Tag Archives: Smithsonian Collage of Arts and Sciences

be afraid: Frankenstein Petunia

OK, I find an old paperback of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in the house a few days ago and haven’t been able to put it down. So maybe I’m sensitized to the book’s themes, but I really didn’t expect to find Shelley’s ideas so explicitly animated in the present day, with a slight twist:

In a promethean leap, man and plant become one, creating new life.

Meet Edunia, the “plantimal” love child of artist/biodesigner Eduardo Kac, “who doesn’t merely incorporate existing living things in his artworks—he tries to create new life-forms.”

It lives. It is real, as real as you and I,” says Kac, a Brazil native living in Chicago. “Except nature didn’t make it, I did.”

http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/artscience/2013/02/the-story-of-how-an-artist-created-a-strange-genetic-hybrid-of-himself-and-a-petunia/ photo Designer-Genes-petunia-600.jpg

Kac selected the pink petunia, in large part because of the distinct red veins that hint at his own red blood. And though he refers to his creation as a “plantimal,” that may be overstating the case. The organism has only a minuscule stretch of human DNA amid many thousands of plant genes.”

“The DNA sequence was sent to Neil Olszewski, a plant biologist at the University of Minnesota…After six years of tinkering, the artist-scientist duo inserted a copy of Kac’s immunoglobulin gene fragment into a common breed of the flower Petunia hybrida.

“It’s not the first transgenic plant…’But you don’t have plants that have been made to explore ideas,’ Olszewski says. ‘Eduardo came to this with an artistic vision. That is the real novelty.'”

The tragedy and downfall of the scientist Frankenstein unfolds when he is unable to love his hideous creation. To be honest, I’d have some trouble loving a petunia. An agave, however, is another matter entirely.

Read more here.


Passiflora loefgrenii, also known as the garlic passionfruit vine from Brazil, is making an unlikely, late-December flowering debut in my garden. This December show is probably a one-time fluke for a summer bloomer that will settle down to a more predictable routine after its first year. Then again, it may actually prefer to bloom in a zone 10, cool, drizzly winter than during our long, hot, drought-scourged summers. It’s a rare passion flower, without much horticultural information available.


An architectural marvel, the structure of a passion flower was long ago co-opted as a kind of 3-D precursor to a theological Power Point presentation on Christianity: From Wikipedia: “In the 15th and 16th centuries, Spanish Christian missionaries adopted the unique physical structures of this plant, particularly the numbers of its various flower parts, as symbols of the last days of Jesus and especially his crucifixion,” a rather funereal association for a vine that attracts and sustains so much life.


I share photographer Andrew Zuckerman’s assessment: “Then there is the purple passionflower, which is an incredibly beautiful, vibrant, flamboyant flower, but its narrative qualities are not that interesting to me.” (quoted from the Smithsonian’s blog Collage of Arts and Sciences, “Flower Power, Redefined.”)

Passiflora’s relationship with various butterflies is well known, but its attractions are manifold; the garlic passionfruit’s “Remarkable flowers…are thought to appeal to hummingbirds when first open then to bees later in the day as their shape changes.” (From Passiflora Online)

My plant is from Annie’s Annuals & Perennials. Logee’s has a good selection, as does Kartuz Greenhouses. In Southern California, some passion flowers are fast, rampant growers, so keep ultimate size in mind when making a selection. (Bear in mind that they are a frequent choice to quickly cover chain link fences.) Pollination is thought to be a job for large bees, which works out nicely since our wooden fence is loaded with carpenter bees.