The Horologium Florae, or floral clock: “The professionals said it could not be done. They had never tried it, and they didn’t know any public garden that had tried it, and they wouldn’t recommend anyone else give it a try.”
“Flower opening has inspired many artists and seems of special emotional value to people,” write the sober scientists of the Journal of Experimental Botany. Support for their suggestion, writes Michael Tortorello in the NYT, rests in the sentimental British garden journals of the early 19th century, where the flower clock inspired some marvellously bad poetry:
Broad o’er its imbricated cup,
The goat’s-beard spreads its golden rays,
But shuts its cautious petals up,
Retreating from the noontide blaze.”
Now, readers of the Plant Intelligence Project will know that questions around the emotional value of plant behaviour, and of whether stuff like the above is bad poetry is are what I like to go on about (see my essay, whenever the eff it finally appears, on Shelley’s “The Sensitive Plant”).
But Tortorello’s article (thanks Brian Bacchus, for sending it to me) appears just a day after I finished reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s recent novel The Signature of All Things (Penguin, 2013), in which she keeps alive the idea of timekeeping flowers:
In her ninth summer, completely on her own, Alma learned to tell time by the opening and closing of flowers. At five o’clock in the morning, she noticed, the goatsbeard petals always unfolded. At six o’clock, the daisies and globeflowers opened. When the clock struck seven, the dandelions would bloom. At eight o’clock, it was the scarlet pimpernel’s turn. Nine o’clock: chickweed. Ten o’clock: meadow saffron. By eleven o’clock the process begins to reverse. . . . What Alma wanted to know most of all was how the world was regulated. What was the master clockwork behind everything? (p. 63)
Tortorello notes that “the poetry of the flower clock continues to grip the imagination.” He finds a few recent references but notes that “three authors do not make a trend.”
Gilbert makes four. And me, I suppose, makes five.