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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Girl Trees of Beijing

With spring “snows” of tree catkins, is China once more biased against females?


A police officer stands in a shower of tree catkins

outside a foreign embassy in Beijing, April 18, 2007

Photo: Greg Baker, for AP

Greg Baker of the Associated Press snapped some fine pictures of April snow flurries in Beijing – not precipitation, actually, but pollen from the city’s tens of thousands of willow and poplar trees.

Uniformed guards look stoical as flecks of white fall outside an embassy. A man on the sidewalk winces, and our sinuses ache in sympathy. AP’s cutline says: “Blossoms of female poplar and willow trees invade the city each spring, causing discomfort to people with allergies and even disrupting traffic due to reduced visibility. After issuing regulations in 2001 allowing only male poplars and willows to be planted, city authorities now plan to inject many of the remaining female trees with growth inhibitors to stop them reproducing and producing the blossoms.”

Writer Ron Fox also makes reference to the anti-female tree program. “I believe the culprit is a variety of cottonwood poplar…. Catkins are everywhere. They rain on you if there is a breeze. The female tree is responsible, and there is a program to replace 200,000 female trees with males over the next few years.”

Wait-a-hold-it! From what we’ve read it’s the male not the female trees that cause pollen problems. This very interesting article by Wendy Priesnitz, reporting on Thomas Ogren’s work, proposes that allergies have become worse for people in many parts of the world because of landscaping trends. “A half century ago, an estimated 50 percent of the trees in our cities and towns were female. Since that time there has been a shift to mostly male, pollen producing trees.” Male trees have been preferred, she writes, because people considered them “litter free,” no seedpods or squishy fruits to rake away.

She quotes Ogren, a nurseryman and ag scientist: “Because no one bothered to consider the effect of the pollen from these male trees, we now have many elementary schools, ringed with male shade trees, and full of asthmatic children.”

So why would Beijing authorities be targeting female poplars and willows to reduce the “snows” of spring? Weirdly, the effort echoes China’s larger anti-female bias which, since the nation’s “one child per family” policy was instated in 1978, has led to a dramatic gender imbalance. At the 2000 census, there were 117 boys for every 100 girls in China (104 boys to 100 girls is closer to the world average). Some demographers are forecasting that in China a “bachelor nation” is around the corner.

We hope all you tree scholars will disabuse us of this suspicion. And please explain. We’re pretty much at square one about catkins (with tools like this guide to sexing aspen poplars).

There clearly has been a concerted tree planting program in Beijing established about the same time as the one-child policy. Peking willow (Salix matsudana) is plentiful in the city, and many thousands of weeping willows (Salix babylonica) have been planted, too, since the early 1980s.

imageImari ginger jar, 18th C.

with willow tree and flowering prunus

Photo: antikwest

Classical Chinese poetry confirms, though, that the sneezy snows of spring are nothing new. They date back at least 1000 years. Su Tung P’o looked and wondered:

The pear blossoms are pure

White against the blue green willows.

Willow cotton blows in the wind.

The city is full of flying pear flowers.

Petals fallen on the balcony look like snow.

How many spring festivals are we born to see?

In poetry, tree pollen dusts mirrors and coats wine in the cup. The world is awakening. Get with it or get out of the way!

This from an anonymous 4th Century writer, translated by Kenneth Rexroth:

We break off a branch of poplar catkins.

A hundred birds sing in the tree.

Lying beneath it in the garden,

We talk to each other,

tongues in each other’s mouths.




Posted by Julie on 04/19 at 10:48 PM
Culture & SocietyGardening & LandscapeMedicinePermalink

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

For the Hokies

Condolences to all in Blacksburg, Virginia.


Image: Virginia Tech, Dept. of Floriculture

Ut Prosim

Posted by Julie on 04/17 at 10:14 PM
Culture & SocietyPermalink

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Las Floristas: High Profile

California philanthropists host a gaga gala with crash helmets and flowers.


Lillian Molieri wears “The Princess of Scheherazade,”

Las Floristas Headdress Ball,  May 2, 1952

Photo: Los Angeles Public Library

In Los Angeles, where the God of Visibility presides, you won’t find charities baking cookies and tearing raffle tickets. At least not Las Floristas. This volunteer group raises money for disabled children with an annual black tie dinner in Beverly Hills and a top-heavy fashion show that’s one part Busby Berkeley, one part Max Ernst, one part J. Robert Oppenheimer, two parts Minnie Pearl. 

They call it The Headdress Ball. This year’s event, the 69th, will take place Friday, April 20. Over four decades, the Las Floristas organization has supported Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center with more than $7 million, much derived from the splendid and eminently understandable desire to see beautiful women carrying thirty pounds of flower-encrusted furniture on their heads. Jeri Goldstein, president of the 2007 ball, sees the headgear as “mini-Rose Parade floats.” 

Last fall we thought we’d smashed through the looking glass, coming upon these shots of Headdress Balls past in the Los Angeles Public Library archive. Correspondent Richard Seekins of The Flower Place in Fountain Valley, CA, kindly explained a bit of the engineering involved.

image “Freeway—U.S.A.” worn by

Mrs. Theodore Bentley

Las Floristas Headdress Ball

May 5, 1962

Photo: Los Angeles Public Library

“The main headdresses are constructed on a fiber glass helmet which has a back brace molded to the gal’s back; at the end of this is a pallet which fits into a pocket in the back of the merry widow corset so all of the weight is carried on the hips.” Having not worn a merry widow in a month or two, we’re having a hard time fitting that pallet into the back pocket but will keep working at it, Rich.

We also learned from Richard, “There is a weight limit of 30 pounds. And the height cannot exceed 6 ft above the mannequin’s head” or be wider than “4 ft. across at the bottom. (This used to be 6 ft. but the hotel has remodeled and the headdresses must fit thru the railings on the ballroom.)”

And isn’t it just like remodelers not to take into account a woman wearing a highway interchange on her head?

Friday’s Las Floristas Ball is Ticket to Paradise, a theme dreamed up by florist Chris Matsumoto. We hope that some enterprising floral designer might attempt a 6 ft. raffle ticket splitting in two, with a fountain of heliconia,  pineapple, and surfboards erupting from the gash (but not exceeding 4 ft. at bottom).


Grand march of Las Floristas Headdress Ball,  May 1, 1965

“A Salute to the Seven Lively Arts,” Beverly Hilton Hotel

Photo: Los Angeles Public Library

Las Floristas Headdress Ball will take place again at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills. For reservations and information, call (310) 607-8495. We hope nobody slips a disk. Thank you, Richard. Please let us hear from you after the merry widows unhook and go home.

Posted by Julie on 04/15 at 10:39 PM
FloristsSecular CustomsPermalink

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Flowering Cross

To symbolize the Resurrection of Jesus, should living flowers cover the cross at Easter?


Centerville United Methodist Church

Centerville, Kentucky (Bourbon County)

4/11/07, three days after Easter

Photo: Human Flower Project

After the austerity of Lent, many Christian denominations go all out with Easter decorations. In the US (perhaps elsewhere, too)  Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran and Episcopalian churches take off Lent’s mournful purple, drape the altar in white and cover the cross with fresh flowers. Long ago, we remember toddling up near the baptismal font Easter Sunday with a daffodil from the yard and placing it in a cross-shaped armature covered in chickenwire. It seems to have become customary in many Southern Methodist churches to place a bare cross outside the doors of the sanctuary, and as members of the congregation gather Easter morning, each leaves a bloom on the cross.

Floral demonstrations like this don’t resolve into a single meaning, of course, but the flowered cross on Easter clearly does suggest the Resurrection. Some churches, as they announce Easter services, even make this meaning explicit. We’ve found Lutherans in Indiana and Presbyterians in Texas, and the Reformed Church of St. Croix, in the Virgin Islands, all celebrated Easter with flowered crosses this year, three among many thousands to do so.

Catholics and Baptists seem less inclined to ornament the cross (we hope that readers can tell us why).

After a wet and chilly few days, the blooms had drooped on the cross at Centerville United Methodist Church but still shone three days after Easter against the white front door. The town earned its name for being at the crossroads of four larger Central Kentucky towns: Lexington, Paris, Georgetown, and Cynthiana. Of all places, at all times, Centerville surely warrants an outdoor flowered cross for Easter.

Posted by Julie on 04/12 at 11:38 PM
Religious RitualsPermalink
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