boggling evidence of fluorescence in flowers. He especially emphasizes a “bull’s eye” effect, whereby flowers gather glow around the pollen and nectar producing organs—a radiant “come hither” invisible to the unaided human eye.

His site collects a wealth of amazing photographs with friendly anotations for each species as well as guides for you photographers interested in capturing the many wavelengths of floral beauty. As for four o’clocks, they’re in the gallery too. Rorslett comments that, “The UV markings of the corolla are indistinct, but a high degree of UV fluorescence of the entire perianth and the pollen is a noteworthy feature.” (See below)


Four o’clock (Mirabilis jalapa)

under ultra-violet light

Photo: Bjorn Rorslett

Rorslett writes that while “UV fluorescence is not a common trait to most flowers,”  it does occur more frequently in nectar glands and stigmas. And he adds, humbly, “As far as the photography is concerned, the main issue with flower fluorescence is its transient behaviour. It may be present, but the flowers collected for photography don’t appear to fluoresce simply because the floral development is in the ‘wrong’ stage.” In other words: Just because I haven’t captured it on film doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

Make sure to browse this intriguing collection of glowing flowers. “Sure it must be nice to be a bee and seeing all this beauty,” writes Rorslett. Golly, Batman, now we can.

Posted by Julie on 09/18 at 09:51 AM
Art & MediaSciencePermalink

Saturday, September 17, 2005

The Return of the Monster Mum

It took a centennial game to bring back a mega-chested flower tradition in Western Washington.


Corsages for the Aberdeen/Hoquiam football game

Photo: Kevin Hong, for Daily World

The Great Northwest will be grander today thanks to football mums. Lisa Patterson, writing for Coastal Washington’s Daily World, reports that Aberdeen and Hoquiam high schools have enjoyed a century of football rivalry. Tonight, when the Bobcats and Grizzlies clash again, huge decorated chrysanthemums will be there too, a floral custom revived after more than 30 years.

Aberdeen and Hoquiam used to play on Thanksgiving (formerly, a semi-sacred afternoon here in Texas, too, with THE big game between the Longhorns of UT and the Aggies of Texas A&M). When the game was a holiday event, ‘Women always got corsages. Absolutely. That’s just the way it was,’ said Liz Bubnick of Aberdeen, who graduated from AHS in 1942. ‘My two girls wore them from babies on up. It wasn’t Thanksgiving without the mums.’

But like UT vs. A&M, the Aberdeen-Hoquiam game stopped being played on Thanksgiving, something about “scheduling conflicts”  with the state playoffs. (Of course, only another football game could disrupt sports tradition.) After 1974, the mum tradition fizzled in Washington.

But Patterson writes that the 100th game this Saturday has incited fans to wear the floral emblems of school loyalty again. “Florists on both sides of Myrtle Street” are selling mums by the score. Nancy Barnes, of Barnes Florist in Aberdeen, remembered, “We used to sell 300 or 400 a year back in the old days. All the florists did. When the game wasn’t on Thanksgiving any more, (after 1974,) it went away.” Her shop has orders for about 200 of the corsages this year.  “This is like the good ole days,” said Kathy Leach, a florist in Hoquiam.

The corsages are fairly standard: “White mums for Grizzly fans, with fuzzy pipe cleaners bent into a crimson H in the center. Bobcats sport yellow flowers with blue A’s in the middle. Ribbons and netting adorn the flowers, and many are topped off with dangling football charms.”


Mega-mums for Homecoming, Permian High School, Odessa TX, 2004

Photo: Julie Ardery

Here in Texas, where the football mum custom never faded, real flowers have been displaced by silk ones. In rural Texas, especially the requisite football mum must be nothing short of an outrage. Take a look at Sheryl Smith-Rodgers’ Texas story from last fall. Ribbons and charms? Well, yes, but also teddy bears, braid, radios and electric lights.

We don’t mean to lord it over the Grizzly and Bobcat fans of Washington. The football mum’s return up your way is great, good news. It’s a wonderful tradition, and this year anyway, y’all won’t even need back-braces for it.

Posted by Julie on 09/17 at 09:46 AM
FloristsSecular CustomsPermalink

Friday, September 16, 2005

Kim Lehman & the Bounty of Fireweed

A friend returns to Texas from Alaska with a treasure trove, all derived from one northern wildflower.


Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium)

Anchor Point, Kenai Peninsula, Alaska, July 31, 2005

Photo: Kim Lehman and Mark Wieland

Through the talents and generosity of an amazing person, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), we’ve come to know Fireweed. That’s know in the nearly Biblical sense: thanks to Kim, we have fireweed to see, bookmark, sweeten with, and smear on toast.

Kim and her husband Mark Wieland are recently back from Alaska, where fireweed reigns through the summer. They returned with gorgeous photos and much more. Kim pressed several of the beautiful flowers. Dried, they are the color of amethyst. She also made us some fireweed jelly, plum colored, tangy and very sweet.

imageHerb Putney and Kim talk honey

Anchorage, Alaska, summer 2005

Photo: Mark Wieland

A bee expert herself, Kim paid a visit to Alaskan bee wizard Herb Putney in Anchorage, bringing home to us some of his renowned fireweed honey. It’s pale greeny gold and delicate, fit for a gourmet. Kim says that Putney’s honey is so highly sought after, she’s seen one jar sell for $600

Fireweed is the northernmost of all major honey-producing plants. This honey site describes the flavor as “delicate, sweet… with subtle, tea-like notes.” We say, “Bring on the English muffins.”

This beautiful wildflower settles on land that people or fires have disturbed, thus its name. Was there ever a more all-purpose plant?

“The Dena’ina eat the young stems and leaves raw or boiled, sometimes with fish eggs. Some people peel the stems before eating them. The inland people mix the cooked fireweed with their dogs’ food.” The Upper Inlet Dena’ina also use fireweed as medicine for cuts and skin diseases, “placing a piece of the raw stem on the afflicted area.”

And this eight-foot beauty is also an Alaska weather-caster. As its purple buds bloom successively higher on the stalk, fireweed measures the duration of summer. “As the last flowers are blooming at the top of the stalk, the earliest blooms seed and turn to cotton…. When the fireweed turns to cotton, Alaskans say there are about six weeks until winter begins.”

Perhaps the botanists out there can clarify for us whether Kim’s fireweed specimens are Epilobium angustifolium or Chamaenerion angustifoium. While you guys figure that out, we’ll help ourselves to another slice of toast with fireweed honey.

Here’s Kim’s recipe for fireweed jelly…


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Posted by Julie on 09/16 at 10:23 AM
CookingCulture & SocietyMedicineTravelPermalink
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