Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

flag flower bed

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Princeton, MAINE USA

Monday, January 23, 2006


After months of campaigning in floral regalia, Evo Morales is sworn in as Bolivia’s first indigenous president.


Evo Morales and his supporters

With a resounding 54% percent of December’s vote, Evo Morales was elected to preside over Bolivia, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. “Evo,” as he prefers to be called, was sworn in yesterday in La Paz.

Morales, 46, becomes the first indigenous leader to hold the high office, and through many years of political organizing he has worn his heritage quite literally: the most flower-bedecked political figure the modern-day Americas has known.

Born into an Aymara Indian family, Morales herded llamas for a living and became a cocalero (coca grower).  He campaigned for the presidency unsuccessfully in 2002 and again last year on a socialist platform, promising to transform the nation’s raw material wealth—notably its coca-leaf and natural gas reserves—into assets for Bolivia’s poor.

image“Today the Bolivian gas is controlled by the multinationals,” Morales said in an interview four years ago. “We, the Bolivians, have lost the ownership….  If we are going to sell our gas we must not sell it as raw material.”

Bolivia, as other nations of the Andes, has been under intense U.S. pressure to eradicate coca, the plant processed into cocaine. But Morales rejects U.S. definitions and intervention, arguing that coca has been a traditional medicinal plant among the indigenous people of the Andes for centuries. “I am a coca grower. I cultivate coca leaf, which is a natural product,” Morales declared. “I do not refine [it into] cocaine, and neither cocaine nor drugs have ever been part of the Andean culture.” 

Throughout his political ascendancy, Morales has presented a striking figure, appearing at hundreds of public events festooned with garlands of coca leaf and Andean flowers. Yoked with blossoms and greenery, it’s as if he wears the Bolivian landscape, both a resource-rich mantle and a robe of international defiance.

The most striking such event took place on the eve of his inauguration. At a pre-Incan archeological site, Tiwanaku, the president-elect received a spiritual blessing from Aymara leaders.


The blessing by Aymara priests at Tiwanaku, Jan. 21

Photo: David Mercado, for Reuters

“Morales walked barefoot up the Akapana pyramid, donning the tunic and a cap decorated with traditional yellow and red Aymara patterns. Then he was showered with white flower petals, and blessed by Indian priests….  Accepting a baton adorned with gold and silver symbolizing his Indian leadership, he put on sandals and descended the pyramid to address the crowd gathered in front of the Kalasasaya temple.

“Morales thanked Mother Earth and God for his victory and promised equality and justice.”

Wearing a striped sweater to meet heads of state, and addressing the people from inside thick wreaths of gladiola blooms and coca leaves, Morales has embodied Bolivia. May he govern it well.

Posted by Julie on 01/23 at 11:06 AM
Art & MediaCulture & SocietyMedicinePoliticsReligious RitualsSecular CustomsPermalink

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Bottoms Up—Hibiscus

One of the showiest garden flowers shows up in Caribbean ice pitchers, in Asian kitchens, and now in Tanzanian “jerricans,” as wine

imageHibiscus sabdariffa, specimen

Photo: Swedish Museum

of Natural History

To be a rural woman in Tanzania, you don’t get any breaks in the business world.  Hilda Mwesiga apparently didn’t need a break, just solidarity, chutzpa and hibiscus.

“In rural areas, where women come together in times of happiness and sadness, we felt that we needed to start up an economic activity to help us earn a living. So we formed a group and learnt how to process wine,” Mwesiga said.

A retired nurse, Mwesiga began making wine from roselle, the local hibiscus flower, and has now joined forces with other women of Bukoba, her community, to produce over 120 litres each week.  The wine sells for 1200 Tanzania sh. per bottle (about $1.07 USD) but people who can’t afford that much “buy her wine in containers and jerrycans. (Mwesiga) plans to expand her market as the East African Union market grows.”

imageCalyxes of hibiscus

Photo: Phuket Jet Tour

This excellent webpage from Purdue University offers encyclopedic detail about Hibiscus sabdariffa. “The Flemish botanist, M. de L’Obel, published his observations of the plant in 1576, and the edibility of the leaves was recorded in Java in 1687. Seeds are said to have been brought to the New World by African slaves.”

In the Caribbean, where hibiscus grows abundantly, the flower combined with ginger is a popular tea. Tantalizing, here is Carol Bareuther’s tea recipe from the island of St. Thomas.

In Mexico “flor de Jamaica” (actually the dried calyxes) can be found at most local markets. A Mexican restaurant outside D.C. offers a “chayote (tropical squash) salad accessorized with crumbled cheese, peanuts and a sharp red dressing of hibiscus flower and onion.” (We’re working on getting that recipe, folks.) The Purdue horticulturists also note that in Africa, hibiscus calyxes “are frequently cooked as a side-dish eaten with pulverized peanuts.”

imageReady to imbibe: Nile Valley “Hibiscus Mint Tea”

Photo: JT65b4b

The national beverage of Texas may have once been Lone Star Beer, but the municipal drink of Austin, the state capitol, is hibiscus tea. Awad Abdelgadir’s Nile Valley Teas, a company based not on the Nile but the Colorado River, has made the music capitol ruby-throated, and also benefits Awad’s hometown in the Sudan. (In Egypt hibiscus tea, known as Karkade, is enormously popular.) Hot or cold, it’s delicious and, like cranberry juice, awakeningly tangy. If you’d like another endorsement, see what this blogger-skeptic has to show and tell.

Hibiscus tea is also brewed and drunk in Asia, though these recipes tend to skip the Caribbean’s ginger. The flower also makes a preserve, like cranberry, especially good for livening up poultry dishes.

We look forward to hearing how the Tanzanian women’s enterprise with hibiscus “spirits” develops. And we recommend that the company sell its wine with a roselle-tea “chaser.” In Guatemala, an infusion of roselle flowers is a popular hangover cure: pink hair of the pink dog.

Posted by Julie on 01/22 at 12:53 PM
CookingCulture & SocietyMedicinePermalink

Saturday, January 21, 2006

With Flowers, ‘Here’s to the Republic!’

Note: Many thanks to Lubna Kably, photographer and travel writer based in Bangalore, for her report on a horticulture show that doubles as a patriotic celebration in India.


Floral urn, Republic Day Flower Show, Bangalore

Photo: Lubna Kably

By Lubna Kably

An annual horticultural show held to celebrate India’s Republic Day – January 26, reminds the city folk that Bangalore is also India’s garden city. (On the 26th of January 1950, India became a sovereign state, governed with its own constitution.)

Lal Bagh, Bangalore’s local botanical garden, was laid out by the monarch Hyder Ali during the 18th century. It further flourished under the care of his son Tipu Sultan. Today this @250-acre garden boasts of over 1,000 species of flora. This garden also features a glasshouse, modelled on London’s Crystal Palace. It is believed that Prince Albert Victor ordered this glasshouse to be built.

If one thought, that this was enough history – there is more. The oldest rock formation in India, dating back about 3000 million years, stands right in the middle of this garden. A notice posted by the Geological Society of India at the bottom of the hillock calls it: “a typical exposure of ‘peninsular geneiss’”—the geological term for a complex mix of granite rock that developed in Peninsular India 3000 million years ago. Mr. W.F. Smeeth, of the Mysore Geological Society, gave the phenomenon this scientific name in 1916. A watchtower erected by the founder of Bangalore – Kempe Gowda—stands atop this hillock.


Fruit mountain, with Bird of Paradise flowers

Photo: Lubna Kably

A locus of so much history, Lal Bagh seems the right place for a fitting tribute – with flowers- to celebrate India’s Republic Day. Every year the Horticultural Society organises a horticultural show. This year, while fruits and vegetables were on display, the cynosure of all eyes was the flower show. An interesting decoration - an urn made of flowers was the centre of attraction. Riots of colours were everywhere – carnations, dahlias, roses, lilies.  The show, generally a ten-day affair, commences on the weekend prior to the Republic Day (January 26).

Bangalore may today be a technology hub, but the horticultural show reminds us that it is also India’s Garden City. (The special exhibition at Lal Bagh runs through Jan. 26th.)



Posted by Julie on 01/21 at 12:53 PM
Culture & SocietySecular CustomsTravelPermalink

Friday, January 20, 2006

Smuggling Slipper Orchids

A scientist who traded in endangered flowers of Malaysia is sentenced to a London jail.


Slipper Orchid (Paphiopedilum Holdenii)

Photo: Jo’s Orchids

Orchids have a peculiar effect on people. In the eyes of some folks (who will go unnamed), they’re ghastly flowers, resembling either insects or genitalia. (Perhaps this attitude stems from wearing the floral equivalant of a dog tongue too near one’s face at a long Easter service 40 years ago.) Other people are so captivated by these odd plants, they’ll risk prison time for them.

Dr. Sian Lim clearly falls on the latter side of the line. He was caught at Heathrow Airport in June 2004 with more then 100 endangered orchids. Lim, employed by an English drug company, appears to have collected the plants in Borneo, Indonesia and his native Malaysia. The Independent reported, “126 plants of the 130 ...seized from his luggage were all Asian slipper orchids - one of the rarest of all the 750 orchid genera, or groups of species. They are distinguished by a voluptuous lower petal, or lip, and are closely related to Britain’s rarest wild flower, the lady’s slipper.” Call them Paphiopedilum.

image Paphiopedilum rothschildianum

Photo: Guido Braem

Because the habitat for these flowers is disappearing and hungry fanciers have over-collected the plants, trafficking in many varieties of slipper orchids is forbidden by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Check out this unbelievable gallery of endangered orchids; then, if you feel tempted, check out the story of Lim’s arrest once again.

Lim pleaded guity to 13 chages of smuggling and was sentenced to four months behind bars.

Susan Orlean explored this not-so-rare form of floral obsession in an article for the New Yorker, which morphed into her book The Orchid Thief, which morphed into a weird and excellent movie called Adaptation a few years back.

We don’t know whether Lim brought the orchids to England to keep or to sell—according to the Independent, “Some specimens can change hands for thousands of pounds.” The judge in the case ruled that Lim had demonstrated “a view to commercial gain”—as well as bad judgment and (some might say) hideous taste in flowers.

Posted by Julie on 01/20 at 12:31 PM
Cut-Flower TradeEcologyTravelPermalink
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