Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

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Princeton, MAINE USA

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Is This Trillium a Liberal?

Ontario’s new logo may have partisan leanings.


Ontario’s logos, old and new

Photo: Toronto Star

The people of Ontario, Canada, love their wildflowers—in fact, chose a native trillium to represent them as the province’s emblem.

But “to attract new business and investment to create jobs,” some among Ontario’s leadership thought the old trillium logo, designed in 1964, needed freshening up. They paid an ad firm $219,00 for a redesign and got more than they bargained for: floral controversy.

Critics are claiming that the new trillium, an ” A-shaped logo, closely resembles the shape of the trillium embedded in the text of the Ontario Liberal Party‘s trademark.” In fact, the Liberal incumbents did order the new logo and, oops, hired the same PR firm that, according to one source, had done free work for the party in recent elections.

imageOntario Liberal Party’s logo

Turns out that political forces in Ontario have been haggling over the trillium for quite some time. “Under the Tories of former premier Bill Davis in the early 1980s, the government popularized the use of a white trillium with a blue background. In the late 1980s, David Peterson, the Liberal premier, came under fire for using a photograph of a red trillium, not the typical white one, on the cover of the provincial budget.”

Here’s a deciduous forest of Canadian Liberal emblems. And here is John Wright’s gallery of Ontario trilliums.


Photo: John Wright

The Star posted a variety of citizens’ reactions to the latest trillium tempest.

“I grew up with the original trillium and have identified with it throughout my life. It always gives me a warm feeling when I saw it on a highway or in print,” wrote Scott Lomas of Toronto. Easy, Scott. That’s a logo, we’re talking about, not a religious icon!

“This is totally disgusting, given the almost daily talk about the crisis of our health-care system,” huffs Luca Ballarini, Richmond Hill.

With an eye toward botanical accuracy, Craig Jenson of Newmarket notes, “Trillium petals have rounded ends, not pointed.”

And William Bedford, Toronto, misses the point by transcending it. “The picture of a real trillium on the front page of today’s Star is beautiful, and would make a far better symbol for Ontario than any of the stylized ones, and wouldn’t cost anything.”




Posted by Julie on 06/25 at 11:12 AM
Art & MediaPoliticsPermalink

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Water Hyacinth—Double Edged

Note: Thanks to scholar Jeremiah Kitunda for this extended response to an earlier entry (January 31, 2005). The detailed information here warrants a post of its own. In the interest of building an online library, The Human Flower Project welcomes inquiries and corrections.

You’ll find lots more about this plant at Jennifer Orth’s Invasive Species Weblog. JA


Harvesting water hyacinth, Lake Victoria

Photo: Aquarius Systems

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Appalachian State University

In response to Water Hyacinth—Africa’s Not So Pretty Settler  I would like to suggest some corrections with regard to the history of this plant (Eichhornia Crassipes) in Africa and elsewhere. My main point of contention is your statement that water hyacinth spread from Brazil in the 19th century and reached Africa in the 1980s.


Rather than being limited to Brazil, this plant has a wide range in South America including Jamaica, Venezuela, and Peru. Through circumstantial evidence and cross-examination of secondary sources, I have come to the conclusion that European explorers had seen and probably carried Eichhornia Crassipes from South America to Europe and Africa between the 16th and 17th centuries. It is evident that the plant was in Europe by the early 18th century, and I surmise that European travelers to Africa at the time had also taken it to African islands of the Indian and Atlantic oceans, as well as the Niger, Congo and Nile River valleys. Contrary to the claim of your website, it is therefore noteworthy that Eichhornia Crassipes reached Africa as early as the late 18th century.


French Botanist Alire Raffeneau-Delile was cultivating that plant in Egypt by the late 1790s under the auspices of Empress Josephine and Emperor Napoleon (who occupied Egypt between 1797 and 1807). Delile had probably obtained seeds or seedlings sent to Josephine from Amazonia by Alexander Von Humboldt and Aime Bonpland, who went out collecting specimens along the Orinoco River—a tributary of Amazon—between 1790 and 1800. Botanist Delile was instrumental in the expansion of a French network of Botanical Gardens (and Amazonian plants) across Africa, the most imminent extensions being those of the King’s Garden and Montpellier Botanical Gardens to the African islands and the Nile Valley.

imageWater Hyacinth (Eichhornia Crassipes)

Photo: teninoue

The plant was given its current names—Water hyacinth and Eichhornia Crassipes —in Europe in the early 19th century, its botanical name honoring Prussian Minister of Education, Culture and Medicine, John Albert Friedrich Eichhorn. The existence of other names, prior to the 19th century, makes the study of this plant’s origin and dispersal an intractable endeavor to environmental historians. [See sources at “Continue Reading”]


After the French departure from Egypt, records indicate that British naturalists continued the cultivation of water hyacinth in Egypt.  By the 1850s Agricultural Officer Mr. Birdwood was cultivating water hyacinth along the Nile. By the 1870s water hyacinth emerged as an ecological disaster in Egypt as it would be soon in other parts of the world as well.


Between 1880 and 1980, water hyacinth appeared as an ecological nuisance in many parts of Africa. It caused a popular crisis in South Africa in the 1910s, Madagascar in the 1920s, Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya in the 1930s through the 1970s. In the 1980s and 1990s, water hyacinth bloomed heavily on Lake Victoria, the Nile, the Congo and almost all watercourses of Africa.


Why did biologists, botanists, and travelers carry water hyacinth to Africa between the 16th and the 20th centuries? How did they carry and tend it? Can we peg down the earliest dates, specific points of introduction and pathways of dispersal in Africa? These are hard questions to answer given the dearth of evidence. However, it is worth mentioning that several institutions were instrumental to the transfer of biota between Africa and other continents before the 20th century.

First, Christian missionaries, particularly Catholic missionaries, brought to Africa their long-standing tradition of collecting and carrying with them exotic plants and growing them in mission stations that they established in foreign lands. Jesuits, Capuchin, and the White Fathers missionaries are said to have introduced water hyacinth in the offshore islands of Africa from the early 17th century onward. Around 1900 the White Fathers introduced water hyacinth in Rwanda, at the headwaters of the Kagera River, which drains into Lake Victoria and exits the lake as the Nile River.


The second important institution in the transfer of water hyacinth to Africa was the network of botanical gardens and fish hatcheries that Europeans established in Africa from the middle of the 17th century. Subsequently, navigation activities between various European missionary or botanical stations promoted accidental spread of water hyacinth along the African water courses. From an early date European armies discovered that in addition to its aesthetic value, water hyacinth could be employed as a military asset to enhance camouflage in battlefields. In Eastern Africa surviving veterans of the two World Wars recall using water hyacinth mats for that purpose in South East Asia, and when the war was over they carried the plant abroad.


The third factor in the spread of water hyacinth in Africa was a network of museums, which emerged in the 19th century. Early samples of water hyacinth are still available in museum herbaria in Africa. The plants escaped from these herbaria to the open water in the 20th century, but mere escape was not enough to allow the plant to proliferate. Another set of factors—change in hydrology and chemistry of African water courses—promoted the expansion of small amounts of water hyacinth to crisis levels.


Over the years of its existence in Africa, water hyacinth oscillated from a crop to a weed and back. That is to say, while the majority of scientists see water hyacinth as a noxious weed posing an ecological disaster on pristine aquatic environments, many locals have taken water hyacinth as an economic opportunity.  Programs to remove the plants have employed thousands of people who were jobless before. But there have been other, more important advantages to Lake Victoria’s shoreline residents.

imageFurniture of water hyacinth

made in Vietnam

Photo: VVG Vietnam/Handicrafts

Members of several women’s groups and handicapped groups that I interviewed in 2001-2002 had come together to form “Community Based Organizations” (CBOs) to harvest and process water hyacinth and manufacture a variety of exotic products: paper, from which the CBOs make books (I have several samples; my current diary 2005-2006 is make of water hyacinth paper!), pulp, cards, lampshades, excellent furniture, baskets, footwear, cordage, fodder for animals, and gas. Along the Nile, water hyacinth is turned into ropes, which are used to make makeshift bridges across the mighty river. I have heard that some people have experimented with water hyacinth as a substitute for tea and will confirm this during my forthcoming trip to Lake Victoria.

While scientists claim that water hyacinth kills fish and other aquatic species, in the 1990s locals testified to a spectacular return of fish species that had disappeared since the 1930s. On close examination,  other researchers and I realized that hyacinth provided shelter for these species against the predatory Nile Perch, which was artificially introduced into the lake in the 1930s. Water hyacinth also provided a breeding ground for the endangered species. The residents claim that between the 1930s and 1970s policy makers advocated the removal of floating islands (locally called Abuoro), which though an impediment to navigation, were the breeding ground for those fish species. Clearly, people who live along Lake Victoria see water hyacinth as a double-edged sword of nature. 

Continue Reading

Posted by Julie on 06/24 at 12:09 PM
EcologyGardening & LandscapeScienceTravelPermalink

Friday, June 23, 2006

Criminal Sage

A Mexican salvia may send you waltzing to a Tennessee jail after July 1.


Diviner’s Sage (Salvia divinorum)

Photo: Lady Salvia

“Eee-Leck-Trick- Ull Banana, is bound to be the very next phase….”

Want a short cut to wisdom? Good luck. Lots of boosters from the plant world have been tried, and for every one, including Eve’s apple, there’s been an authority, sometimes a divinity, who tries to lower the psychic ceiling as wanna-be wiseacres are blasting off.

We were alarmed to read that one of the three flowering plants that has survived summers in our Texas yard, salvia, is now among America’s Most Wanted—an outlaw.  Actually, we have salvia greggii, and the “criminal” variety is salvia divinorum. Growing this plant for anything but ornamental reasons is already against the law in Missouri, Delaware, and Louisiana, and come July 1, it will be illegal in Tennessee, too.

Diviner’s Sage, from the Mexican state of Oaxaca, has long been used ceremonially by the Mazatec people, to induce hallucinations and visions. Like many other short-cuts, though, it often has distinctly negatively consequences. The Delaware prohibition, for example, was pressed into law by grieving parents whose son dabbled in the stuff and later committed suicide. Of course, teenagers seem to be the eagerest short-cutters of all, and lacking much authentic wisdom, don’t manage too well with a sudden draught of the stuff (or whatever boosters provide).

Right-to-ingestion forces, like the Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics, have been busy. But so have been ersatz parents in many more statehouses around the nation.

Louisiana’s law, which went into effect last August, is the sweeping model. Louisiana outlaws 40 plants for human consumption, salvia divinorum and others that we DO have in the yard—datura, brugmansia—and still others we’ll need to check on—like mimosa hostilis and Ipomoea violacea. The penalty for manufacture or distribution of these plants “when intended for human consumption” is two to ten years. We don’t live in Louisiana, but even if we did, none of the plants we grow is “intended for human consumption.” Our intention is a homelier one— survival—  which in this climate is just as miraculous as dancing teacups or purple haze.

Will Cook of North Carolina has provided this wonderful online salvia primer, which includes a nonchalant reference to salvia divinorum, as well as a lovely photo. Robin Marushia’s research into the ethnobotany of this “Mexican mint” is extensive and reader-friendly.

Lest you think that we descendents of the Puritans are the only killjoys about hallucinogenic plants, here’s a rundown on the (il)legal status of Diviner’s Sage elsewhere. Belgium, Australia and many other lands are anti-short-cut also.

Posted by Julie on 06/23 at 03:59 PM
MedicinePoliticsReligious RitualsPermalink

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Nicodemus, the Evening Primrose

In parts of the U.S., evening primroses open the Bible.


Evening Primrose, a.k.a. “Nicodemus flower”

Photo: Ivette Loredo

Oenothera, evening primrose, is coming into bloom about now across much of the central U.S. As its name gives away, it’s one of those fascinating night-blooming plants, favored by moths and bats.  Attracting pollinators mainly by scent, these flowers can dispense with bright colors; evening primrose and most of its fellow “owls” bloom in shades of white and yellow, the better to glow.

People who work in offices all day long may take special pleasure in moon gardens of datura, four o’clocks, moonflowers, and evening primrose. After sundown, the fragrant blossoms are cooling as a martini, and better in the long run for an agitated mind.

Today we learned that in parts of the U.S. evening primrose is known as “Nicodemus flower.”  A Sunday school group in Knoxville, Tennessee, “gathered at the home of Maggie and Sid Rutherford to watch the blooming. The Nicodemus flower has special meaning… It was named for Nicodeums in the Bible. Nicodemus only met with Jesus at night.” We found one more reference to this Biblical human/flower custom, in an essay by fisherman George Rooks.

George writes that near Owensville, Ohio, evening primrose flowers abound on Fox Farm: “… starting to open at 8:20 p.m. This is a very exciting thing to see.” He learned from “a lady” in his community,  “The story of Nicodemus is told in the third chapter of St. John, verses 1-20, of how he went to see Jesus and didn’t want anybody to see him. Now I am sure you Bible scholars already knew this, but I learned something new.” George also generously supplies direction to Fox Farm.

imageThe Dead Christ Sustained by Nicodemus (detail)

by Giovanni Battista Benvenuti

Image: The Arts at Bucknell

For those who are not Bible scholars, here’s a refresher on John’s gospel. Indeed it does describe Nicodemus, a Pharisee, as coming to Jesus after sundown. And a later reference, in Chapter 7, refers to Nicodemus as “qui venit ad eum nocte” (who came to him at night).

We found this interesting Vermont site with 100+ plants in the Biblical garden, but Nicodemus is mentioned in conjunction with Aloe not Oenothera. Seems that the legend of the primrose Pharisee may not have traveled so far north as New England.

No matter where you are, when you last read the Bible, or what time it is, please enjoy the sequence of photos here as an evening primrose—Nicodemus flower—unfurls.



Posted by Julie on 06/22 at 04:56 PM
Culture & SocietyGardening & LandscapeReligious RitualsPermalink
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