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Princeton, MAINE USA

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Coddling Florida’s Lupine

Despite bulldozers and hurricanes, a Florida sanctuary nurses McFarlin’s lupine into bloom.


Cheryl Peterson, conservationist, oversees McFarlin’s Lupine,

now in rare bloom at a Central Florida sanctuary.

Photo: Pierre Ducharme, for The Ledger

Pass out the cigars!

The Historic Bok Sanctuary in Lake Wales, Florida, announces the flowering of an endangered native species, McFarland’s lupine. The lovely pink and maroon blooms of Lupinus westianus var. aridorum are cause for celebration, perhaps even a bit of unabashed breast-beating. This plant is nearly extinct. It’s one of 39 species that botanists at Bok have been toiling for years to save.

Reporter Tom Palmer of The Ledger (Lakeland, FL) broke the news of this near-miraculous success.

“The plants are impossible to grow from transplants or cuttings, and they won’t grow in flower pots. Instead, they require a bed of native soil from the site where they grew and then, if all goes well, the seeds will germinate.

“‘The seeds were part of a plant rescue in Orange County where they were expanding the turnpike,’ (conservation program Manager Cheryl) Peterson said. ‘We got 24 seeds.’”

Horticulturists at the Bok Sanctuary planted all the seeds three years ago; only five germinated. Then, in 2004, Hurricane Charley blew in,  killing three of the seedlings.

“One of the two plants that survived is quite a specimen—3 feet across with more than 60 blossoms.” The Bok conservationists hope (that’s putting it lightly) it will produce enough seed to replant here and spread to other locations in its native habitat—central Florida.

imageLupinus westianus var aridorum

Photo: Center for Plant Conservation

Lupinus aridorum “was first collected by Meislahn in 1900 in Orange County, Florida.” In 1928 and 1937 James Brigham McFarlin collected the plant in his native Polk County, home of the Bok Sanctuary, too.

Over the years, Bok staffers have seen the interest in endangered plants strengthen, one reason they’ve spread the word about this spring’s success with McFarlin’s lupine. Bok is affiliated with the Center for Plant Conservation in St. Louis, where you can find much much more about rare plants of Florida and the other 49 states of the US.

The CPC estimated that there were only 11 total populations of McFarlin’s lupine in existence, and only 350 plants all told (1986). By the way the Center also operates an endangered-plant sponsorship program to support research and preservation of specific species. McFarlin’s lupine has no sponsor. 

As for Bok, we’ve learned that director David Price laid out its quarter-acre conservation garden “in a circular pattern, inspired by the layout of the Botanical Garden of Padua University in Padua, Italy. Founded in 1545,  it is the oldest university garden in the world.”

Congratulations to Price, Peterson, and all the botanists before them, like McFarlin, who despite the odds may have saved Central Florida’s beautiful pink lupine.

Note: Botanists need political clout to protect these plants.

The Endagered Species Act has helped identify and protect plants and animals that are dying out. But a terrible bill will soon come before the U.S. Senate that will erode those protections. The National Resources Defense Council writes that the law, if passed, would “eliminate protections of critical habitat for endangered and threatened species, exempt the pesticide industry from wildlife safety regulations and authorize millions of dollars in payouts to wealthy developers, oil and gas companies and other special interests in return for not killing or injuring endangered and threatened species.”

Please contact your senators and let them know that you oppose weakening the Endangered Species Act and support protection for the hundreds of threatened animals and plants—like McFarlin’s lupine.

Posted by Julie on 03/23 at 11:45 AM
Art & MediaEcologyPermalink

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Aal in a Day’s Work

Shopping for flowers? Bloemenveiling Aalsmeer, the world’s biggest flower market, should have what you’re looking for, especially if you’re male.


The auction room at Aalsmeer

Photo: Courtesy of Bloemenveiling Aalsmeer (VBA)

What began as a couple of flower trading posts in two Holland cafes is now the biggest flower auction on the planet: Bloemenveiling Aalsmeer.

Sales begin at 6:30 in the morning, as some 7000 growers from around the world put their gerbera daisies and birds of paradise before an audience of savvy buyers. By 9:30 a.m., more than 20 millions plants and cut flowers will have passed through the auction.

Rather than bidding prices up, buyers follow “Dutch Auction” practice. As each lot of flowers comes out on a stacked cart, the auction’s immense electronic clocks start the bidding at 100 (per stem), and tick backward. See a price you like? Press your button quickly. Via your headset, you let the auctioneer know how many stems you’ll buy at this price, he subtracts those flowers from the batch, and then the clock starts again,  winding down, until the rest of those gladioli or larkspurs are sold. There are 13 clocks throughout the auction, all working simultaneously. “Per clock, some 1,500 transactions can be processed per hour.”

The huge complex, 999,000 sq. meters, is the largest commercial building in the world. The public areas are kept at about 12 C (54 F) so that roses and edgy traders all stay cool.

imageLilacs for sale in the Café De Drie Kolommen, 1912

Photo: Bloemenveiling Aalsmeer

We find it amazing that all this grew from a few local growers’ determination to cut out the middleman. The first auction of “export flowers” opened December 4, 1911 in Café Welkom, taking the name ‘Bloemenlust.’ A month later ‘Centrale Aalsmeerse Veiling’ (Central Aalsmeer Auction, CAV) was formed and began auctioning flowers in Café De Drie Kolommen. “Both auctions were thriving right from the beginning.”

It’s interesting to note that the auction trade took place in the same venues—the cafes—where that notorious market bubble tulipomania had expanded and burst two centuries earlier. Had the Dutch learned a lesson or was there something about the new trading system that kept the lid on? Perhaps some historian of economics will fill us in.

The Aalsmeer website provides loads of information about how the flower center developed. The two original auctions merged, we learned, in 1968, a decision “accelerated by the repeal of cultivation constraints and the explosive growth of the export of flowers and plants in the 1960s.” It seems the two marketing operations saw that all that volume would require a big new facility, which neither could afford to build alone.

imageStacking carts at Aalsmeer

Photo: Steve Fazzio

Another stride forward came in 1975: “This year the stacking cart was introduced”  making it possible to toodle many more blooms around at once. Today “130,000 auction stacking carts are in use” at Aalsmeer.

Others things, however, don’t appear to have changed much. Our correspondent and friend Cyndy Clark, who recently visited the flower market, reported that “There were no women in any of the auction rooms when I was there.” We wrote to Aalsmeer about the gender exclusivity of the auction floor and received this reply from Adrienne Lansbergen:

“Traditionally the buying job in the auction process is a men’s business. In the past because of the fact that the role of purchaser in the auction (very early in the morning and just for a few hours) was very often combined with another job at the export companies (‘heavy’ labour, for example loading the trucks and vans). Nowadays purchasing is a very stressy and specialized job. The purchasers of export companies start very early in the morning, between 05.00 and 06.00 a.m. Maybe that’s why the job is not that attractive for women (very often occupied during the morning hours with the children go to school).”

This said, Lansbergen notes, “A lot of women are working in the flower business: at the exporters in sales functions, in the shops, in the nursery and (also very often) in the management of nurseries.”

Cyndy replied, “Same old story, the women in the nursery!”

Sex roles in Holland’s flower business do appear to be distinct. Check out this fascinting research by anthropologist Alex Strating entitled “Kinship, Family and the Flower Trade in a Dutch Community.” Strating studied nearby Rijnsburg, exploring who does what in the flower trade.

“There is a strict division of labor between men and women. Since men are responsible for earning money and women have the responsibility of the household as their first priority.” The author found that most Rijnsburg traders marry local gals.


Rijnsburg dudes, rolling on segways down the Bloemencorso

Photo: We Move

“The trade is a stressful occupation with long working hours and every week, three of four nights away from home. When traders come home after a trip, they expect a haven in a stressful world. They also expect their wives to be able to cope with the ups and downs in earnings that are typical for the flower trade.

“Traders never told me that they choose a wife from Rijnsburg because she had these qualities. But when a trader with a wife from outside Rijnsburg runs into financial or marital problems, they generally explain this by the fact that outside wives can not cope with the demands of the trade whereas Rijnsburg wives can, because they have been brought up with it.”

Thank you Cyndy, Adrienne, and Alex, for all your insights into this fascinating intersection of flowers, gender roles and economies.

Posted by Julie on 03/22 at 11:58 AM
Culture & SocietyCut-Flower TradePermalink

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

‘Here You Go,’ Marzanna

In Silesia, the old straw-lady of winter must be flung out so that spring can flower.


Preschoolers in Poland, with Marzanna

Photo: Przedszkole Samorzadowe

By the almanac, there are days for killing as well as for planting, feeding, and watering. If the moon never swept through the fire signs (Aries, Leo, Sagittarius), we’d be overrun with weeds.

In that spirit across Silesia, as Aries enters—March 21—it’s time to drown Marzanna, the frost queen. She’s winter’s witch from the pantheon of pagan Slavic deities. And her time is up.

On March 21, people in this part of Central Europe traditionally make an effigy “with the last straw of last years’ harvest, dressed in white with a broom and cycle. She is decorated with ribbons, myrtle, or woodruff” (Asperula orodtata) and “carried in a procession of the people to a river. They burned and drowned her to rid themselves of the cold, dark season of death to welcome the spring.”

While today people may not actually use straw from the last harvest, in Southern Poland, parts of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, this is still a rite of Spring. In Slovakia,  the tradition was formerly observed by older women but began to fade out in the 1930s. Ethnographer Elena Benusova writes that it was teenagers who revived the custom—“Girls that used to get together for spinning.” They would parade the Marzanna (called “Morena” in the Orava region) around the village singing, then going into the fields to plant flax. 


Marzanna in the fields, Poland

Photo: Topienie Marzanny

“That is where they would dance with Morena and jump high. In other villages they would sprinkle the straw from the figure over the fields. This way they wanted to assure rich and beautiful harvest of tall flax.” The weavers would strip the cloth off Marzanna and either burn her wooden skeleton or throw it in the stream, yelling,  “Here you go, you witch!”

Well, okay!

In another source, we find “As the marzanna was carried out of the village one way, on the opposite side the villagers carried in the maik - green branches adorned with ribbons, coral beads and flowers.” While we’ve found a number of pictures of Marzanna on her way out of town, we can’t find any of the maik coming in.

Silesian readers, should we be lucky enough to have any, please inform us. Might the Maik be one and the same as Gaik, a fir twig also decorated in the spring?

Treat yourself to this marvelous Marzanna photo-essay. It shows a preschool class in Poland transporting their doll-witch down to the local river and tossing her in. Ploop. We find especially enchanting the photo of their classroom. Look at all the plants, flowers and greenery! Kudos to both teacher and students for creating such a lively environment for learning.

This being 2006, the Marzanna custom might seen arcane or romantic. We don’t think so. Rather it calls to mind what “biology-watcher” Lewis Thomas observed, so wisely: “Everything that comes alive seems to be in trade for something that dies.”

Killing off Marzanna is a trade. Make room! Children are growing, and fresh flowers are coming on.

Posted by Julie on 03/21 at 10:08 AM
Culture & SocietyEcologySecular CustomsPermalink

Monday, March 20, 2006

Under the Linden Tree

Bloody Milosevic comes home.


A woman passes before the front doors of the Markovic family home in Pozharevac, Serbia. The former Yugoslavia’s late president, Milosevic, was

buried in the back garden here Saturday, March 18.

Photo: Valentina Petrova, for AFP

Slobodan Milosevic, former president of Yugoslavia, was on trial for crimes against humanity before a U.N. tribunal when he died, March 11. Among the charges against him—genocide in Bosnia.

The outpouring of crowds and red roses since his death came as a surprise to us; we would have thought even hardcore Socialist Serbs would welcome the passing of this murderous figure.

After protracted wrangling over the time, place and manner of his services, authorities denied Milosevic both a state and a religious funeral. Instead, the body returned to his hometown of Pozharevac. Milosevic was buried March 18 in the family garden, under a linden tree where he first kissed Mirjana Markovic, the high school sweetheart who became his wife.

Markovic did not attend Saturday’s funeral. She lives in exile in Moscow, and “faces Serbian charges of abuse of power during her husband’s 13-year reign.”

Posted by Julie on 03/20 at 11:03 AM
Culture & SocietyPoliticsReligious RitualsPermalink
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