Human Flower Project
Sunday, October 23, 2005
Stuttgart’s “Diva” breaks the world record.
Visitors admire the giantess, flowering 2.94 meters tall at Stuttgart Botanic Garden.
Photo: Michaela Rehle, for Reuters
For a public garden, owning a Titan Arum plant is like having a Rodin sculpture in the collection—a rather large Rodin with eyes rolling back in its head. Better known as “corpse flower,” Amorphophallus Titanum smells like rotting flesh when it blooms—a somewhat rare occasion. And these flowers are huge.
Botanical gardens around the world compete for the biggest bloom, and Friday, Stuttgart’s “Diva” won, “reaching a height of 2.94 meters, 18 centimeters more than the previous record for the species.”
The big stink of Titan arum, a native of Sumatra, attracts pollinating beetles and flies—as well as human spectators. “Diva” came to the Stuttgart garden 11 years ago as a 40 pound bulb.
To watch her progress, and deflate, check out this link and follow the Deutsch sign.
Saturday, October 22, 2005
With new affluence and the city’s flower sales booming, a beloved downtown market suddenly closes.
1/10 of China’s flowers were traded at Jingwen Flower Market, Shanghai
“Goodbye beautiful bunches of roses for 10 yuan. Goodbye piles of cheap Christmas decorations. Goodbye grumpy man who sold us a money tree. Goodbye woman who tied together beautiful corsages for our wedding, only to add the world’s gaudiest bow at the bottom.”
So lamented the blogger Shanghiist upon discovering that the beloved Jingwen Flower Market had suddenly closed.
This article in yesterday’s Shanghai Daily said the huge and hugely popular flower market would close at the end of the month, but apparently many shops have already shut down, some of them moving to a 50,000 square meter complex in Caojiadu, Putuo District.
Jingwen was located in and around a former greyhound racetrack. Word has it that the space will be converted into “music plaza.” How unfortunate—that a bustling flower market now cackles with recordings of Kenny G.
Bringing a bunch of roses home and taking an orchid to a hostess are relatively new customs here. According to the Shanghai Star, “Ten years ago flowers were a luxury to most people, who were concerned more with finding the money to buy food and clothing. There was no room in most budgets for anything other than necessities.
“Ying Rong said, ‘I thought those who bought flowers every day must have had money to burn. I didn’t think I would do the same years later.’”
Busy morning at Jingwen Flower Market
As bright silver building scratch the sky, blossoms have appeared across the city. And most of them arrived through the Jingwen Flower Market on Shaanxi Nanlu. Its “annual sales reach 200 million stems, representing about two-thirds of the city’s total and one-tenth of the nation’s.”
Would someone please tell us—and the stunned shop owners and patrons too—why the market closed? We are guessing that, as in so many other booming cities, real estate has become too expensive to support flower sales, and new residents in the neighborhood object to the noise, clutter and traffic, all signs that a flower market is successful.
The same pressures will soon move Manhattan’s flower district from West 28th Street. Patrick O’Gilfoil Healy wrote for the NY Times earlier this month that “years of rezoning ... flooded an old commercial warren with new residential towers and loft conversions.” The residents don’t like flower trucks idling in the street at 3 a.m. and sidewalks clogged with boxes of gladioli.
“Years ago, merchants considered moving to the Bronx Terminal Market or College Point, Queens, where rents were cheap and condominium dwellers did not tread. No more. The Flower Market now says that it wants to construct a single property of about 150,000 square feet and that it must be in Manhattan, although streets are narrow, prices are high and parking is scarce at best.” In order to serve all its customers, from Jersey to Long Island, the market has to be in the city.
Our Shanghai geography is nil. Perhaps the huge new market in Caojiadu will be marvelous. But we suspect it’s yet another instance of money shoving an old produce market to the city margins. In our view, the flower trade should be right downtown, a beautiful centerpiece of urbanity.
Culture & Society • Cut-Flower Trade • Florists • Secular Customs • Permalink
Friday, October 21, 2005
An online flower seller blends status-magic with the protestant ethic.
Image: l’Association des Amis de Thorstein Veblen
A hundred years ago Thorstein Veblen introduced the concept of “conspicuous consumption” in his remarkably up-to-date book The Theory of the Leisure Class.
“Unproductive consumption of goods is honourable,” Veblen wrote, “primarily as a mark of prowess and a perquisite of human dignity.” It has ever been the sign of “gentleness,” he contended, to disdain the necessities of life and surround oneself with extravagances, “choice articles of food, and frequently also of rare articles of adornment.” It’s not so much that caviar tastes better than canned tuna, but that eating little fish eggs says you’re too rich to be hungry. (This appeal to the status-seeker in us all is how expensive restaurants get away with serving stingy portions flecked with edible confetti and calling it an entrée.)
The social magic of conspicuous consumption has worked like a charm among the Tlingit people and in Pakistan but it’s always been a somewhat awkward sell for the descendents of big-buckle pilgrims here in the U.S. Since before Benjamin Franklin pinched his first penny, lavishness was suspect here in the land of corn and Camrys. The Protestant ethic honored thrift instead; opulence was considered wasteful, morally suspect and – perhaps most damnable - tacky (think Sharon Stone in “Casino”).
Beyond the ethics and psychology of it all, there were problems from a business standpoint: under mass market capitalism, a price-tag with too many 0’s simply turned off too many buyers.
So U.S. retailers have a trick to pull off; they must juggle commodity magic (“conspicuous consumption”) with morality (what we call “conscientious consumption”). They’ve got to find some way to attach precious juju to what they’re selling without making the product so “dear” that a buckle-bearing customer won’t spring for it.
Amnesty International rose bouquet
Photo: Organic Bouquet
Ta-da! Enter Gerald Prolman.
Prolman is the founder of Organic Bouquet, selling flowers online that have been certified organic from soil preparation to packaging. After just four years in business, the Marin County, California, company is “on track to ring up $3.5 million in sales this year.” And we can see why.
Prolman is attempting an intriguing experiment in the sociology of retailing – one aimed at conflicted US consumers. Organicbouquet.com hopes to turn the purchase of a luxury product – cut flowers—into a gesture of charity.
Thursday, October 20, 2005
Red Lights—Flowers as Warning
Marking dangerous ditches, Kolkata
Photo: Bikas Das, for AP
Too bright to miss, hibiscus flowers draped on poles serve as warning signs in Kolkata, India, today. The flowers mark low spots, obscured by floodwaters that cover many of the city’s streets. On the banks of the Hooghly River, the city of 13 million people is susceptible to flood disasters with each fall’s monsoons.
According to this United Nations report, 42% of the State of West Bengal is prone to flooding. Between 1960 and 2000, “only five years could be identified as flood free.” In 1978, monsoon rains and gorged rivers flooded more than 30,607 sq. km. of West Bengal (an area bigger than the whole state of Massachusetts).