Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

flag flower bed

parker basket thumb
Princeton, MAINE USA

Friday, June 29, 2007

T/F?: U.S Men Don’t Like Flowers

EarthScholars James Wandersee and Renee Clary are also mythbusters. They look at the social history that “feminized” flowers and then report some surprising facts, about soldiers, botanical gardens, and the plant-loving guys of Gen Y. Congratulations and many thanks,  Jim and Renee!

By James H. Wandersee

and Renee M. Clary

EarthScholars™ Research Group recently posted City Guides: Life on the Road, a feature suggesting things to do at the top ten US business trip destinations. A single “Great Escape” experience in each of the ten cities was recommended specifically for men, another ten escapes for women travelers. The guides directed women to visit a botanic garden in 20% of the cities but never mentioned gardens for men, anywhere. Here’s evidence again of a prevalent myth: that most US males do not like flowers.

Surprisingly, even women help to sustain this myth.

imageFor me??!!

Defying convention with

a floral bouquet for a man

Photo: Kwiaty Dla Ciebe

Blogger Darren James wrote: “‘My [female] friend has a real problem with men liking flowers. It’s just wrong for men to like flowers. It’s not masculine enough, it’s ok for men to like plants (and only just), but not flowers [emphasis added].”  The problem with his female friend’s qualification about what is acceptable for men is that the majority of plant species are flowering plants!

Florist industry surveys indicate that about a third of US women who regularly send flowers have sent flowers to men. However, many florist and gift-giving websites caution readers that men may only respond positively IF they receive particular kinds of flowers, for example (a) a blooming cactus; (b) dark-colored flowers; (c) tall and sturdy flowers; or (d) flowers surrounded by strong, stiff, or spiky foliage—such as palm fronds, leatherleaf, cat-tails, or magnolia leaves on branches.

imageManly presentation of mums, or simply beautiful?

Photo: Mary Hill Clayworks

Floral arrangements with a monochrome color palette are suggested for men, displayed in decidedly virile containers such as beer steins, fishing creels, wine carafes, and hollow ceramic NASCAR race cars or footballs.

We are warned never to give a man flowers that bespeak femininity. Nothing pink or pastel or delicate or lacy. Some information sources advise that sending the wrong kind of flowers to a man may threaten his masculinity or alienate him; and, if that man is your boss, these sources warn, you might actually damage your career! If uncertain about the recipients’ disposition, we are told that blooming pot plants are safe for all men, because they are “gender-neutral.”

Where did all these archaic rules originate? The answer is surely complex, and this brief article cannot possibly address the subject thoroughly. However, one factor must be the antecedents in history.

For example, the US may well have been influenced by early 18th-century English society, where, according to Ann B. Shteir,  botany was the most socially sanctioned science that women could study and practice—it was seen as a valuable pursuit for both their amusement and improvement. “Botany came to be widely associated with women and was widely gender coded as feminine.” The Linnaean sexual system for naming and classifying plants by the reproductive parts of their flowers was simple, and was thus deemed compatible with women’s greater inherent knowledge of and interest in human reproduction.

In 1827, a biography about Linnaeus’s botanizing adventures in Lapland was published— written in the style of letters from a father to a son—in an attempt to make botany more attractive to boys. Between 1830 and 1860, as botany was being transformed into a modern and rigorous science, strong efforts were made to “defeminize” the subject, but the subject remained “gender-tagged” as feminine well into the 19th century.

Emanuel D. Rudolph wrote that a “surprising large number” of 19th-century American women identified themselves as being seriously interested in botany and these women “constituted an important overlooked constituency for the developing profession of botany.”

Patsy Ann Giese observes that when higher education was opened to American women in 1836 at Georgia Female College, and subsequently in other states, women such as botanist Almira Phelps greatly influenced future botanists. She had a notable teaching and publishing career across seven states and was only the second woman elected to membership in the prestigious American Association for the Advancement of Science. Giese writes, “By the end of the century, nearly 400,000 copies of her Familiar Lectures on Botany had been sold.” These and many other preceding events, phobias, and stereotypes are likely to have contributed to the current residual anti-male, floral mythology.

imageAlmira Phelps

Image: Library Company

Is anyone doing unbiased, non-conflict-of-interest research that helps debunk the male myth? A 26-state US study on public understanding of plants that we conducted showed that Generation Y male teens (US babies born 1977 to 2002)  pay significantly more attention to plants than Generation Y female teens, reversing a trend we identified in an earlier generation via a previous multi-state study. In the past, US men’s interest in plants has tended to start at a low level during the teen years and increase with age. This appears to be changing—but the myth lingers on.

A Texas A&M study found that the presence of flowers in the workplace improved men’s creative problem-solving skills. The men who participated in the 8-month study in a variety of office environments generated 15% more ideas (a measure of productivity) when they worked in a “florally enhanced environment.” The females in the study showed similar but smaller gains.

What about’s stance regarding men and botanic gardens? The US has had fewer botanic gardens and arboretums and more zoos and aquariums per capita than comparable countries. Over the past decade, though, the number of US botanical gardens has quadrupled, from 100 to 430, approaching parity. Each of the ten US cities in the CNN list has a respectable botanic garden and/or arboretum. 

We uncovered no definitive evidence that men are under-represented as visitors at US botanic gardens.  In Australia, one study showed that the percentage of males over 18 who visited a botanic garden in 2002 was only 3.2% less than females—and this may be due, in part, to life expectancies. One official we consulted at a major US botanic garden admitted that its public programming rarely targeted men specifically—children, teens, women, couples, and seniors, yes; but not men. We were also told that most US botanic gardens’ visitor databases do not distinguish between male and female visitors, since admission fees are the same.

Although flowers have traditionally been associated with femininity and relegated to women in society, the rules have always been different when applied to war. For example, it was observed in military literature as early as the Napoleonic Wars that red poppies grew on the graves of dead soldiers in the battlefields of northern Europe. (Poppy seeds will lie dormant underground for years and bloom if they are plowed up.) In the spring of 1915, red poppies emerged in the fields of Belgium, covering the newly dug graves of WWI soldiers. On the battlefield, Canadian doctor and medical corpsman John McCrae wrote a little poem, “In Flanders Fields.” It became the most famous poem of WWI and is beloved by all US soldiers. It is a poem about men and flowers.

imagePoppy field in Belgium

Photo: Telenet

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

imageVeterans poppy

Michigan History

Inspired by McCrae’s poem, American Moina Michael wore poppies to honor the war dead—representing Europe’s wild red corn poppy, Papaver rhoeas. She also began to sell poppies to raise money for disabled veterans. Her idea was a great success and spread to several countries. Today it’s impossible to defend the myth that US men don’t like flowers, or to argue that the red poppies (sold by war vets to aid disabled veterans on US Veteran’s Day) are not worn and appreciated by real men!

Readers, please do whatever you can to eliminate this myth.

Posted by Julie on 06/29 at 10:02 AM
Culture & SocietyFloristsSecular CustomsPermalink

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A Toast to the Churchill Arms

Only in England would a flower show have a prize for best bar, and only this English pub could deserve to win it.


The Churchill Arms, in Kensington, London

Photo: jpenglert

We used to spend a lot of time in bars. ‘Least wise they tell us we did!

No, actually we do remember a number of these oases: in Louisville, KY—Joe’s Palm Room,  the Outlook Inn, Dedden’s Highland Fling…; in Chapel Hill, N.C.—the Scoreboard, He’s Not Here, and Cat’s Cradle…; in South Chicago—the Cove, Jimmy’s, the Cornell Lounge…. These places we can remember because, having frequented them many dozens of times, we accumulated enough early evening minutes of clear consciousness to have survived the erasure of many more extended hours.

Bobby Ledford, singer of the house band at Joe’s Palm Room, occasionally wore a Hawaiian shirt, but besides that we don’t remember ever seeing a flower in any of these establishments, or for that matter, in any other joint. Were they there, just shoved down to the end of the bar on the far side of all those metal ashtrays? Truth be known, if there had been hyacinths in bloom—even “the wealth of glob’ed peonies”—the places we liked were too dark and smoky for anyone – anyone like us—to have noticed.

Which is why we were quite startled to learn of The Churchill Arms, recently awarded the Boozers in Bloom prize at the 2007 Chelsea Flower Show.

In the Kensington district of West London, The Churchill Arms “is decorated with 85 window boxes, 42 hanging baskets and ten tubs on the ground.” Oh dear. Those “tubs on the ground” can pose quite an unsavory convenience in a bar, especially as the evening wears on. We remember one night in San Antonio…let’s move on.

Only in England, of course, would a Boozers in Bloom award be offered or, we think, earned. Churchill Arms proprietor Gerry O’Brien told the Publican: ““It’s only about three years ago since we put the plants up and up the windows because we’ve got no back garden!” And his Chelsea recognition? “ I could not believe it,” O’Brien said.  “When I heard I could hardly sleep that night.”

The Churchill Arms is named for Sir Winston, soldier and prime minister. Also heavy drinker and,  late in life, flower painter.

We know of a narcissus and a fuchsia named for him, also a sweet pea—only right, since he was a descendant of the Spencers. In the gardens of his estate at Chartwell, which sound lovely, a number of poignant inscriptions speak:

It does not do to wander Too far from sober men,

But there’s an island yonder, I think of it again.

from a poem by W.P. Ker


Inside the Churchill Arms, flowers and Churchill memorabilia

Photo: George deBaly

Among drinkers and their enablers, Churchill’s brilliant leadership during the Second World War is often marched out as evidence that alcohol, far from being deleterious, is actually a great blessing, not only to the drinker and his immediate circle, but to the nation, the world!

Churchill supposedly said, “I have taken more good from alcohol than alcohol has taken from me.” And many others, incapable of driving home much less leading a nation at war, have said so, too.

Congratulations to Gerry and the Churchill Arms on the award. If we’re ever in London, we hope to stop by if not drop in.

Oh, the Do Drop Inn in Louisville is another good tavern, highly recommended for dancers, as is The Concertina Bar in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, (its juke box features a version of “Strangers in the Night” played on a saw). Neither one has flowers.

Posted by Julie on 06/26 at 01:23 PM
Culture & SocietyGardening & LandscapePermalink

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Woodrose—A Lust for Dryness

Where the land and sky are lush, people hanker for the brown beauty of merremia pods.


Woodrose pods, eucalyptus, shells, and dried palm—

wall decoration for a soggy climate

Photo: Maui Dried Flowers

The restless human heart weighs down one end of a seesaw: angry, lusty, afraid or just lonely. On the other side, if we’re wise, we put flowers, choosing them carefully to balance each emotional circumstance.

For the wedding, white roses and stephanotis soothe the blushing, feverish bride. In times of bereavement, great flowering cascades on easels and lily fragrance fill the void.

imageWoodrose (Merrimia tuberosa)

at an Assam tea house, India

Photo: Sandy Ao

Thanks to Sandy Ao, our friend in Calcutta, we have learned of another compensatory bloom—the woodrose—beloved as a dried flower in some of the wettest corners of the world. Like Northeast India.  Sandy recently visited Assam. At a tea house there, she came upon woodrose pods. “People from the North Eastern part of India love these dried pods… like Pine, Lotus, woodrose and what ever. We have a lot of dried seed pods being used for decorations.”

The botanical name for woodrose is Merremia tuberosa. “It’s a creeper that grows in the climate of Assam,” Sandy writes, “a wild plant. I think it’s morning glory family.” And you think right, dear friend.  “No one cares for the flower, but the merchants collect the pods and sell them in the market for money,” 2 rupees apiece. Sandy adds, “the most horrible thing they usually do is painting these pods with silver paint or golden paint to suit the customers of Calcutta!!”

Adorned or unadorned, these rather stubby phallic shapes, mahogany brown, are not so attractive to a Central Texan. By the law of floral compensation, we who are nearly always fighting drought hanker for lilacs and peonies. But we can understand that in Assam, with its ‘Tropical Monsoon Rainforest Climate,’ odorlessness and the clacking of dried flower pods in a vase might be exotic—and a small source of relief. June is the peak of monsoon season in Assam. “Thunderstorms known as Bordoicila are frequent during the afternoons.” We imagine that dried woodroses are in great demand now!

Wayne Armstrong supplies more information about Merrimia tuberosa. The plant grows in hot, wet regions of the U.S. also—in Florida and parts of South Texas, California and Georgia. Though not botanically related, woodrose appears to be a sorority sister of kudzu, the sort of plant that can swallow small children and garages.

imageMerrimia tuberosa

engulfs a fenceline

Pukalani, Maui, Hawaii

Photo: Forest and Kim Starr

The yellow flowering morning glory also grows wild, some would say rampantly, in Hawaii—visible here. As in Assam, Hawaiian flower arrangers seem especially fond of woodrose pods, combing them with dried heliconia and lotus, brown palm fronds and even shells for decorative table arrangements and wall swags.

After a day of perspiring in the tropics, maybe you’ve had it up to here with pink plumeria and greenery. Time to put a dozen woodroses in a vase, think arid thoughts.

Posted by Julie on 06/24 at 12:08 PM
Culture & SocietyFloristsGardening & LandscapePermalink

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Hemerocallis Fulva: Let Jimi Take Over

Summer’s tiger lily opens visions of Hendrix, the “Wild Thing” at Monterey.


Tiger lilies (Hemerocallis Fulva) at the Summer Solstice

June 21, 2007, Austin, TX

Photo: Human Flower Project

Our friend Zelma Mason disparaged them as “railroad lilies.” We’ve since heard a bigger put down: “ditch lily”—which is only slightly kinder than George Bush’s moniker for Karl Rove.

We grew up with Hemerocallis Fulva but never would have called them that. They were “tiger lilies,” and in June would begin reaching along the roadsides all over Kentucky. Moving to Texas, we figured they’d be a cinch to grow, since back east they seemed to carry on fine without anybody’s help,  even with Zelma’s disdain.

imageLilies for Jimi, Renton, WA

March 1989

Photo: David Meyer

But that hasn’t been true. We and the Austin chalk and weather ganged up and killed several plants over the years. So when this month—undoubtedly thanks to our wet spring—three tiger lilies bloomed, we were fired up! The photo above was taken just at 1:06 pm, the Summer Solstice, Central Daylight Time.

Tiger lilies also call to mind a marvelous trip we took in 1989, our one and only visit to the Great Northwest. In Seattle, we spent a splendid overcast day with David Meyer, a friend we hadn’t seen in over a decade. Being mutually reinforcing fans of wah-wah blues music, the two of us made a pilgrimage to Renton, a Seattle suburb, to pay our respects to James Marshall “Jimi” Hendrix. On the way we stopped at a flower shop, and chose these orange lilies: “Let me Stand Next to Your Fire!”

imageJimi Hendrix at Monterey Pop Festival June 18, 1967

Photo: via Jimi Hendrix Biography

Looking at these old photos again, we see that the blooms aren’t Hemerocallis Fulva exactly. They may even be true lilies, not daylilies, but the shape and color are reminiscent of the familiar ditch dwellers. They reminded us of the flames licking up from Jimi’s guitar in the climax of his performance at Monterey. It, too, blossomed nearly at the summer solstice: June 18, 1967. In Renton, we were gratified to discover that his gravestone, quite small for such a musical giant, is carved with a Stratocaster; laid there, our flowers looked fittingly incendiary.

David has gone on to do many things; most recently he’s written a book about another figure in our pop pantheon, Gram Parsons.

And Jimi, though he died September 18, 1970, has gone on too. Like the Hemerocallis Fulva some call invasive, his fire still crackles on a zillion fretboards across the world.


Posted by Julie on 06/21 at 10:30 PM
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