Human Flower Project


Friday, May 14, 2010

Afghan Poppies: Blight and Blame

A fungal outbreak is expected to kill at least a third of this year’s crop of opium poppies in Afghanistan. Fingers are pointing and prices are on the rise.


A child harvests opium poppies in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan under guard of Marines, April 2010

Photo: Asmaa Waguih for Reuters

News outlets on several continents this week have been reporting a massive blight in Afghanistan’s poppies, the problem so widespread it may kill a third or more of this year’s crop. These Afghan plants are the source for 75% of the world’s heroin—and 95% of the heroin in Europe.

The New York Times reported that the poppy killoff is due to a “mysterious disease”; other sources have confirmed it’s a fungal infection, thus far unspecified.

We’d thought of Papaver somnaferum as an especially hardy plant, but now learn that it’s prone to all kinds of problems: bacterial, viral, nutritional, and seed-borne. This excellent site out of India describes many poppy ailments,  two common fungal diseases first: Downy mildew “appears annually on the crop from seedling stage to maturity in opium poppy growing areas of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan,” and Powdery mildew, (Erysiphae Polygon), “caused severe damage to opium crop in Rajasthan in 1972.”

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Posted by Julie on 05/14 at 10:26 AM

Thursday, April 29, 2010

May’s Lap of Lush-ery

Waverly Fitzgerald sings three Mayflowers and will strike a chord with every nymph and satyr.


Mai bowle, Germany’s spring drink, made with sweet woodruff

Photo: brauchtumsjahr

By Waverly Fitzgerald

February 14 has staked its claim on love and sexuality, but an older, far more ecologically erotic season comes now – May Day. In the Northern Hemisphere, buds are at the full. Sweaters come off and the sap is rising. For centuries May has been synonymous with flowers and all the ardor that comes with them.

In the third century, the Romans celebrated the Floralia for six days beginning on April 28. People put on their most colorful garments, decking themselves and their animals in flowers.

The first mention of May Day in England comes from around 1240 – with a note of disdain. The Bishop of Lincoln complains of priests who join the “games which they call the bringing-in of May.” Town records, literature and the accounts of courtly life refer to the custom of bringing green branches and flowers in from the woods to celebrate the beginning of summer.

Edmund Spenser writing in 1579 described the custom thus:

Youth’s folks now flocken in everywhere

To gather May baskets and smelling brere

And home they hasten the posts to dight

And all the Kirk pillars ere daylight,

With hawthorn buds and sweet eglantine,

And garlands of roses and sops in wine.

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Posted by Julie on 04/29 at 03:38 PM
Art & MediaCookingCulture & SocietyMedicineSecular CustomsPermalink

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Spanish Moss…You Don’t Say!

A Southern Belle changed the rules of radio and put seven wispy seconds between “live” and “broadcast.”


Tillandsia usneoides - Spanish moss— sways from oaks

on St. Simons Island, Georgia

Photo: Allen Bush

By Allen Bush

The thin, dangling, curly wisps of gray Spanish Moss draped over huge branches of multi-trunked live oaks (Quercus virginiana) are a stunning landscape feature of the southern U.S. coastal low country. But walking in the beautiful squares of Savannah, Georgia, last week and driving along roadways on Sea Island and Jekyll Island, I kept thinking of Kentucky radio reporter Fred Wiche. Few know that Spanish moss—neither a moss nor lichen, but an epiphytic bromeliad, relative of pineapple—changed radio protocol forever far inland, in my hometown of Louisville.

I got very confused on Wiche’s Saturday morning radio show in September 1994. I blame it on Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides). I was sitting four feet across the table from the beloved WHAS radio personality. We were talking about powdery mildew on phlox. The trouble was I was hearing him again through the ear piece on a small, radio walkman that he had handed me just before the show began. The annoying echo of my own response—seven seconds later – was driving me nuts. At the first break, I asked what was going on. Fred muttered something about Spanish moss. He said I was doing fine and he’d explain at the end of the program.

Fred broadcast the “Weekend Gardener” remotely each week from his back deck, overlooking the orchard, vegetables and flowers on his beautiful farm near Simpsonville, south of Louisville.  Fred and I chatted on the air about durable perennials for the Ohio Valley and callers asked good questions. I never got adjusted to the weird echo. I was listening to the radio while he was tuned into the studio’s direct feed. He wasn’t bothered by the seven second delayed re-play.

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Posted by Julie on 10/04 at 11:42 AM
Art & MediaGardening & LandscapeMedicinePermalink

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Soothing Linalool

When 16th Century Aztec poets and 21st Century Japanese scientists agree, we’re really onto something.


Xochiquetzal (Aztec Flower Goddess)

Image: from the Codex Borgia, via Mexicolore

Did anyone notice that Meso-American folk culture and Japanese chemistry reached accord this week?

It happened in a whiff of marigold. Akio Nakamura and fellow researchers who’ve been stressing out lab rats found that that linalool “reduced the activity of more than 100 genes that go into overdrive in stressful situations.” The tormented rats that inhaled linalool—a fragrant oil in lavender, sweet pea, marigold and many other plants—showed blood levels far lower in stressor chemicals. The research suggests that this fragrance both protects the immune system and produces a soothing effect.

image“The Nosegay”

Image: Library of Virginia

So fas as we know, the 16th Century Aztecs didn’t need to restrain rats to figure this out.  Flowers were part of nearly all dimensions of sacred and secular life—from a complex cycle of flower poetry, to dances and games at harvest time, even military maneuvers. Aztec princes and warriors used nosegays to calm their nerves—and so did more everyday people: 

In his Historia de las Indias de Nueva España (1581), Fray Diego Durán wrote of the Aztec people: “They find gladness and joy in spending the entire day smelling a little flower or bouquet made of different kinds of flowers; their gifts are accompanied by them; they relieve the tediousness of journeys with flowers.”

(If only Henry Louis Gates had stopped by a flower shop on his way back from China, and the Cambridge P.D. issued bouquets along with handcuffs.)

Posted by Julie on 07/25 at 06:26 PM
Culture & SocietyMedicineSciencePermalink
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