Human Flower Project
Friday, October 20, 2006
Homecoming Mum: A Riot of Conformity
How to stick out, fit in, and drop $75 for the big game.
JV cheerleader Amani Dorn sold programs
at Lake Travis (TX) High School
Homecoming football game, 2002
Photo: Bill Bishop
Lake Travis High School JV cheerleader Amani Dorn looks down at her chest, powerless to explain what’s there. “I guess it’s based on the whole corsage thing.”
She’s wearing a silk bloom the size of a cauliflower, nestled in spangles and rigged with a fake butterfly. Two pounds of trinkets hang from red and silver ribbons down to her bare calves. This is no corsage. It’s a dead grouse crossed with a bottle rocket, a Texas homecoming mum.
Depending on your feeling for the boys-will-be-hideous sport of football—chin straps, ice packs and necks thick as thighs—the homecoming mum is either the mightiest incursion or the ghastliest concession girls have made, our turn to shine and groan. At the Lake Travis High School Homecoming last month just about all girls over age 12 and under 25 arrived with chestwear. Outside the stadium one fan, obviously a mum-novice, stepped cautiously, steadying herself on a boy’s arm and lifting her gush of ribbons to keep from tripping.
“You kind of get to show off,” said Lake Travis sophomore Ashton Verrengia, standing with an armload of programs by the main gate. Her mum sagged from two oversized pins, loaded with a panda bear, globular heart, cut-out of the state of Texas, even a car, since “I’m going to be driving this year.”
Kira Miles, senior,
with black and white mum
Permian High School homecoming
Odessa, Texas, 2003
Photo: Julie Ardery
Up in the stands, blonde and bronzed April Fields, also a sophomore, sported two gigantic mums, one a gift from her date, Brett Jennings, the other from friend Clayton Amacker, in the running that night for Homecoming King. Both her silk flowers bore Batman insignia because, she explained, “The theme is superheroes for homecoming.” April said “creativity” keeps driving the mum tradition to new extremes; to prove it, her two mums were studded with more symbols and cryptic allusions than a Renaissance altarpiece: “O” and “Pushpop” in silver lettering, a Batman yoyo and a soccer ball charm.
On Wednesday before the Lake Travis homecoming game, Glenda Morris, floral designer of the H.E. B. at Bee Caves Rd. and Hwy. 71, sounded edgy. “We’re booked solid. We can’t take any more orders.” Christy Cedeno, a clerk at the nearby Randall’s, said her floral department began preparing for mum season back in July. “We make them all summer long,” customizing each flower as orders flow in. Cedeno said her store had made over 150 silk mums for Lake Travis homecoming alone. Donna Parker, owner of Flowers by Nancy, Too in Lakeway, estimated she would fill 100 mum orders by game day, and “this year, we’ve added lights.”
Those raised in milquetoast states like Ohio or New York may think a homecoming mum is one white flower with a bow of your school colors and—oh, wow—a pipecleaner initial. Native Kansan Becky Swem, *with* flower wholesale house Pike’s Peak of Austin, remembers waiting on her first Texas high school cheerleader years ago, “I kept trying to convince her to get something else. She’s standing there in her little uniform and looking at me like I’m crazy. And I’m thinking, ‘Why does she want this huge mum and all this crap hanging off of it?’ ”
Why, indeed? Even old hands at mum-making, like designer Tom Blomquist of Bill Doran wholesale, aren’t sure, but he declares, “This is a Texas phenomenon. Nowhere else in the country is the football mum business like it is here in Texas.” As with most Lone Star excesses, the trail seems to lead toward College Station. Members of the Aggie corps used to buy their dates white chrysanthemums for every home game. Not to be outdone, the UT fans started wearing flowers, too, for the big Thanksgiving Day contest against arch rival A&M.
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
When You’re Not, You’re Not
Can red clover help middle-aged women chill out?
A Hot Flash in the Pan
Charlie van Pelt
If you’re a woman considering a sex change, may we recommend getting on with it before the other “change”? You may spare yourself many sleepless nights and save enough on the a/c bill to cover the cost of surgery. We refer, of course, to hot flashes, the infernal side effect of menopause.
Those who decide to stick it out (womanhood, that is) may have considered or even tried various remedies to squelch these harrowing episodes. One controversial formula is red clover. Like soy, it contains isoflavones: “plant-based substances that are structurally similar to the hormone estrogen.” (Hot flashes occur when the body’s estrogen levels become erratic, and when you’re on deadline or about to serve dinner.)
We don’t practice medicine here, but we do sympathize with any woman who’d like to keep her composure intermittently for the next five or so years. In the spirit of free inquiry—and since you’re not sleeping anyway—here are a variety of takes on red clover. This one from the Mayo Clinic says, “clinical trials have yielded unimpressive results.” This report, based on two small studies, claims the plant extract “may give some relief.” A study published in the July 9, 2003 JAMA concludes, “Although the study provides some evidence for a biological effect of (supplements containing isoflavones), neither supplement had a clinically important effect on hot flashes or other symptoms of menopause.” Not surprisingly, the most encouraging piece was based on studies funded by a company selling red-clover-based products.
Aiyee! you’re saying.
Field of red clover
Photo: Ohio Valley Herbal Products
There’s lots more consensus about the benefits of red clover in your garden. Mark Keaton, an extension agent in Baxter County, Arkansas, writes that cover crops add organic goodies to the earth while improving “soil structure and drainage.” He especially recommends red clover, “a legume that returns nitrogen to the soil.” He claims it’s easy to grow and “provides a beautiful carpet of red flowers” if left alone in the spring.
Richard Nunnelly agrees. “I think a cover crop is a great idea. I’ve always liked red clover planted around the first of October. It will give you terrific growth this winter and make your garden look good, too. Cut it in mid-February and allow it to dry for a week or so before you turn it in and prepare your soil for your spring planting.” (Turning it under “green” can rob your soil of nitrogen.)
Having read all this, we hope you’re feeling cooler. If not, then just look at this fine red clover photo James Saunders took in Oregon and repeat after us: “This too shall pass.”
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Dole Dents South American Flower Industry
With U.S. cut flower sales declining, South American firms plead and fold.
A pair of recent stories both point to the fickle fortunes of those in the cut flower business, especially in South America. First, Dole Foods announced its subsidiary Dole Fresh Flowers would close all its flower farms in Ecuador and two in Colombia. In what sounds like a euphemism, one report described the decision as “impacting 2188 employees” in those two countries. Dole is—or was—the biggest fresh flower producer in Latin America.
John Amaya, DFF president, announced, “The fresh flower business is highly fragmented and competitive. Industry oversupply has driven prices down, creating significant pressure on growers to improve performance. Latin American growers are also facing new competition from emerging markets in Africa and Asia,” It appears that Dole will concentrate on a narrow range of flower types, varieties which, for one reason or another, Kenyan and Chinese growers don’t have the hang of—yet. Meanwhile the DFF sales force will be cut by 35%, management by 29%.
This is more than hard pruning.
Nancy Acosta sorting flowers at Dole’s Miami facility, 2002
Photo: Nuri Vallabona,
for Miami Herald
In Miami, with word of the layoffs at Dole Fresh Flowers, labor activists called for an immediate protest in front of the company’s headquarters, “saying Amaya and Dole failed to meet farmworker demands for collective bargaining agreements. In Colombia, one union activist questioned why Dole selected (to close down) Splendor farm, which has been the center of a bitter unionizing campaign.
“‘It’s way too early for me to give a full reaction,’ said Rhett Doumitt, the Solidarity Center representative for the Andean region, who is based in Bogota. ‘We need to see why they chose the one farm that has really unionized.’”
Oversupplies, unfortunately, have coincided with decreased U.S. demand, according to Ernest Velez, chairman of Asocolflores, the Colombian Flower Exporters Association. “We need to increase the per capita consumption and grow the pie, rather than fight over smaller slices,” said Velez, speaking last week at Texas A&M University. “We need Americans to buy more flowers more often.” While Colombia, Ecuador, Kenya, and Holland grow 83% of the world’s cut flowers, said Velez, Germany, the United Kingdom, the U.S., Holland and France buy 75% of imported all cut flowers.
As part of his pitch for boosting U.S. sales, Velez stressed the measures some South American firms are taking toward safer working conditions, higher wages and more environmentally sound growing practices.
But are U.S. consumers really buying fewer flowers because they’re concerned about workers in Ecuador? Or let’s put it another way, would they buy more flowers knowing that those flower workers were well paid and foreign firms were taking good care of the environment? Talk to rug buyer and a coal miner before answering.
Sunday, October 15, 2006
Welcome to our newest visitors, from the Caribbean coast of South America.
Coat-of-arms of Guyana, with Victoria lily
A feathered headdress, diamonds, a jaguar with a pick-axe and waves of blue: the seal of Guyana has them all. Also, this nation’s coat of arms is one of the few with floral insignia. And well it should. Guyana is home to one of the most magnificent flowers on earth: the Victoria regia lily. With a generous lipped pad, it appears on the national crest.
The first Old World botanist to document Victoria amazonica was Robert Schaumburg, who in 1837 saw it growing in Guyana’s Berbice River and named it for the English Queen. “Stretching about six feet across, the lily pad looks like an enormous pie plate and can easily support a coiled boa napping in the shade of its tremendous blossom.”
We learned that the old drainage canal that once ran through Georgetown, the nation’s capitol, used to be clogged with the huge lily plants. It was replaced with a pipeline system in 1925. Today, visitors can see the mega-flowers in the city’s Botanic Gardens. We’re not sure where you can find a jaguar with a pick-axe, though.