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Mother's Flower Jokes

In my garden stands a sign a dear friend gave me, that says “Earth laughs in flowers.” I wouldn’t have bought it myself, because it struck me as just cute, not particularly meaningful. But since she gave it to me, I pushed the stake into the ground and let it be a puzzle. Every time I pass by, I muse on what it means.

Laughs with joy, is the most obvious. But I keep thinking about how flowers are actually reproductive organs. Their shapes, scents and colors evolved for that function, often to attract pollinators. What irony that human beings should be attracted too. (Except for the corpse plant, pollinated by carrion flies: that’s downright macabre.)

What shape is a flower? Certain forms, everyone’s used to: the configuration of a daisy, tulip, or rose.... Others look peculiar to my eye — like newly-developed “Doubledecker” coneflower, with the regular row of petals at the bottom of the cone, and a second set, way at the top. I look at this oddity and think, “Who’s kidding whom?”

Or the blooms where slender petals or florets emerge from a center in a ragged explosion, like bee balm, cleome, and Centaurea montana. The most extreme example is hair allium, which all the catalogs describe as “like something out of a Dr. Seuss storybook.” (I think it should be called “bad hair.”)

Witch hazel startles me with a similar shape — and also by blooming in winter, on bare branches. Petals on some are threadlike, and on others more like little ribbons; on some they explode, on others they curl all over, or droop gracefully. Bright yellows and oranges laugh at the drab landscape.

'Jolly Joker' pansy combines bright purple and orange in every flower. To work this plant into a color scheme takes a sense of humor, as well as adventure.

But of all the flowers I think are funny, weirdest is the flower of a sempervivum. What makes me laugh? Something about how the fat flower stem, wrapped in clasping fleshy leaves, rises so tall above ground-hugging hens-and-chicks rosettes; about how the intense pink petals seem to burst with succulent energy; how the stiff, straight stamens flaunt their bright yellow pollen....? Although the flower grows in the familiar daisy-shape, it plays havoc with my image of “flower.” It’s not delicate or passive; rather so assertive it’s almost animate, like some cartoon. My daughter Jessica dubbed it a “space alien flower.”

Photo by C.H. Clark - Space alien flowers on hens-and-chicks
(more photos below)

Text and photos © Copyright 2005 Catherine Holmes Clark

Published in the six Nashoba Publications papers on Friday, 1 April 2005

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Here's what the sempervivums looked like as the flower stems were produce the space alien flowers: