Bench

Reality Check Point #4:
At the Glass Flowers

            This unique collection of over 3,000 models was created by glass artisans Leopold Blaschka and his son, Rudolph. The commission began in 1886, continued for five decades, and the collection represents more than 830 plant species.                                                                                                                    —Harvard Museum of Natural History
           
            Anchovy pear is glass, sitting under glass, and every picture you take shows your shadow, or the reflection of light above or inside the glass cases that hold this specimen and the others, all of them blown, poured, shaped or spun of glass. You have to remind yourself they are glass, not plants.  They are perfect.  The stamens, pistils, ovaries, stems, roots, leaves, buds, flowers and fruit are life-size, then sometimes enlarged to four—and up to 75—times their actual size.  Created for science, they are art in their beauty, their patterning, their quirky intricacies.  You will realize how few of the plants you’ve ever seen outside this museum, how far removed you are from nature.
            Have you seen Blue Bell, from Scotland, so often named in folklore, in song, in nature by all the disparate people who knew the plant?  Scientifically named Campanula rotundifolia L., Blue Bell was
            Harebell (in England),
            Aul man's bells (old man's: i.e. devil's),
            Dead Man's Bells,
            Blaewort,
            Blaver,
            Blue blavers,
            Cuckoo's hood (Brog na cubhaig),
            Currac Cuthaige,
            Currac na cubhaig,
            Gowk's thimbles (Cuckoo's thimbles),
            Gowk's thummles,
            Lady's thimble,
            Fairies' Thimbles,
            Milk-ort,
            Thimbles,
            Witch bells,
            Witch's thimbles.  
            You will learn to love the language, a primer, that sits under glass: 
            Downy Skullcap;
            Elk-wood/Umbrella Tree: the Magnolia;
            Floating Heart;
            Greater Bladderwort/Pop-weed.
            Like the Harvard students who once studied these beautiful specimens, you learn the intricacies of botany and beauty, learned Latin name, common name, folk name. 
            If plants are often named for shape, think of these configurations: 
            Jacob's Ladder—American and False;
            Nimble Kate/One-seeded Bur-cucumber/Star                         Cucumber;
            Lion's Heart. 
            Or if named for location: 
            Mountain Laurel, which is also named for             coloration—Calico Bush. 
            And other colors: 
            Blue Larkspur;
            Baby Blue-eyes;
            Blood-flower.
            Names are, after all, the basis of collections.  You will read about people:  the artists Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka, whose perfect technique lives in each specimen; Professor George Lincoln Goodale who commissioned the artists; Mrs. Elizabeth C. Ware and her daughter Mary Lee Ware, who financed the collection.  These are human names, but humanity lives in: 
            Owl’s Clover and Ox-eye, or False Sunflower;
            Poor Man’s Weatherglass or Shepherd’s Clock or Scarlet Pimpernel.
            Question the plant, and your answer will come from the people who cultivated, named, benefited from, and passed along stories about
            Red maple,
            Snowberry/Snowball/Egg-plant, about
           Turtlehead/Snakehead Balmory/Shell-flower and Tinker’s Weed, about
            Unicorn Plant/Elephant’s Trunk/Double Claw, about
            Venus’ Looking-glass, about
            Western Pearly Everlasting, and Coreopsis: Wood or             Greater Tickseed, about                                                             Woodbine/American Ivy/Virginia Creeper, about
            Cow-Wheat.
            As you leave the Glass Flowers, X-out your love of these specimens.  Here, You are only your shadow on a glass case.  These specimens, too, are only science, art, technology, collection:  part of the evolution of the study of plants. 
            But you and plants are most important in nature, dwelling as gifts.   Inside, all is reflection.  Outside, life teems in the interplay between individuals, species, and ecosystems, from beginning to end, all the way from Anchovy pear to Zennia.

"At the Glass Flowers" first appeared in Beecher's Magazine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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