Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

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Princeton, MAINE USA

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Climate Change Gets Mai Attention

Bad news for Year of the Pig: The beloved flower of southern Vietnam is blooming three months ahead of schedule.

imageBlooming Hoa Mai

in Saigon, Tet 2005

Photo: Tom Legg, The Daai Tou Laam Diary

Tet is still months away; lunar new year, the biggest holiday in Vietnam and much of the rest of Asia, won’t arrive till February 18, 2007.

But Vietnam Net reports that the traditional good luck flower of the south—bong mai—a shrub carefully pruned and coddled to bloom for the occasion, has already flowered. This is bad news all around for Year of the Pig.

“It is estimated that a half of the apricot flowers will not be marketable as they have blossomed sooner than expected. Households that grow apricots for sale are unhappy as they will not be able to sell apricots to earn money for Tet. Moreover, they fear that the early blossoming will bring bad luck in the next year.”

Called “apricot,” the traditional mai flower is actually fruitless. It refers to several varieties of ochna, most of them with radiant yellow flowers. The oldest species has five petals, but breeders have developed fluffier varieties: Sa Dec has nine petals, My Tho 24 petals, Go Den 48 petals, and Ben Tre 120. Tricking a mai plant to bloom precisely at the new year requires experience, persistent attention, and skill. Even so, the weather must cooperate.

“Hoang Trong, who plans to sell 5,000 apricot ornamental trees on the market, said that he tried to apply many measures to hold back the blossoming,” but failed.  Temperatures were too high for too long a stretch.

In Ben Tre province, where most of the mai nurseries are concentrated, a district business official predicts losses of several billion VND.  The effects may ripple throughout Vietnam, though, since bare mai plants signal a poor year.

The early mai flowers provide yet more anecdotal evidence of climate change. In the UK, there are several ongoing efforts to pull together the findings from botanists and gardeners about changing behaviors of plants and animals. In our own locale,  M. Sinclair Stevens has been faithfully carrying on a one-person study. Zanthan Gardens, as far as we know, is the primordial garden blog and celebrates its fifth anniversary today. We need more “anecdotal evidence.”

Thanks to neighbor Katie for lending us An Inconvenient Truth, with two hours of scientific evidence!

In a case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court, several states are asking the federal Environmental Protection Agency to restrict carbon dioxide emissions, a primary cause of global warming. Deputy U.S. Solicitor General Gregory Garre (speaking for federal leaders and their friends in the auto industry)  told the court yesterday, “Now is not the time to exercise such authority, in light of the substantial scientific uncertainty surrounding global climate change.”

But Mr. Solicitor there IS no such uncertainty, scientific or anecdotal. Get off the phone with the auto manufacturers and talk to a scientist. Or spend a day with the mai growers of southern Vietnam.

“Year of the Pig” is about right.

Posted by Julie on 11/30 at 04:25 PM
Cut-Flower TradeEcologyPoliticsSecular CustomsPermalink

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Jacaranda: The Lilac Emigre’

The streets of Buenos Aires succumb to purple haze.


Jacarandas and spring sky, November in Buenos Aires

Photo: Mary Ann Roser and Ted Thomas

Travel to the capital of Argentina is advised March to May, September to November, especially the latter, since that’s when the city’s jacaranda trees are in full flower.

There are 39 species, but the queen of Buenos Aires appears to be Jacaranda mimosifolia, frothing above the Recoleta like the bubbles of grape soda. Aloft, the blossoms make a regal canopy for strollers and picnickers. By December, the blooms turn to a surf of amethyst.

This beauty, native to Argentina and Brazil, loves riversides. It’s been spread now over much of the subtropical world. Botanist Kate Sessions introduced to tree to hospitable San Diego. Pretoria, South Africa, calls itself “Jacaranda City,” and Grafton, Australia, hosts a two week jacaranda festival in late October-early November. In Queensland, according to the UBC Botanical experts, the trees have done well enough to become a nuisance, though Geoff Clark’s tale of his mom’s 30 year struggle to grow one of these purple glories suggests conditions might be a bit tougher in New South Wales.

imageUnder the Jacaranda by R. Godfrey Rivers (1903)

Queensland Heritage

If you’d like to try growing a jacaranda, this good site describes a number of tree varieties, the conditions they tend to like, and other particularities, which include “interesting leathery seedpods.”

Ross McKinnon of Brisbane Botanic Gardens writes that Walter Hill collected the first jacaranda to be planted in Australia, 1864. Artist R. Godfrey Rivers painted this very tree in full bloom in 1903, a work that’s still one of the most popular pieces in the Queensland Art Gallery collection. The tree flourished here until 1979 “when it was blown over during a cyclone ― part of the trunk is now located at the offices of the Mt Coot-tha Botanic Gardens.”

Mil gracias to Mary Ann Roser and Ted Thomas, recently back from a jacaranda-strewn visit to Buenos Aires, llenos de inspiracion.


Posted by Julie on 11/29 at 05:55 PM
Art & MediaGardening & LandscapeTravelPermalink

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


As flowers pipe up, tranquility recedes.


Communication Flower (earplugs not included)

Photo: via engadget

The fan’s whirring, a neighbor’s dog barks, a plane grumbles overhead, and up the street, a dozer intermittently is beeping its back-up warning to traffic. This is at home, on a quiet-ish corner.

Now the world has gotten louder. An ancient bearer of tranquility has been wired for sound. Just in time for holiday shopping orgiastics, we have Communication Flower, a gizmo that “will randomly belt out ‘200 words and phrases’ whenever you speak to or touch the connected bouquet.’” Looks like it sells for about $35—the gift for the person who has everything, except peace of mind.


Photo: Chrysanthemums of Japan

We’re thinking this item was made in Japan. What a long way from the silence of Haiku. One early enthusiast noted “a good dog or boyfriend (or girlfriend) can do pretty much the same, but the advantage here is that you can turn the Communication Flower off when it bores you..!”

We’re dumbfounded. First fragrance was bred out of flowers. Must we lose their silence, too?

For those enchanted by the thought of yakking or yodeling blossoms, we offer this ditty, kindly forwarded by our friend Renessa in Canada.

To the rest of you, we send Oshima Ryota (1718-1787):

mono iwazu

kyaku to teishu to

shiragiku to

No one spoke,

The host, the guest,

The white chrysanthemums.









Posted by Julie on 11/28 at 03:57 PM
Art & MediaSecular CustomsPermalink

Monday, November 27, 2006

Perishable and Exact: Rebecka Sexton

With paint, pencil and 85,000 daisy petals, a Chicago artist maps a new world.


Red Camouflage: Long Time Back, by Rebecka Sexton

at the Creative Research Laboratory, Austin, TX

Photo: Julie Ardery

Rounding our way through the Flatbed Press building in East Austin, we stumbled into an odd laboratory. Here were singing silhouettes, oil drums, plants under grow-lights, and along one wall a immense map (or was it a musical score?) radiating away from a huge yellow disc.

We’d just crossed over into The Creative Research Laboratory, an outpost of the University of Texas Fine Art Department. The current show reunites students and former students, instructors and former faculty, pointing up some of their shared themes, media and techniques. But it was the red “lettering” along the wall that drew us close; on inspection we saw this wasn’t script but petals, thousands of them assiduously pinned into the wall and each crowned with a tiny tufted seed.

imageRed Camouflage by Rebecka Sexton (detail)

Photo: Julie Ardery

This marvelous combination of the natural and the schematic is the work of artist Rebecka Sexton. She earned an MFA at University of Texas in 1995 and was an instructor here in Austin before moving north to Chicago, her home now.

We first saw her artwork, a show called “Pink,” in 1997 at the Carnegie Center in Lexington, Kentucky. It included a variety of flowers impaled like wilting butterflies to a white wall. In the years since, she’s created many installations with flowers, harnessing the fragility of blooms to steely artistic intention. We found the new work, titled “Red Camouflage: Long Time Back,” especially strong.

imageGerberas awaiting installation

Creative Research Laboratory, Austin, TX

Photo: Rebecka Sexton

Sexton writes that for this piece she had a nurseryman “patron.” She contacted Doug Dobecki of B & H Flowers, gerbera specialty growers in Carpinteria, California.  “I described the nature of the art exhibit and the emphasis on mentoring,” Sexton says, “and Doug offered to donate the flowers,” all 2500 of them.

From a distance, the piece looks like a red planet flayed into two dimensions and orbiting the sun. “The yellow circle,” Sexton writes, “is the size and height of a body. It is supposed to engulf the viewer, to act as a visual tool to bring them to that part of the wall and reflect onto them.”  Up close, each petal hangs like a tiny tongue, desirous and tender.

For lots more on Red Camouflage and the process of its creation, here’s an interview with the artist.

In the past several years, Sexton has been using gerberas because of the petals’ shape, their profusion on each bloom, and their durability: “They don’t disintegrate for a long period of time - years actually.” 

But the current show won’t last that long. If you’re anywhere near Austin, catch it before December 2. The Creative Research Laboratory, at 2832 East Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., is open noon-5 pm, Tuesday - Saturday.  (512) 322.2099





Posted by Julie on 11/27 at 04:53 PM
Art & MediaCut-Flower TradePermalink
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