Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

flag flower bed

parker basket thumb
Princeton, MAINE USA

Monday, January 22, 2007

A Smoker’s Garden of Delights

A set of beauties protruding from flower heads helped hawk packs of cigarettes.

imagefrom “Beauties,”

a cigarette card from

American Tobacco Co.

All images: George Arents Collection

New York Public Library

Dimly we remember little coupons inside packets of Raleigh and Old Gold cigarettes, but by the time we took up this fiendish habit in the late 1960s, nobody much smoked Old Golds. (What did those coupons get you, anyway?) “Premiums” were for kids, inside boxes of Cracker Jacks. And we were big grown ups, inhaling images of the Marlboro Man.

It wouldn’t be too long before we didn’t need cowboys at sundown either. We were hooked, no sales pitches, Green Stamps, or lassos required.

imageSo how surprising (and creepy) to have come upon a whole collection of delicate floral “cigarette cards” and reference to the collecting-bug for them: cartophily. “The cigarette card sprang into existence in the mid to late nineteenth century, and was originally nothing more than a blank card inserted as a stiffener for a paper pack of cigarettes. By the 1880s, American and British companies started putting pictures of products on one side of a card,” not just products but birds, movie stars, and flowers. The tobacco companies printed cards in series of 25-50, to entice smokers (as if they needed to) to keep on buying and “complete the set.”

imageWe came upon this flower series, issued by the American Tobacco Company of Durham, NC, in the collection of the New York Public Library. NYPL holds “more than 125,000 individual items, including more than 3000 complete sets” of cigarette cards. Quite a puffin’ archive! We find especially incongruous the pairing of female “beauties” and flower blossoms with cigarette-smoking, though watercolors of cancerous lips and black lungs might not have gone over quite as well.

Regrettably we don’t know the names of the artist(s) who made these works of commercial art-ephemera. Nor do we have dates. One source notes that cigarette cards “lasted until about 1965,” about the time we started collecting these, packaged not with cigs but bubble gum.

Posted by Julie on 01/22 at 09:40 PM
Art & MediaSecular CustomsPermalink

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Snowflake on a Stem

Breathe easy. Gypsophila blooms,  botany’s snowflakes, last a whole lot longer.

imageCelestial Baby’s Breath

Snowflake photo:

via Dan and Lynn Wolaver

We’d thought of it as filler, the floral equivalent of face powder,  until about ten years ago when we added baby’s breath (gypsophila) to the garden.  It thrived in the limey soil of Central Kentucky, growing nearly three feet high into an airy mound. From a distance it adds a smoky halo. Up close, its own flowers are crisp and strong as snowflakes.

The soil is limey here in Austin, too, so we may give it try, though we’re not sure how gypsophila will handle Texas heat. This how-to site warns of its “petering out when temperatures regularly hit 80 degrees.” That happens pretty regularly, and pretty early in the year. Is there time for babies to breathe here before Old Man Summer asphyxiates us all?

imageTerrestrial snowflakes: Gypsophila

Photo: Univ. of New Hampshire,

Cooperative Extension

Baby’s breath doesn’t first come to mind as a garden plant, but as a florist’s accessory. From browsing through a couple of discussion groups, we gather that many florists despise gypsophila (something about its smell in large quantities and, perhaps, association with over-stuffed, dowdy arrangements of yore), but they’re quick to add, “My customers always ask for it” so baby’s breath it will be.

Note: Those who like the lace-doily effect that it brings to red roses for Valentine’s Day should expect to pay extra. What you and I consider “filler flower” costs florists money (one source says a bucket of gypsophila retails for $30; that’s no sack of ice!).

Also like face powder, baby’s breath is adept at drying. Paniculata is the favorite single blossom cultivar for dried bunches; Perfecta and Bristol Fairy are popular double varieties.


Gypsophila harvest in Badsey, England

Photo: Courtesy of Chris Smith, via

For our readers in icy climes, warm up with this photograph of summer “snowflakes,” a harvest of gypsophila near the Village of Badsey in Worcestershire, England. “The gypsophila was being picked at ‘The Sands.’ Left to right are Mr George Moisey, Mrs G Bowley, Mrs George Moisey, Mrs Keyte, Mrs Emma Smith, and (probably) Miss Moisey.”

To our readers in the steamy Southern Hemisphere, may these snowflakes bring six-sided refreshment.







Posted by Julie on 01/21 at 03:48 PM
Cut-Flower TradeFloristsGardening & LandscapePermalink

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Florathon—What’s the Rush?

Kuala Lumpur stages a 3 K “race” of two-legged flowers.


A pink lotus and other human flowers stroll the 3K

of Florathon in the Malaysian capital, Jan. 20, 2007

Photo: Agence France-Presse

This is our idea of a marathon—less than two miles to cover, everybody ambling along, and the contestants wearing (rather than headbands and clingy tank tops) pistils, leaves and petals.

Malaysia’s Ministry of Tourism dreamed up The Florathon, which takes place today. It’s the exuberant opener of Floral Fest, which runs through February 4. “The judging for prizes will be based on theme, originality and effort. The event offers a total of RM26,500 ($7500 USD) cash prizes.” Anyone over age 13 can take part, no entry fee. Florathon organizers set seven award categories, including two special awards for tourists, female and male—a smart way to welcome more travelers and pull them off the sidelines.

With 2007 less than three weeks old, already Malaysia reports 600,000 tourists have come to visit this year, most of them from Asia. High temperature in Kuala Lumpur today should be a comfy 76 degrees.

imageA “school” of floral mermaids

lines up before the Florathon

January 20, 2007

Photo: Andy Wong, for AP

According to news reports somewhere between 600 and a thousand humanflowers covered the 3K route through the capital, among them a “mermaid” with sunflower scales and several couples with long, curling antennae. What a timely, non-bioengineered hybrid of people and plants, footrace and parade. We don’t know the Florathon winners but photos like these make prizes irrelevant. Who “wins” a spectacle?

Posted by Julie on 01/20 at 12:50 PM
Secular CustomsTravelPermalink

Friday, January 19, 2007

Ashoka - Kick It into Bloom

Bright blooms, legend and now two physicians say this flowering tree is a real picker-upper.

imageRupa & Atul Shah

Photo: Aum

With flowers bright as the rind of tangerine, Ashoka tree in bloom is a knockout. A husband and wife team of doctors in India is harnessing its power, they say, to knock out sadness. “Ashoka is a Sanskrit word meaning without grief or that which gives no grief,” writes Dr. Rupa Shah. She and her physician husband Atul have been using flower essences in their medical practice for 18 years.

Ashoka (Saraca Indica) has long been used to lift spirits in Indian folk medicine and cultural practice. You’ll see the trees planted at the edge of cemeteries—as consolation. Rupa Shah writes, “In India, drinking the water in which the flowers have been washed is widely considered a protection against grief.”

imageSaraca Indica

Image: Antiquariaat Jan Meemelink

The tree, which makes appearances in both Hindu and Buddhist tradition, is also believed to hold a special fondness for the fairer sex. A decidedly non-medical source says,  “The ashoka tree behaves like a prince. It enjoys the company of beautiful women. It is believed to flower when some beautiful woman kicks it.” (We’ve tried that with Coke machines but never in gardening.)

Speaking of feet, in the past, we’ve sidestepped the subject of flower essences, first because we’ve never tried them and second because we don’t practice medicine here. But we do find of interest that flower therapies have gained a medical team’s endorsement. The Shahs will be discussing their use of flowers on a popular TV show today. Here are some of the other floral remedies they recommend, and many more legends of Ashoka.

Feeling partly cloudy? So far as we’re concerned, planting or imbibing Saraca Indica isn’t really necessary. Just looking at this print of an ashoka bloom sets us on our feet again, feeling springy and ready to kick.

Posted by Julie on 01/19 at 09:12 AM
MedicineSecular CustomsPermalink
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