Human Flower Project
Monday, July 31, 2006
Erosion v. Eruption: Lupine in Iceland
Is Lupinus nootkatensis a panacea or peril?
Nookta Lupines in Iceland
Photo: Jorgen Aabech
Grain by grain, Iceland is blowing away. Soil erosion is a huge problem on this treeless, windy island, and the harsh climate discourages most plants from taking hold.
In 1945, someone (we’ve yet to discover who) had the brilliant blue idea of introducing Lupinus nootkatensis, Nootka lupine. This Alaskan native (most definitely a majestic relative of our Texas bluebonnet) flourished. Lupine plants anchored the soil and enriched it too; the flowers are stunning!
But Iceland may have too much of a good thing. Tina Butler reports that Nootka lupine’s success has meant the demise of many native plants. In some regions, she writes, lupine fields have degenerated after 15-20 years, leaving richer soil behind, but in many other locations, “the comparatively tall lupine creates a canopy over the previously dominant lichens, mosses, and low shrubs, causing these species to decline in the newly formed shade. Ultimately, species diversity among plants declines as the lupine spreads.”
Borgthor Magnusson, of Reykjavik’s Agricultural Research Institute, writes, “Once the lupine has become established, it is very difficult to control its spread. Efforts to do so, for example, in the Skaftafell National Park in southeast Iceland, have proven ineffective. Grazing sheep prevent the spread of the lupine by eating the seedlings, but the overall decline in sheep farming in Iceland has left many large lowland areas free of grazing.”
If only we could go back 1100 years. That’s when Iceland’s trees were all cut down, creating the erosion problem in the first place. If only someone had introduced a different, less aggressive form of lupine...if only Iceland could recruit a few thousand more sheep-herders….
Tina Butler writes, “The cause to reforest Iceland may be a noble one for some, but others believe it is too late to try and restore the country’s original ecosystem, believing it is better to let the sand, sea and wind lay their claim to the land.” Butler’s fine article shows how, as rivers find the sea, ecological questions flow into aesthetics and ethics.
For lots more about the complexities of plant ecology, check out Jennifer Forman Orth’s Invasive Species Weblog.
Sunday, July 30, 2006
Here’s Comes the Bouquet, er uh, Bride
Johannesburg’s fashion crowd swoons for Franz Grabe.
Wedding dress by Julian & Franz Grabe
South Africa Fashion Week, July 2006
We always suspected that flowers figured so prominently at weddings to distract everyone from the bride’s imperfections. In our own wedding pictures, a bad haircut, tired eyes, tension, and a thrift shop ensemble are nearly blotted out by the biggest handful of July zinnias Louisville gardens could produce.
Now South African floral designer Franz Grabe, noted for his all-organic-flower couture, proves the point. On Day One of South Africa Fashion Week Grabe, ever a crowd favorite, received ah-mens for his all blossom bridal gown. Working with designer Julian, Grabe’s couture “stole the show,” according to Lize de Kock. And that’s just what the bride is entitled to, right?
Franz Grabe Flower Couture, 2003
Photo: South African Fashion Designers
We found not nearly enough about Grabe, who apparently has been designing floral clothing for a number of years now. This site shows a few outfits for Him, also, including a smoking jacket with shiny frond lapels.
A few years back, Grabe collaborated with Coenie Hattingh on a 17-piece collection. “The garments, which Hattingh refers to as ‘disposable fashion,’ cost as much as R10,000 ($1456 USD) and last up to two days depending on the flowers and plants used.”
“Disposable,” actually isn’t right for either flowers or fashion. “Ephemeral,” maybe, or how about “recyclable,” since fashion is the only world we know where ever few years white (or green or pink…) will be new-new-new.
Saturday, July 29, 2006
Scan That Sunflower
Barcodes may be the breakthrough method for cataloguing the Earth’s 10 million plants and animals.
Despite centuries of work by plant taxonomists, only a fifth of the world’s species has been accurately catalogued. Meanwhile, pollution, deforestation, and zealous land development are killing off tree and flower species (animals, too) with each passing day. There’s a sense of urgency about stepping up the process of identification, but how?
Molecular biologist Kenneth Cameron and others are hoping to perfect a barcoding system that, with the swipe of a scanner, could distinguish closely related species and give every plant on earth an instant ID. In yesterday’s Wall St. Journal, Sharon Begley profiled Cameron and his work. “DNA bar coding depends on analyzing part of just one gene, the same gene in all cases, for every species. If and when a DNA bar code database of all terrestrial plant and animal species is established, a field biologist could take a tiny piece of tissue, like a scale or hair or leaf, from the unknown specimen, and feed it into a hand-held device for analysis.” The process works on tissues up to 20 years old.
The New York Times ran a piece in December 2004 that focused on successful barcoding of animals, with “the first 648 DNA units of a gene called CO1 (for cytochrome c oxidase 1).” The method has been tougher to apply among plants since plant species have more similar DNA and hybridize so much more easily. Cameron and others have been closing in on several promising strands of plant DNA that might offer a unique “thumbprint” but thus far none can entirely single out every species. Some scientists even doubt whether such a strand of DNA exists in the plant world.
For you hard scientists, here’s a scholarly paper on the subject. Have at it and let us know what you think.
Those of us who still look for price tags on the peanut butter jar may be asking, Why bother? At the current rate of traditional taxonomic research, Dr. Quentin Wheeler of Cornell University, says, “We will need 1,196 years to complete the job,” of identifying all bugs, critters, trees, and flowers: too late for the many thousands of species already scudding toward extinction. Begley writes that successful barcoding also could “make life easier for customs inspectors trying to catch trade in endangered species, not to mention for mushroom hunters unsure whether a specimen is a luscious morel or a toxic amanita. Slip a pinch into your bar coder and live to forage another day.”
Thanks and love to for alerting us to this story.
Thursday, July 27, 2006
Addled by the summer heat? So are we. Here are some “Plantimals” for your delectation, best observed after a hatless hour in the Texas sun.