Human Flower Project
Thursday, September 28, 2006
Uncool- Flower Delivery’s Future?
Three Japanese companies develop a brave new way to send cut flowers.
Cold cathode tube
Photo: The Silicon Group
There’s a big surplus of cut flowers in the world. Harder to come by than blossoms are, first, the money to keep the dying blooms beautiful and, second, customers.
Matsushita Electric Works has been tinkering with the survival problem and now announces that, in collaboration with two other companies, it will introduce an ultra-new preservation method to the public next month.
The futuristic flower delivery system replaces refrigeration (a huge cost in transport) with snazzy lighting which the company claims “can keep flowers fresh during delivery even at room temperatures of up to 25C” (that’s 77F). Reporter Aki Tsukioka writes that with the new method “LEDs (DC24V 0.3A, 7.2W) and cold-cathode tubes (DC24V 0.2A, 4.8W), help maintain the quality and freshness of flowers through photosynthesis.” Matsushita claims the light system is cheaper than elaborate cold chains—the cases, trucks, and planes all kept at 10-15C (50-59F) chilling cut flowers until you take possession of them.
Those squeamish about plugging in table lamps should not try to explain this process, and thus far we haven’t found further information about it through Matsushita. The company is likely waiting to spring the details in late October, at the Third International Flower Expo in Tokyo. We’ll hope to provide specifics then. For the moment, this sounds like an exciting development, especially for countries of the Third World, where flower production is booming but transportation costs are hampering success. Too bright to be true? Maybe.
More to come….
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Sad for Glads
Scientists track killer fungus from Hawaii to a Florida flower farm, four generations old.
Score one for the plant epidemiologists, and pity the Preston family, who’ve been growing gladiolus on Florida’s Gulf Coast since 1937.
After detecting Uromyces transversalis on plants in Hawaii, ag inspectors fanned out to track the culprit down. The fungus, which usually attacks hybrid gladiolus, seems to have originated in eastern and southern Africa, and has been “reported from Morocco, southern Europe (questionably from France and, Spain, possibly established in Italy, Malta, and Portugal), South America (Argentina, Brazil), Martinique, Australia, New Zealand and has recently been intercepted from Mexico.” That’s a wide swath of the world. The Hawaiian case of “gladiolus rust” sent scientists to California, and then Florida, to Manatee Floral.
Manatee red, pink and orange
Photo: Manatee Floral
Anthony Cormier reports the sad tale.
“A pathologist in Hawaii first saw the telltale signs of the rust: red pustules, blotchy spikes, a creeping fungus that attacks the leaves.” The infected glads were tracked to a shipment from the Preston family’s farm. “Weeks after their discovery, scientists confirmed the rust in Manatee and went flower-by-flower through 750 acres. Shipments were temporarily halted, and the company’s prized stock suffered a serious blow.” For not only were flowers destroyed: The farmers had “to kill numerous prized glad bulbs that form the basis of their annual crop,” bulbs developed over seventy years of work and care.
Investigators knocked on the doors of some 50 area gardeners, too, and found eight more cases of gladiolus rust. ““Fortunately, this was a small outbreak,” said Jennifer Sparks, the vice president of marketing at the Society of American Florists. “It’s been eradicated already, but there was no threat to the consumer. The problem is for the grower.”
The Prestons were pioneer nurserymen along the Gulf Coast in Florida, starting out with lemon orchards in 1892. We wish them a strong and swift recovery.
Monday, September 25, 2006
Cinquefoil: I’ve Got a Secret
A white rose is still mysteriously fresh after five centuries.
w/barbed vert, seeded gules
Image: The Heraldic Primer
At the Musee National du Moyen Age – what English speakers in Paris call “The Cluny Museum” – flowers bloom by the thousands, most of them five hundred years old. In tapestry, stone, gold, and now in the museum’s surrounding gardens, human flower projects endure, though their meanings mostly elude us.
One of the most stunning is a panel of stained glass made around 1467 in the workshop of master glazier Peter Hemmel of Strasbourg. It’s displayed in a dark room, backlit, the better to savor its color and detail. At the risk of sounding like a rube, we thought Sainte Chapelle – St. Louis’s giant jewel-box on the Ile de la Cite – was a squandering of splendor. Its stained glass miracles, too far off even for adolescent eyes to make out, dissolved into a huge, heavy kaleidoscope. (Being a secularist many centuries after the fact, perhaps we miss the point, though….)
In any case it was thrilling to see the art of Hemmel’s atelier up close. This piece, so we learned, shows the Mullenheim family coat-of-arms. We haven’t been able to discover much about the Mullenheims, just that they were powerful in Alsace in the 14-15th centuries. One site says that they took over the Ortenbourg Castle (presumably that took arm twisting) in 1314 and hung onto the place until 1469, just after this stained glass tribute was made. They reclaimed the castle in 1475 but by 1563 had abandoned it to robbers.
Glass panel by the Atelier of Peter Hemmel, c. 1467
at the Musee National du Moyen Age, Paris
Photo: Bill Bishop
The white flower so prominent here, on both the shield and the figure’s breast, is a stylized, wild rose, usually called a cinquefoil. (Cinquefoil also refers to a species of strawberry flower, likewise with five-petals.) Along with the fleur de lis, thistle and trefoil (shamrock), it is the most prevalent flower of heraldry. But what does the cinquefoil mean? Medieval artists were geniuses of ornament yet their imagery was more than decorative. Hemmel’s workshop could produce only about 15 glass panels per year. So one can be sure that every form on every piece, as well as being beautiful, bore a message.
One clue, from a site all about the first families of Alsace, says, “the rose was often used in Germanic courts of the middle ages as a symbol of discretion, and it was not therefore surprising that the magistrates of the town chose it as their ‘sceau secret’” (a seal marking certain documents “top secret”).
The association of roses and secrecy goes back to classical mythology, Aphrodite giving the rose to her son Eros, god of Love. “Eros gave the rose to Harpocrates, the God of silence, to induce him not to gossip about his Mother’s indiscretions. Thus the rose became the emblem of silence and secrecy. In the middle ages a rose was suspended from the ceiling of a council chamber, pledging all present to secrecy, or sub Rosa, ‘under the Rose.’” (We had thought this was a Roman custom, as perhaps it had been.)
So can we take Herr Mullenheim, emblazoned with the cinquefoil, for a tight-lipped judge or a CIA agent of the 15th century (as well as the edgy inheritor of a stolen castle)? For now, the secret appears to be safe with Peter Hemmel and his 15th century associates.
Sunday, September 24, 2006
Oh, What a Lovely Coup
The military takeover of Thailand decorates with forced smiles and flowers.
An armoured vehicle is softened with flowers in Bangkok
Photo: Mike Clarke, for AFP
Taking its cue, perhaps, from the red rose revolutionaries of Georgia (2003), leaders of this past week’s military overthrow of the Thailand government have ordered smiles all around. “Army radio broadcasts are reminding soldiers to be friendly and courteous, especially to children and anyone who wants to take pictures with them.”
Tanks rolled into Bangkok Tuesday night, deposing populist prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. By Wednesday morning, we were seeing pictures of citizens handing roses to soldiers and pots of chrysanthemums stationed atop artillery. “Many Thais have described this as the friendliest coup this country has ever seen,” says one report, “the last one in 1991 ended with at least 50 pro-democracy demonstrators gunned down in Bangkok.” Thailand has experienced 18 coups since 1932, when its constitutional monarchy began.
One poll shows more than 80 percent of Thai citizens support the military. The all-smiles overthrow has been bloodless so far, and army leaders have promised to restore democratic rule soon. Not good enough, say some.
Several news accounts suggest there really is broad support for the military action, something hard for us in the US to imagine. Though Thaksin Shinawatra is popular in the countryside, middle-class and urban Thais had generally denounced him, and boycotted elections this past spring.
Floral barricade in Bangkok Wednesday required armed guards, too
Photo: Ed Wray, for AP
Jonathan Head’s story for the BBC, with lingering questions, offers some background. He writes that Thaksin “meddled with the simmering conflict in the Muslim south, putting it under the authority of the police, instead of the army. The result was a disaster and five years later more than 1,500 have died and the central government has lost control of the region. Mr. Thaksin declared a war on drugs, giving police-led death squads licence to kill any suspected dealers. An estimated 2,000 died in that operation. But worst of all, he ignored pleas from the king to moderate his policies. Instead he re-shuffled key military and civil service positions to try to eclipse the old royalist elite.”
Harmony, many commentators have stressed, is prized in Thailand. It’s not just a matter of appeasing tourists, who—outside Bangkok anyway—seem to be oblivious to the coup, but of a deeper cultural ethic, embodied in the nation’s gentle flower-loving king.
We are intently curious to know who supplied the blooms for Thailand’s coup. Did they indeed pour out of a grateful citizenry or, like the army’s mandated smiles, were they presented on command, to soften the hard fact of a totalitarian maneuver? Are they Thailand’s version of the GW Bush team’s ludicrous banner: “Mission Accomplished”?