Human Flower Project


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Elites, Wildflowers, Conservation

How does wildlife preservation come about? Two examples suggest it’s the exertion of human wealth and power, not the threat of natural or even cultural extinction.


Carpenteria californica blooming at the Mary Elizabeth Miller Preserve near Prather, California.

Photo: Irfan Khan, for LA Times

What does it take to save a flower, an acre, a mountain, a cultural region?

Diana Marcum’s fascinating story for the Los Angeles Times is a microcosm of conservation history, recounting the the survival of Carpenteria californica, a rare white wildflower of the Sierra foothills.

It was “discovered” by a 19th century explorer, John Fremont, who lost his way back to the original wild clump. Later a Swedish scientist came upon the plant, collected seed, and sent it to Kew Gardens, where Carpenteria californica was grown into showy specimens, a wonder for horticultural pros and visiting amateurs.

Carpenteria’s homeland in Fresno County was purchased by two “Utopian” sisters, who eventually amassed 1500 acres in the area. One of them took a special interest in the wildflower and came to consider it her private emblem of peaceful resistence during World War I.

The tale goes on…. Crucially, it involves other California elites—wealthy landowners, intellectuals and philanthropists. As we read Marcum’s account, it’s clear that through their resources of leisure time, money, organizational experience, and clout, they were able to create a nature preserve on the plant’s habitat. In league with the national Nature Conservancy, the Mary Elizabeth Miller Preserve was founded.

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Posted by Julie on 06/14 at 10:13 AM
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Sunday, April 24, 2011

An Eye for Plants

Direct experience is the best launching pad for botanical education. Put aside the microscope, and let naked fingers and eyes do the studying.


A walk in the park in Mendicina, Italy, with botanical vision

Photo: Desi

By James H. Wandersee and Renee M. Clary

EarthScholars™ Research Group

Horticulture today focuses systematically on scientific principles applicable to the cultivation of garden and ornamental plants, including fruits, vegetables, flowers, and landscape and nursery crops. In addition, horticultural scientists explore and explain the many contributions of plants to a healthy environment for human life and well being.

Liberty Hyde Bailey, co-founder of the American Society for Horticultural Science [ASHS], was both a horticulturalist and a botanist. Cornell University curator Elaine Engst writes, “He worked to remove the barriers between theoretical botany and practical horticulture. He believed that horticulture should be an applied science based on pure biology, and that it should reflect the application of basic botanical knowledge. As early as 1885, in a speech titled “The Garden Fence,” Bailey urged botanists and horticulturists to reconcile their interests by ‘getting the science from the field and laboratory into the garden’” (Cornell University Exhibition—L.H.B.: A Man for All Seasons; Elaine Engst, curator, 2004).

Reading the second edition of Bailey’s Lessons with Plants (1899) has been inspiration for us – as it should be for anyone interested in plant science.

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Posted by Julie on 04/24 at 02:15 PM
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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Weird Weather

The onset of spring is a menace and a blessing. Allen Bush hunts for flowers amid the extremes.


The view down Pennington Lane, Louisville, KY,

in the author’s old neighborhood, April 3, 1974

Photo: Walter McCord

from Tornado: A Look Back at Louisville’s Dark Day

By Allen Bush

I like to think the worst weather is over by March but it doesn’t work that way. There are more surprises in store in April. When the winds begin to rattle the window jambs at this time of year I get the heebie jeebies. It means it’s tornado season in Kentucky.  For a long time I thought Lenten twisters were meant for trailer parks. I grew-up imagining that my suburban neighborhood of solid brick homes made us more virtuous, and immune. 

That changed on April 3, 1974. I was a few hundred yards from the path of a Louisville tornado, holed-up in a friend’s basement. It hop-scotched across the Fairgrounds, the Highlands, Cherokee Park, Crescent Hill, Rolling Fields and Indian Hills before bouncing over to Northfields. I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your brick houses down. And the big bad wolf did.

The physical destruction was indelible: huge trees snapped in half and homes destroyed.  The National Guard secured damaged neighborhoods for a couple of weeks while debris was cleared from roadways, and power was restored slowly over the next six weeks. Neighbors pitched-in, picking-up and hacking away. By summer, this moment of neighborly clarity receded when everyone – well, at least those with standing houses—returned to the shut-in privacy of their air-conditioned homes.  Suburban detachment resumed.

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Posted by Julie on 03/31 at 03:46 PM
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Thursday, March 24, 2011

From the Lowlands, a ‘Floral’-Filter

The Local Ecologist spots a new water filtering tool. It works well to extract E coli? What about radioactivity?


A new point-of-use water-filtering device

Photo: Georgia Silvera Seamans/Local Ecology

By Georgia Silvera Seamans

Holland is known for its flower industry and its water technology. The country supplies “60% of the world’s flowers.”  And “one quarter of Holland is below sea level”; according to the website waterland,  “Two thirds of [the country] would be flooded if there were no dikes,” but by the second half of the twentieth-century, Holland had “gained a reputation as a country that had won the war against water.” 

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Posted by Julie on 03/24 at 04:48 PM
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