Human Flower Project


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
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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Flor de Pita, for Lent

During the penitential season of Lent, the yucca of South Texas bloom; their blossoms are a traditional food of early spring.

imageSpanish bayonet (Yucca aloifoli)

Fayette County, TX

March 13, 2010

Photo: Human Flower Project

Five and more years ago, when we were digging with special dirt-sailing tenacity for specifically Texan flower customs, we heard tell that in some parts of the state yucca flowers were eaten.  But where, by whom, when, why, how? Finally last weekend, the mystery popped.

Cristina Balli, program director of Texas Folklife, and her associate Michelle Mejía, had toodled us down to Schulenburg for youth accordion auditions at the Sengelmann Hall. As we talked (waiting for squeezers to show up), Cristina recalled, “My mom used to cook flor de pita” – yucca—“and right around this time, during Lent.”

Cristina said that her mother, Antonia H. Balli, learned how to make yucca blooms into a meal from her own mother, Quirina Cruz de Hinojosa. Quirina grew up in Jalisco but after moving to Northern Mexico encountered Yucca aloifolia, which grows abundantly on both sides of the border near Matamoros/Brownsville.

Just as the dramatic plant blooms, in early spring, practicing Catholics are looking for meatless foods in observance of Lent. The luscious white and purple flowers, blooming throughout the brushy “monte” of the region, make a fine seasonal dish. One web source we’ve found claims that yucca flowers “have a clean, mild taste somewhat reminiscent of snow peas.” Cristina’s word is “bitter.” She calls flor de pita “an acquired taste.” (The same might be said for penance.)

As we drove prattling back up Highway 77 toward La Grange, Cristina jammed on the breaks just north of the St. Mary’s turnoff. Here was a stupendous stand of yucca in full bloom.

(We’re fairly sure this is Yucca aloifoli, known in Anglo Texas a Spanish bayonet; Spanish dagger, Yucca Gloriosa is lots more common around Austin.)

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Posted by Julie on 03/17 at 11:04 AM
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Monday, September 28, 2009

A Legacy of Jamaican Fruits

Ackee and breadfruit send local ecologist Georgia Silvera Seamans up to the Jamaican highlands and three generations back in time. Thank you, Georgia and Yvonne.


Cacao on the branch in Jamaica; the seeds make cocoa and chocolate.

Photo: Yvonne Silvera

By Georgia Silvera Seamans

I never knew my mother’s maternal grandmother; Beatrice Baxter (“Auntie B”) died before I was born.  My mother’s stories presented a picture of a generous woman, with her love, time, and her home.  Though I was born and raised, until I was 13 years old, in Jamaica, I never saw my great-grandmother’s house.  My mum was raised in “the country” of Clarendon Parish but raised her children in a suburban development in St. Catherine Parish.  Perhaps she thought we could not make the hike up (or hoof it up like the goats) the hill to my grandmother’s house.  (I should ask.)

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Posted by Julie on 09/28 at 10:12 AM
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Friday, July 03, 2009

The Fruited Plain

Sometimes it takes a foreign visitor to open one’s eyes to the U.S.A. Allen Bush gets a heaping helping of Kansas and Nebraska flora, fruit, and pastry.


Pie-appreciation center (a.k.a. a Kansas diner)

Photo: Allen Bush

By Allen Bush

A car trip across Kansas, forty years ago, was an unending landscape of wheat stubble and Stuckey’s Pecan Shoppes—unavoidable if you were on a beeline to Denver or San Francisco. “Linger longer in Kansas,” the worn-out state tourism slogan, didn’t apply.

When Georg Uebelhart, my friend and Jelitto Perennial Seed colleague, came over from Germany for a visit in late May 1997, we did linger. Slivers of prairie remnants in Kansas and Nebraska had a peculiar appeal—more interesting, now, than the bright lights of the big western cities. Between us, we’ve traveled the Alps to the Altai and Andes poking around for plants. (Uebelhart, a native of Switzerland, has a sharp eye and an encyclopedic knowledge of plants – essential gifts for the best plant hunters.) It would be a stretch to call this work, but rarely does botanic obsession take on Indiana Jones-style intrigue, either. Occasional landslides and truck drivers, passing on blind curves, with perilous drop-offs and raging rivers hundreds of feet below have scared the wits out of us in a few far-flung places, but these aren’t worries in Kansas or Nebraska (though you should be careful for a speeding plantsman around Clarkson, Nebraska). The back roads in these parts are so desolate that an occasional passing car is more curious than death- threatening.

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Posted by Julie on 07/03 at 06:24 PM
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