Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

flag flower bed

parker basket thumb
Princeton, MAINE USA

Friday, November 30, 2007

Flower Syrup - A Lot to Lick

The East Austin arts tour suddenly took a turn for the sticky.


Bill Bishop and Michael May sample flower syrups made

by Rosie Rittenberry (right) and her mother in Austin, TX

Photo: Julie Ardery

Nudes and batiks and teapots and collages… the East Austin Studio Tour has evolved into something marvelously monstrous. The dozen artists who once worked on the poor side of the city, taking advantage of low rents for their foundries and kilns, have been joined by boatloads of other creative folks. There were over a hundred stops on this year’s open tour. The fold-up map has become a $5 booklet, and many a block north of Lady Bird Lake and East of Interstate 35 was crawling with guests the warm and sunny weekend prior to Thanksgiving.

Just as our spirits flagged, we trotted around behind an old house where a weird passionvine—or so we were told—was laden with crimson seed pods, bright as bobcat hearts. There we found a glamorous young woman ladling jellylike spoonfuls into little plastic cups—the size you gobble pills from. Purple, amber, green—these concoctions were all flower syrups. Rosie Rittenberry and her mother make and sell them, and what a refreshment they were. Our touring companions sampled several, as did we (the passionfruit was scrumptious), but what do you do with the stuff? Rosie provided us with a page of recipes, including “Citrus Flower Chutney,” a cake frosting, and a curry dish.

This one sounds especially good, though we haven’t tried it—yet:

imageRosie Rittenberry dolloped out a taste of orange flower syrup

Photo: Julie Ardery

Rose-hips Tea Sandwich

Chicken salad

with rose hips and walnuts

1 1/2 c. cooked chicken

1/2 c. celery

1/4 c. rose-hip syrup

1T. capers

1t grated ginger

1/3 c. walnuts

salt and pepper

mayonnaise if desired (we desire)

Spread on good bread with crust removed

(keeping that crust on if you use this bread).

Cut bread into quarters and then top with parsley

Suddenly, the tea party got jazzy!

From our bit of hunting, it seems that flower syrups are most often used to doll up drinks, dress fruit salads, and, of course, top pancakes. Favorite flavors, in addition to those Rosie had to sell, are elderberry syrup, dandelion, hibiscus and lavender (the latter too much like cough medicine for us).

Jennifer Wickes posted this excellent article on the subject several years back. It includes basic directions for making syrups from flowers as well as lists of common edible flowers and (heads UP!) poisonous ones, too. (Having just seen Into the Wild, we’re more than usually wary.)

Many thanks to Rosie for the samples—and the delicious respite from art.


Posted by Julie on 11/30 at 03:14 PM
Art & MediaCookingPermalink

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Harvard’s Flowers for All Seasons

There’s not much in bloom across New England now, save at Harvard’s natural history museum. James Wandersee and Renee Clary bring us in from the cold to an array of plants, shimmering since the 19th century.


Glass iris, Harvard Museum of Natural History

Photo: cf0171

By James H. Wandersee and Renee M. Clary

EarthScholars™ Research Group

First unblocked and explored in May, 1986, Lechuguilla Cave is situated in Carlsbad Caverns National Park, about 5 miles from the Carlsbad caves. Its precise location and entry point are closely guarded secrets to protect this warm, dry cave’s fragile ecosystem and its unique gypsum crystal formations, which could so easily be damaged by human contact and exposure. The majority of us will only be able to experience this natural geological wonder vicariously—through photographs taken by the select few who have been granted access to it.

A long way from New Mexico, Massachusetts has a human-made attraction, also fragile, one that became famous about a century before Lechuguilla Cave’s discovery. It mimics natural botanical wonders. Known as the Harvard Glass Flowers, it is a collection of fragile glass objects that entices plant lovers, and, in contrast with the Carlsbad crystals, public viewing is welcome. Averaging 120,000 visitors per year, The Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants resides within the Harvard Museum of Natural History, 26 Oxford Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts. The museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., 361 days of each year.


A visitor views The Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants

Photo: BikeNerd

This Boston-area attraction is little advertised, a bit hard to find, and somewhat difficult to reach without considerable walking, yet this is exactly what draws plant aficionados to the priceless collection—its nature as a “hidden treasure,” plus its distinct fragility.

Why are the “Glass Flowers” located in Cambridge, MA and not, say, at the Natural History Museum of Berlin? Answer: Because of the value that one Harvard scientist placed upon explaining science to the public.  The influential, albeit sometimes incorrect,  European glaciologist and zoologist Louis Agassiz, had been recruited by Harvard University to bolster its sciences in the mid-1800s, at a time when well-to-do Victorians on both sides of the Atlantic were enamored of the new science of natural history. Agassiz saw comprehensive and accurate teaching collections as core elements of a world-class scientific research center.  At that time, teaching and research were seen as mutually sustaining enterprises—a university could not excel at one without the other.


Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka, glass artisans of Dresden, Germany

Photo: Rakow Research Library of The Corning Museum of Glass

George Lincoln Goodale, the first director of the Botanical Museum of Harvard, commissioned two German glass model makers, Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka. From 1886 to 1936, these Dresden artisans created realistic-looking plant structures—4,400 glass models, including amazingly accurate flowers and fruits, representing 164 plant families, totaling 847 species and plant varieties. Because of their anatomical precision—which has rendered them extremely delicate—the Harvard Glass Flowers remain a unique public teaching tool, even in the 21st century. Why? There is no place on Earth where anyone can go to see all of these plants in bloom simultaneously, much less examine them in three dimensions!


Prunus armeniaca

, life-sized branch of an apricot in fruit

by Rudolf Blaschka, from colored glasses he made himself

Photo: Kris Snibbe, for Harvard University Gazette

In addition to encouraging you to see the Harvard Glass Flowers with your own eyes, we would also like to underscore the importance of service as patrons for a science museum’s programs.  Professor Goodale’s former student Mary Lee Ware and her mother, Elizabeth Ware, heir to a maritime fortune, agreed to underwrite the 1886 consignment from the Blaschkas. Such accessions and the Ware patronage continued across a time span of 50 years, including museum case upon museum case of leaf, stem, bud, blossom, and fruit—all life-sized. Accompanying them were examples of the sections and cross-sections that a botany student might make of stamen, pistil, and ovary (or fruit)—magnified as if by the laboratory’s own microscope.

Even though well-curated and recently restored, the Harvard Glass Flowers, like real flowers, will not last forever. They are relatively evanescent and ephemeral. Objects in the collection continue to break and to change color. Pennsylvania State University glass expert Carlo Pantano notes that even after it has been shaped and cooled, this glass is still subject to chemical changes through weathering and corrosion. Plus, the glass available when the flowers were created was not of the highest quality and purity. Unbalanced internal forces can cause the glass to fracture and split. Colors may shift and vanish. The beauty of the Harvard Glass Flowers lies partly in their fragility.

To paraphrase the 17th-century poet Robert Herrick,

See the Glass Flowers while ye yet may,

Old Time is still a-flying:

And the same flowers that inspire to-day

Tomorrow, in fragments will be lying.

Seeing plants in the field is best, but using replicas to prepare oneself to recognize and observe real plants is a close second. While we advocate noticing and appreciating the living plants around us all, we do think the Harvard Glass Flowers capture the visual essence of these botanical wonders and can help us all comprehend and appreciate the complex panorama that is the Plant Kingdom. 

Plus, you can view this fragile-yet-vibrant collection in the wintertime!



Posted by Julie on 11/28 at 11:48 AM
Art & MediaScienceTravelPermalink

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Pollen-feld: A Bee Movie Review

Jerry Seinfeld sprouts six legs and casts himself as an apian hero in Bee Movie. Georgia Silvera Seamans has delivered this fun (and mildly critical) synopsis. Spoiler alert! (And you saved us $7.50, Georgia. Thanks!)


Barry (Jerry Seinfeld) finds a geranium haven in the rain

Photo: Bee Movie

By Georgia Silvera Seamans

The first time Barry, the bee protagonist of Jerry Seinfeld’s new movie, leaves his Manhattan hive, he and seasoned pollen jocks mistake tennis balls for flowers (daisies to be precise).  Tennis balls – like flower stigmas—are sticky, and Barry becomes attached to one.  He is unintentionally swatted off the tennis ball, out of Central Park, and onto midtown streets.  Unable to return to the park and the hive’s pollen jocks before the rain begins to fall heavily (bees cannot fly in the rain), Barry seeks shelter among geraniums in a window box. 

The apartment window is open and Barry (Jerry) flies in out of the rain.  Having never seen a light bulb before and thinking it to be the sun, Barry flies towards it, hits it, and falls into a guacamole bowl where’s scooped onto a chip.  He is almost swallowed when Vanessa’s boyfriend yells, “It’s a bee!”  The boyfriend tries to kill Barry with his Timberland boots (product placement?) but Vanessa comes to our hero’s rescue.  She captures him in a tall glass and releases him back into the windowsill geranium.  Barry takes shelter overnight and in the morning flies back into the apartment to express his thanks.  He talks to Vanessa (thus breaking one of the bee rules).  She (the voice of Renee Zellweger) stabs herself with a fork to assure herself that she’s not dreaming.  They drink coffee and eat rum cake on the roof and become friends. We learn that Vanessa, a florist, wants to attend the Pasadena Tournament of Roses. 

Barry accompanies her to the grocery store, where he discovers that honey is being stolen by humans; even Ray Liotta is stealing honey (there is a Ray Liotta line of gourmet honey).  Determined to find out what is going on, Barry follows a Honey Farms truck across the George Washington Bridge into New Jersey.  At Honey Farms, he discovers rows of human-made hives, and people smoking bees out of them before robbing the honey.  He’s so upset that he files suit against the five biggest honey producers in the Supreme Court.  Barry wins the case when the mean-spirited attorney for “big honey” mistakenly smokes the bees in the courtroom.  The court requires all honey to be returned to bees.

Now oversupplied with honey, the bees stop making it, for the first time in 27 million years.  The remainder of the movie focuses on what their decision means for the world—the flowers begin to die.  Vanessa is forced to close her florist shop.  We see Central Park full of dead trees and flowers.  (Actually, many species of city trees are wind-pollinated and so would not suffer from a lack of bee activity.)

imageBarry and Vanessa team up to save the flowers

Photo: Bee Movie

After closing her shop, Vanessa decides to attend the Pasadena Tournament of Roses, the last inventory of flowers in the world.  What do roses have?  Pollen.  Barry accompanies Vanessa to the tournament with a plan to steal a float of flowers. They capture the Princess and the Pea float, transport the flowers to New York by plane, and with the help of the pollen jocks, re-pollinate the world. 

There is a hitch.  A traffic jam at JFK airport threatens to delay the flight, but Barry buzzes into the cockpit to tell the pilots they must deliver the cut flowers as soon as possible.  Of course, the pilots become alarmed at a bee—a talking bee—in the cockpit.  The outcome: the pilots pass out, Barry, Vanessa, and pollen jocks land the plane.  Barry is made an honorary pollen jock.  He and the others implement his pollination plan. 

The trees and flowers are revived, and the hive begins honey production once again.

If we may nit-pick (or bee-swat)—Pollination is not well illustrated in the movie.  The pollen jocks use a gun to collect pollen or nectar at the push of a button.  Of course, bees collect pollen on their rumps as they collect nectar.  Hey, Hollywood, that’s plenty good. Why suggest to children that bees use guns?

Posted by Julie on 11/25 at 10:22 PM
Art & MediaEcologyFloristsPermalink

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Presidential Pass for ‘Flower’ the Turkey

U.S. President George Bush spared the lives of two turkeys, May and Flower, in a Rose Garden ceremony of uncertain origin.


Pres. George Bush and “May” in the White House Rose Garden

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais, for AP

“Flower” was spared the petting hands and clattering cameras today. She (he?) was off-stage as President George Bush bestowed a formal “pardon” on fellow turkey “May” in the White House Rose Garden.

The two birds were presented to the president by members of the National Turkey Federation, a Thanksgiving custom in the nation’s capitol since the Truman administration. “I thank everybody who voted online to choose the names for our guests of honor,” said the president. “And I’m pleased to announce the winning names. They are ‘May’ and ‘Flower.’ They’re certainly better than the names the Vice President suggested, which was ‘Lunch’ and ‘Dinner.’”

“May” and “Flower,” named for the Pilgrims’ ship, will be flown to Disney World to be Grand Marshals in the Thanksgiving Day parade. (Preferable to being in Dick Cheney’s mouth? You be the judge.)

Bush and others have attributed the first pardoning of the turkeys tradition to Harry Truman, 60 Novembers ago. But according to the Truman Presidential Library, that’s not so its “staff has found no documents, speeches, newspaper clippings, photographs, or other contemporary records in our holdings which refer to Truman pardoning a turkey that he received as a gift in 1947, or at any other time during his Presidency,” says the library’s website. “Truman sometimes indicated to reporters that the turkeys he received were destined for the family dinner table. In any event, the Library has been unable to determine when the tradition of pardoning the turkey actually began.”

In his 2001 Pardoning of the Turkeys speech, Bush traced the custom back to Abraham Lincoln. Yes, this is President Bush, Mr. Nice Guy, who lets his VP wear the black hat and gets his facts a little messed up.


President Harry Truman receives a Thanksgiving turkey, 1947

Photo: The White House

For a portfolio of some past presidents pardoning turkeys (rather heavy on Republican office holders) check out this White House photo essay.  And here’s the picture of President Truman with this first turkey presentation, 1947. From what we can tell, that turkey had no name, and Truman looks to be working up an admiring appetite.

Happy Thanksgiving to Flower, May, and all!

Posted by Julie on 11/20 at 10:52 PM
PoliticsSecular CustomsPermalink
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