Human Flower Project
Thursday, February 12, 2009
The Marriage of Betel Leaf and Areca Nut
An old combination of Asian plants has been put to nearly every use—from preventing widowhood to sparking conversation. Paan is pan-cultural.
Minah bird and immature areca nuts (a.k.a. “betel nuts’)
Photo: Sandy Ao
With this lively photo of an Indian minah bird enjoying berries, Sandy Ao pulled back the curtain on a strange and manifold cultural epic.
In a word: paan.
The minah is relishing young berries of the areca nut tree (Areca catchu), a palm native to much of Southeast Asia. It’s the nut of this tree, with a chemistry that’s highly stimulating to humans, that’s wrapped in a glossy betel leaf (Piper betle) and chewed—as paan. Often the leaf will be smeared with a paste of mineral slaked lime, so the psychoactive and mildly addicting plant ingredients keep their gentle kick.
Culture & Society • Religious Rituals • Secular Customs • Permalink
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Six Plants People Want to See
Which plants draw a crowd and why? The EarthScholars study celebrities of the botanical world and consider how their starpower can be harnessed for good.
“It’s Superplant!”—or one of them: Monkey Puzzle Tree
Photo: David Griffin
By James H. Wandersee and Renee M. Clary
EarthScholars™ Research Group
In a recent (2009) article entitled the “10 Most Interesting Plants in the World and Where to Find Them,” Canadian garden designer Ailsa Francis names and describes ten plants she finds especially fascinating, and spots a location or two where people can observe each of her chosen plants.
Since Francis follows the streamlined format of Canada.com, meant to be concise, enticing and actionable, we don’t learn how she arrived at her ten selections—or if, besides personal preference, she used any method at all. However, we do think it’s a good list; she chose four of the same plants that our own archival and on-site research uncovered!
Botanic Gardens Conservation International, with over 500 public garden members worldwide, states that “the best estimate we have of the number of known plant species is around 400,000.” That’s a lot of “top plants” candidates! From such a wide range of alternatives, we wondered how to arrive systematically at a small list of plants that are (a) accessible to the public in multiple gardens, parks, and arboreta and (b) that historically, people most want to see—plants people actually seek out and declare their intention to visit.
Art & Media • Culture & Society • Gardening & Landscape • Travel • Permalink
Sunday, February 08, 2009
Someone Has to Pay
John Levett turns his camera to an “ancient problem” and an ongoing conflict: whether the old trees of Cambridge will stay or go.
Photo: John Levett
By John Levett
My listening of choice is BBC Radio Three. The channel began after the end of the last war as the Third Programme. At the time the Beeb had two channels—the Home Service (news, weather, shipping forecast, brains trust, uplifting talks) and the Light Programme (dance and light orchestral, comedy and game shows, even a ventriloquist and his puppet). There was also the World Service broadcasting western values, right-thinking and uplifting discussion to the oppressed and colonized and both. The Third Programme took the best traditions of public service broadcasting and applied them to the classical canon in music, the modern and modernist in poetry and prose, Shakespeare and Ibsen and the innovative and experimental in sound documentary. It broadcast every night between the hours of six and midnight, and if you had started listening on its opening night on 29th September 1946 and still do, there’s nothing you wouldn’t know about European culture and the British view of ‘the other.’ You’d also be civilized, pacific, smart, smug, nice to know, appreciative of debate, inclusive of others, comfortable in yourself and cosseted. Radio Three treats me as intelligent and persevering—if there’s something I don’t ‘get’ first time, I’ll not throw a wobbly, won’t switch off, won’t splutter through my Imperial moustache and spray out my Mazawattee tea, won’t croak.
Friday, February 06, 2009
Pick Your Poison
Allen Bush introduces us to plants that fomented the Iraq War and stopped the heart of Socrates. Proceed with caution.
Seeds of Castor bean, Ricinus communis
Photo: Steve Hurst, USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database
By Allen Bush
The Grateful Dead had a song, beloved by all Deadheads, called “Wheel” with a fateful line: “If the thunder don’t get you, the lightning will.” The warning apparently didn’t reach golfer Lee Trevino and the thought shouldn’t paralyze gardeners. The former P.G.A., U.S. and British Open champion knew how to handle an approaching thunderstorm. Trevino said the safest defense was to hold a two iron in the air. “Even God can’t hit a two iron,” he said.
Relatedly, here’s Donald Rumsfeld, in 2002, a year before going to war in Iraq: “There are known knowns. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don’t know” …a round about way of implying what “Wheel” said succinctly: A threat, even an existential one, can scare the Hell out of a lot of people.
Culture & Society • Gardening & Landscape • Medicine • Politics • Permalink