Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

flag flower bed

parker basket thumb
Princeton, MAINE USA

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Assumption’s Blessed Produce

The Feast Day marking the Virgin Mary’s arrival in Heaven also blesses the fruits and flowers of late summer—at least in the lands where plants survive August.

Late in the day we found this notice from Saint Mary’s church Pittston, Pennsylvania.

“Masses for the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary will take place Monday, Aug. 15 at 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. at St. Mary’s Church, 715 Hawthorne St., and noon at SS. Peter and Paul’s Church, 1000 Main St. The public is invited to bring flowers, vegetables, and herbs to be blessed at all of the feast day masses.”

We’d realized this was the Feast of the Assumption (also, in these parts, the polka mass of Praha Pout) but hadn’t realized that so many Catholic and Orthodox parishes observe this custom of blessing vegetables, herbs and flowers on the day Mary is believed to have entered heaven.

Understandably, this wouldn’t be a strong custom in Central Texas; mid-August is hardly “harvest time.” On the contrary, this is our deadly season, especially so this year as the historic drought extends.


Blessing of the Flowers, at the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate’s 54th Annual Holy Dormition Pilgrimage, Sloatsburg, NY, August 2008

Photo: The Way

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Posted by Julie on 08/15 at 09:41 PM
Religious RitualsPermalink

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Hand-in-Hand with a Passing

Not far from Legoland, a memorial to progressive engagement at Runnymeade, the riverside of liberty.


Princess Anne national savings stamp, March 1960

Image: Stampboards

By John Levett

In 1956 the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Harold Macmillan, introduced Premium Bonds, a variety of the savings scheme beloved of governments of the time—savings being seen as ‘a good thing,’ very worthy, a benefit to the nation and, given rising incomes and prosperity until the ends of time, possible in some way for most families. We even had savings schemes in primary school: bringing along our sixpences and shillings and our savings books. A working-class sixpence bought you a stamp with a Princess Anne on it and a princely sum of one shilling got you Prince Charles. These were stuck in a book and taken straight home to your parents lest you got the idea that you could trip straight down to the post office, take out your six-hours-old savings and blow the lot on ‘things that do you no good.’ Such a fact also led to a seriously-enduring dislike for the kids on the stamps.

The non-interest-paying Premium Bond (minimum deposit £1) had the come-on of the possibility of earning a monthly prize courtesy of the Electronic Random Number Indicator Equipment or ERNIE as it came to be known—in short, Britain’s first lottery; top prize £1000. The Gospel lobby was still strong in the Conservative Party of those days so according to debates all manner of societal breakdown was in store— a ‘cold, solitary, mechanical, uncompanionable, inhuman activity’ as the Archbishop of Canterbury had it. Mum bought some over the years but between 1958 and the year she died in 1979 only topped out at one £25 prize.

I’ve never been one for voluntary saving but when I retired from teaching I put a few grand into Premium Bonds (top prize these days, one million) and awaited the surprise. I never expected anything to happen; I looked upon it as a way of putting some money aside which would go to various charities in my will alongside the promise of random treats along the way. The surprise is that I keep winning. These are not amounts that’ll land me decreeing stately pleasure domes, rather a couple of CDs and a new shirt but they keep dropping through the letter box.

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Posted by Julie on 08/11 at 08:58 PM
Art & MediaCulture & SocietyGardening & LandscapePoliticsPermalink

Monday, August 08, 2011

Torreya taxifolia: Seeing Is Inciting

Some plants are worthy of a pilgrimage. And as any pilgrim will tell you, such journeys have a way of changing one’s view of the world.

By James H. Wandersee and Renee M. Clary

EarthScholars™ Research Group

imageSurviving native range of Torreya taxifolia in northwestern Florida

Map: The Torreya Guardians

The month is August. It’s sunny and nearly 100° Fahrenheit outside, with 92% relative humidity. We have journeyed by pick-up truck to sparsely populated northwest Florida, near the small city of Bristol, to an area long ago claimed to be the site of the Garden of Eden by one Elvy E. Callaway.

We have come for a live plant encounter with one of our nation’s most venerable, rare, and critically endangered species, Torreya taxifolia, commonly called the Torreya tree (pronounced tor-REY’-ah).  Only about 500 specimens of this tree, a conifer and primitive member of the yew family, are estimated to be left in the wild, and this is the best place in the world to see some.

Having survived over 100 million years, according to the plant fossil record, the Torreya tree is now teetering on the edge of extinction. (The aforementioned Mr. Callaway thought this tree was the biblical gopher wood tree used to build Noah’s Ark—hence his Garden of Eden claim.)

It should be noted that the tree’s namesake is the famous American botanist John Torrey (1796-1873).  His eponymous genus, Torreya, has six species—but Torreya taxifolia is by far the rarest.  All six species are small-to medium-sized evergreen trees, ranging from 15 ft. to 60 ft. in height when mature.  Torrey is also honored today through the famous Torrey Botanic Society Journal and the renowned Torrey Pines Golf Course near San Diego, California.

The trees we visited were growing inside Torreya State Park, a 12,000-acre Florida State Park which lies along the Apalachicola River. It cost us only $3 to enter the park,  a well maintained, lush, and serenely beautiful area.

We found that few park visitors come here specifically to see the Torreya trees. Surprisingly, our analysis of 276 of the most recent handwritten, spontaneous visitor comments in the park’s guestbook uncovered no comments written specifically about the Torreya trees!

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Posted by Julie on 08/08 at 09:37 PM
EcologyGardening & LandscapeScienceTravelPermalink

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

A Floral Guide for Science Teachers

Lesson plans are now in the works. And just in time, thanks to a student at Mississippi State, we offer an updated guide for using this website in the classroom.


Teacher Judy Baxter of Hahira, Georgia, uses her laptop for a class on Leucojum (snowflakes).

Photo: Judy Baxter/Old Shoe Woman

School hasn’t even begun but we already feel that Human Flower Project has gone to the head of the class!

Thanks to Mauriesa Johnson of Mississippi State University and the Earth*Scholars, we can gratefully offer a Science Teacher’s Guide to all seven years of this website.  This means that teachers have easy access to 269 illustrated essays on a wild (and domesticated) array of topics, all succinctly categorized and summarized.

Geography teachers, are you planning to study Iceland or Hungary? Just search for these nation’s names (or others that interest you) in the file and discover our stories about invasive species and an ongoing controversy over genetically modified plants.

Preparing a unit on conservation? The HFP archive includes nine stories that should be on target, with examples from Idaho to India. Other topics we’ve covered pretty extensively include flowers in medicine, food, ethics, and ecology. But see for yourself:

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Posted by Julie on 08/03 at 02:21 PM
Art & MediaSciencePermalink
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