blooming schlumbergera

I knew it as a Christmas cactus, but our blooming cultivar is officially a member of the Schlumbergera genus, buckelyi group. Plant is thriving in muggy warmth of Shenzhen February. Of interest du jour, a brief search for instructions on how to keep said cactus happy also turned up the information that Schlumbergera is originally from eastern Brazil.

Apparently, Schlumbergera truncata was first cultivated in Europe by 1818 and S. russelliana was introduced in 1939. My S. buckleyi is a descendent of an 1852 deliberate cross of truncata and russelliana. Yes, the English plant crosser was surnamed Buckley. Schlumbergera had its 15 minutes and was cultivated in different colors for hothouse habitats, but by the early 20th century (a mere 50 years later!) it lost popularity and many of the breeds were lost. From the 1950s, breeding resumed in Europe and North America, which is also when S. buckleyi made recorded appearance in the Pacific colonies of Australia and New Zealand.

What I’m curious about is the history of South China traffic in houseplants. Clearly, schlumbergeras, which were named to commemorate Frédéric Schlumberger, a French cultivator of cacti didn’t jump across South America and then swim to Shenzhen on a pacific gyre. I’m assuming that an ancestor of my S. buckleyi came to Hong Kong through postwar British colonialism. But I’m not sure. After all, there were British concessions in Tianjin and Shanghai and I’m sure that one or two of the elites would have had hot houses. I’m thinking that if cacti survived a trip from Brazil to England, they could also have survived one from England to the Chinese coast. So, does anyone know interesting stories and / or books about household gardening practices that illuminate the tortured tracks of colonial homemaking abroad? If so, please let me know.

22 thoughts on “blooming schlumbergera

  1. Mary Ann,

    Your challenge piqued my curiosity.

    My first reaction was to note the odd juxtaposition of flowering cactus houseplants, “Schlumberger” (a name I associated with the oil business), with Brazil and the first item in your Tag, “British Colonialism”. How did this all fit together?

    “Russelliana” caught my eye. Now that’s a name connected with British colonialism, particularly Lord John Russell who was prime minister of Britain when over a million Irish died during the Great Famine. ( Could there be any relationship?

    Sure enough, Wikipedia revealed that Scottish botanist George Gardner, who discovered the plant in Brazil which was to be named “Schlumbergera russelliana”, named the plant after his patron John Russell, 6th Duke of Bedford, father of the very same Lord John Russell.

    George Gardner has his own Wikipedia entry. Gardner’s life and travels might present us with a clue as to the transmission of your lovely plant. Born 1810, Gardner was the son of a gardener (hmmm…a hereditary craft — the name “Gardner” taken by the gardener?) to an English aristocratic family. However, the family moved to Glasgow and he received an education as a surgeon. He took an interest in botany and was funded by the Royal Botanic Gardens on a journey to Brazil 1836-1841 to study and collect botanical specimens. After he returned to England, he took a position as the head of the Botanic Gardens in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) where he died in 1849.

  2. The site “Significant Scots” gives a brief but vivid biographical sketch of Gardner’s career and journeys. Particularly of interest to historians and sociologists of science would be how this young man in his 20’s, without the benefit of family wealth, managed to take the scientific study of plants to make a name for himself and secure patronage among aristocrats for a scientific expedition:

    “From the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, Gardner obtained his diploma as surgeon, with high marks of distinction. Meanwhile he had made himself acquainted with the flowering plants of Scotland, and studied cryptogamic botany so successfully that, in 1836, he brought out a work, entitled “Musci Britannici, or Pocket Herbarium of British Mosses,” arranged and named according to Hooker’s “British Flora.” This work was flatteringly received, and has been of great value to muscologists. The specimens are beautifully dried, and neatly attached; whilst its general accuracy can be depended upon, as he had not only free access to the splendid library of Sir William Hooker, but the benefit of his personal assistance.

    A copy of the “Musci Britannici” having reached the late Duke of Bedford [i.e. John Russell] —well known for the interest which he took in botanical science—his grace became a liberal patron, and warmly encouraged his ambition to proceed upon a foreign exploratory mission. After the death of the lamented Drummond, whose labours in Texas and parts of Central America had greatly enriched the Royal Botanic Garden, the directors of that institution were solicitous still further to promote its scientific character; and arrangements were made for his proceeding to North Brazil, to explore the botany of that country. As in the case of Drummond, Sir William Hooker undertook to procure a number of subscribers for the dried specimens, and to be at the trouble of subdividing and forwarding them to the respective parties; the curator, at the same time, agreeing to take a similar charge of the seeds and living plants sent home. Many of the public botanic gardens, as well as a number of amateur noblemen and gentlemen, were subscribers, and by this means, for a moderate sum, had their collections largely and richly increased. Amongst others the Duke of Bedford was a munificent contributor; and all preliminaries having been arranged for Gardner’s departure, his grace not only interested his son, Lord Edward Russell, R.N., commanding on the American station, in his behalf, but secured for him a free passage out in one of H.M. ships. This, however, he politely declined, preferring the greater privacy of a merchant ship, that he might have leisure to study, and especially to improve himself in his knowledge of the Spanish and Portuguese languages. So far from being offended, the duke magnanimously sent a draft for £50 in lieu of the free passage.

    In the summer of 1836 Gardner sailed from Liverpool, and, after a favourable passage, arrived at Rio de Janeiro, with the appearance of which, and the surrounding scenery, he was perfectly captivated, and wrote home in glowing terms, descriptive of his first impressions. Amidst scenes so tempting to a naturalist, Gardner did not long remain inactive. He made frequent excursions in the vicinity of Rio, and particularly to the Organ mountains. In these rambles he was often accompanied by Mr. Miers, a gentleman resident in the country, of whose kindness he ever spoke in the highest terms. His first collection of plants, seeds, and specimens for the herbarium, were drawn chiefly from this quarter. These came home in excellent condition, and proved highly interesting. They contained many new orchids, liliaeae, palms, &c. He subsequently penetrated into the interior, and spent a considerable time in exploring the diamond regions. He was indefatigable in his mission, and his long and toilsome journeys were often attended with no small adventure, and even peril. Five years—from 1836 till 1841—were passed in Brazil. Before returning home, which he did in the latter year, he paid a parting visit to the Organ mountains, his object in doing so being, as he himself says, in one of his letters, to “make a collection of some of the fine shrubs and herbaceous plants which are to be found principally on the higher levels,” of that range, to take home with him in the living state. After penetrating into the interior, he found the difficulty of sending home living plants almost insurmountable; yet he continued to preserve large collections for the herbarium, which, with seeds and such living plants as could endure the inland journey, prior to their long voyage, were sent home as opportunity offered. Some of the Melastomaceae, as Pleroma Benthamianum and Multiflora may be mentioned among the number as now ornamenting every good collection of hot-house plants; also, many beautiful Franciscas, &c.”

    This gives us a fascinating picture of how scientific field research in the first half of the nineteenth century in England was funded by gentlemen and amateurs: the Royal Botanic Gardens did not have an endowment or public fundraising to finance an expedition, and in return, Gardner was expected to provide specimens, cuttings and seeds. It would be interesting to ascertain whether those funding the expedition hoped to receive any commercial value from the specimens, or whether they just wanted to get an exotic plant to show off their status.

    The Organ Mountains mentioned above where Gardner sought to ” ‘make a collection of some of the fine shrubs and herbaceous plants which are to be found principally on the higher levels,’ of that range, to take home with him in the living state” is the very part of Brazil where the plants identified as “Schlumbergera russelliana” are found.

  3. But wait — there’s more.

    “Although botany was, of course, his chief pursuit, Gardner had always an eye to what might be of interest in other departments of natural history—hence his collections were swelled with minerals, recent and fossil shells, preserved skins of birds, fishes, &c. He, at the same time, did not neglect his medical acquirements. Throughout his extended journeyings, he carried his surgical instruments along with him, and performed several important operations with entire success, which not only improved his finances, but gained him many friends—thus securing a degree of respect, comfort, and, in some cases, safety, among the native tribes, which only a medical man might expect to enjoy. Amidst his multifarious labours, he kept up his home correspondence with surprising regularity, writing often to Sir William Hooker and Mr. Murray, and occasionally communicating with the more distinguished foreign botanists of the day. Several of his papers and letters were inserted by Sir William in the “Journal of Botany.” In one of these, dated Province of Minas, September 3, 1840, he refers to the death of his “generous patron, the Duke of Bedford,” in terms which bespeak the deep gratitude by which he was actuated. Nor did he overlook the claims of his own relations to a share in his epistolary attention; and even his juvenile friends, such as Dr. Joseph Hooker, and Mr. Murray’s family, were not forgotten.

    In 1842, not long after his return, Gardner was elected professor of botany in the Andersonian university, and had prepared a course of lectures; but he did not retain that appointment, seeing, at the time, little prospect of the class being well attended. Meanwhile he occupied himself in arranging the materials of his Brazilian journal, with a view to publication. The work, however, was still incomplete, when, in 1843, he was appointed to Ceylon, as island botanist and superintendent of the botanic garden there, by the colonial government. This situation he owed to the influence of his never-failing friend, Sir William Hooker, who had himself been, some time previously, promoted to the office of director-general of the Royal Gardens at Kew. While in London, receiving instructions before embarkation, he experienced much kindness from Lord Stanley, now the Earl of Derby.

    On arriving in Ceylon, his first consideration was bestowed on the botanic garden, which he repaired, re-arranged, and greatly improved. He then began to make botanical excursions over the island, thus enriching the garden with the fruits of his journeys. He also transmitted to the botanic gardens in Britain, especially Kew, such plants and seeds as were likely to prove acceptable, obtaining in return the productions of other climes—South America, the West Indies, &c., for the Ceylon garden.”

    So three things we can glean from this passage:

    (1) He made a living and received some measure of status by practicing medicine, and making sure he kept in touch with and wrote flattering things about his aristocratic patrons. He was about 26 when he set out for Brazil and about 31 when he returned to Britain.

    (2) His teaching job at Andersonian University in Glasgow (now Unversity of Strathclyde, see didn’t pay well enough so he took a job overseas, in 1843. He was 32 years old.

    (3) The job overseas was in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), one of the British colonies. He had the patronage of Lord Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby, who at the time held the position of Secretary of State for War and the Colonies.

    (Incidentally, this is the same Lord Stanley which was the namesake of Stanley, Hong Kong).

    (4) Gardner brought his botanical specimens collected from South America to Ceylon, and became a veritable clearing house for collection of botanical specimens from around the world.

    • The impulse to make the world in our image, or more precisely in the image of who we want to be / think we are continues to vex me. I try to keep in mind that appreciating beauty is not the same as approving how it came to inhabit my porch, however, there it is and here I am, fantasizing about botanical adventures and a milieu in which I could get away with sentences like “Amidst his multifarious labours, he kept up his home correspondence with surprising regularity, writing often to Sir William Hooker and Mr. Murray, and occasionally communicating with the more distinguished foreign botanists of the day.” Enjoy your weekend.

      • I recognize the dilemma. What is to be done?

        Picking up on “fantasizing about botanical adventures and a milieu” …

        …I read a book many years ago called “An Insular Possession” by Timothy Mo – a very interesting historical novel set in Canton / Hong Kong just leading up to the Opium War, it is the same time period as Gardner’s travels – 1830’s and 40’s. Not sure how many people actually read books like this these days because it is very thick and written in a 19th-century style of language and dialogue, but if you enjoy historical novels that explore the meeting of different cultures, you might like this one.

        George Gardner’s career also reminds me a bit of Stephen Maturin in the Patrick O’Brian Aubrey-Maturin novels. Like Gardner, Maturin was a naturalist-physician who studied cryptogams.

        If you have any down time from your multifarious labors, these are wonderful books. But beware – they can be addictive and hard to put down once you are hooked.

    • Some interesting historical details about the botanic gardens in Ceylon:

      Sri Lanka Botanic Garden {1}

      773. A botanic garden was established in Ceylon, in 1811, through the influence of Sir Alexander Johnstone, who was then chief justice of the island. The principal objects of the plan were, to try what vegetable productions from other parts of the world could be advantageously introduced into Ceylon, and to improve the native plants by attentive culture. It was also hoped that the demand for the vegetable productions of Ceylon might be so much increased as to give the natives a decided taste for horticulture. This plan was of more importance, from its being connected with another, which was also proposed by Sir Alexander, and adopted by the English government, for doing away with those restrictions in Ceylon which prevented Europeans holding grants of land in any British settlements abroad, and for encouraging Europeans to become landholders, and to employ their capital in the arts and manufactures of the country. Bishop Heber, when he visited this garden, found it beautifully situated, but not healthy. He was pleased with the variety of plants, and delighted with the splendour of Gloriosa superba, and the brilliancy of the oriental Amaryllide.{2}

      About 1843 Dr. Gardner, so well known for his Travels in Brazil, was appointed to the curatorship of this garden, ‘which he found had been so much neglected as to be almost valueless to the colony;’ but by Dr. Gardner’s exertions, it had become, in 1847, one of the most flourishing and useful institutions in India. (Bot. Mag., for 1847, p. 36.) [Peradeniya Botanic Gardens is in Colombo]


      {2} John Claudius Loudon, An encyclopædia of gardening (1835) page 381

      Curtis’s Botanical Magazine V.73[ser.3:v.3] (1847) page 36

    • [Having technical trouble posting this comment]

      A tourist website today describes the botanic gardens below. Like your “vexing” comment above (“I try to keep in mind that appreciating beauty is not the same as approving how it came to inhabit my porch, however, there it is and here I am”), this site is similarly eyes-wide-open in detailing the destructiveness of English colonialists while acknowledging the valuable contributions of some of their number:

      “Peradeniya Royal Botanical Gardens, the finest of its kind in Asia, the largest of the botanical gardens of Sri Lanka, couldn’t be better located. In the Mediterranean climate of Kandy, the gateway to the Central Highlands, the Gardens, at an elevation of 500 meters above sea-level, were tightly bounded on three sides by a loop of River Mahaweli (Great sandy river), the largest river of Sri Lanka.


      It was British colonialist rulers (1815-1948) of Ceylon, who destroyed the invaluable forest cover of a thousand wooded hills from Kandy to Badulla of Central Highlands of Ceylon that was protected by the gentle sway of Buddhism, which indoctrinated the respect for all living beings.

      The wooded hills were converted to hill after hill of Ceylon Coffee and following the devastating “coffee rust” (a leaf blight – Hemileia vastratrix) in 1869 to seamless hill plantations of Ceylon Tea.

      The very same British Colonialist rulers of Ceylon established the Peradeniya Botanic Gardens that contribute, today, towards the enlightenment of concepts of floriculture conservation, birdlife conservation, butterfly conservation, biodiversity and sustainability of the island of Sri Lanka: 5% of the school children of Sri Lanka visit the Peradeniya gardens every year.


      Alexander Moon, the botanist

      Alexander Moon, a diligent student of the Ceylon flora was appointed the superintendent of the Peradeniya Royal Botanical Gardens. In the year 1824, Mr. Moon published a “Catalogue of Ceylon Plants” with the description of 1,127 plates referring to same by native names as well as botanical names. Sri Lanka’s first tea trees were planted here at Peradeniya Gardens in 1824, though the full commercial potential wasn’t to be realized for another half a century.

      All prime imported crops – Coffee, Tea, Nutmeg, Rubber & Cinchona – were tested in Peradeniya Royal Botanic Gardens. That was during the enterprising governorship (1824-1831) of Sir Edward Barnes. Imported crops, Tea & Rubber together with the local crop of Coconut became mainstay of the economy of the island in the time to come. After the death of Mr. Alexander Moon, a succession of superintendents followed.

      George Gardner, the famous traveler botanist

      In 1844, an aptly named Scotsman was appointed the Superintendent of Peradeniya Royal Botanical Gardens: Mr. George Gardner (born in1809 or 1812), a son of a gardener to 5th Earl of Dunmore. Mr. Gardener’s deeds had already well surpassed the carry of his name: his expeditionary account of “Catalogue of Brazilian plants”numbered a collection of enormous 6100 plants.

      Gardner collected the specimens during his four years of explorations in Brazil & was responsible for importing Rubber as well as Cinchona to Ceylon. Both of these imports have been blessings to the island; Rubber becoming a prime export & bark of Cinchona tree producing anti malaria drug Quinine.

      Mr. Gardner, with great industry, launched upon the development of Peradeniya Gardens till his tragic death in 1849 with a fit of apoplexy at the Rest House of Nuwara Eliya, the prime sanatorium of the colonialists in the Central Highlands of Ceylon. His untimely death left his work towards a Ceylon Flora incomplete. “Gardner Monument” was erected at the park to his memory.

      Dr. Thawaits’s 30 years of unbroken selfless service to the Peradeniya Royal Botanical Gardens

      Gardner was succeeded by a man who wouldn’t be his second best: Dr. Thwaites. Dr Thwaits’s term of service extended over thirty unbroken years, during which he never left the Island of Ceylon. A devoted student of the science of Botany, Dr. Thwaites is credited with bringing world wide recognition to the Peradeniya Botanic Gardens. He retired in 1880, and died in Kandy in 1882.

      While their fellow Englishmen were busy game hunting, killing thousands of elephants, killing mammals and birds, those illustrious botanists of Ceylon at the Perdenaiya Royal Botanical Gardens, contributed with their tireless work towards enlightening their follow colonialists with the value in conservation of biodiversity and floriculture of our Sri Lanka Holidays.”

    • As a result of your question I came across a wonderful research article written by anthropologist Lucile H. Brockway, “Science and Colonial Expansion: The Role of the British Royal Botanic Gardens” (American Ethnologist, 1979).

      Click to access brockway.pdf

      The article details the strategic role of the English botanic garden network, headed by the Royal Botanic Garden at Kew, in collecting and disseminating information and specimens of economically useful plants, in the service of the colonial empire.

      It appears her research was expanded and published in book form in 1979 and recently republished in 2002:

      “Science and Colonial Expansion
      The Role of the British Royal Botanic Gardens
      Lucile H. Brockway

      This widely acclaimed book analyzes the political effects of scientific research as exemplified by one field, economic botany, during one epoch, the nineteenth century, when Great Britain was the world’s most powerful nation. Lucile Brockway examines how the British botanic garden network developed and transferred economically important plants to different parts of the world to promote the prosperity of the Empire.

      In this classic work, available once again after many years out of print, Brockway examines in detail three cases in which British scientists transferred important crop plants—cinchona (a source of quinine), rubber and sisal—to new continents. Weaving together botanical, historical, economic, political, and ethnographic findings, the author illuminates the remarkable social role of botany and the entwined relation between science and politics in an imperial era.

      The late Lucile H. Brockway received her doctoral degree in anthropology from the City University of New York.”

      A very endearing review appears at the Amazon site:

      “The author was my mother. The book, based on her anthropology thesis, applied anthropological concepts to the sweeping GLOBAL influence and changes of Western colonization using the British empire as the model. Its a ground breaking book, easy and interesting to read (don’t mind the implicit occasional politics). “The best part” (that’s an inside family joke) is learning about the relationship between colonial expansion, Kew Gardens, rubber plantations, malaria, chinchona (sp?) and Gin and Tonics. I actually typed an early version of this chapter and couldn’t have been happier with the content.”

      The Brockway piece is included in a recent (2011) anthology on post-colonial science and technology.

      • Hi Perspectivehere,

        Very much enjoyed Brockway’s article. It made me think about differences between graduate school during the 70s and 90s, which is when I went. 70s academia seemed caught up in social movements of various kinds and the language and scope of research questions reflected this. Some of my favorite books, including Laura Stoler’s work on colonialism in Sumatra were produced out of that era and published through the mid 80s. In contrast, as a graduate student in the 90s, I grappled with cultural studies’ questions, which seemed about moving the language of literary theory and French philosophy into anthropology. In many ways, thickly descriptive and historically informed story-telling, which is what first attracted me to the discipline, became muddled in demonstrating theoretical proofs and the exciting insights of reflexive anthropology (as cultural critique) gave way to — alas — more theoretical proofs as if anthropology were philosophy (verging on epistemology) and not the study of human life as lived and understood by locals and their guests.

        Also, it sounds like Brockway went back to school after her children were old enough to help type up her findings. Wonderful indeed. I keep returning to Gregory Bateson’s life as an example of how formal academic training enlarges our imagination whenever we cross disciplinary boundaries, even as those boundaries were drawn through colonial endeavors. Bateson’s father, William, was after all “England’s first geneticist” and son Gregory went on to anthropology when physical science wasn’t enough to answer the big question — what does it mean to be human? David Lipset’s (1980 again) biography, The Legacy of a Scientist includes the note that Bateson often quoted Blake, “For a tear is an intellectual thing” to frame discussions about the purpose of an intellectual life.

      • Mary Ann,

        Thank you for your reply. I’m learning so much from your blog and responses – I really appreciate your sharing your knowledge and insights.

        I’m interested in reading more about Bateson. According to Wikipedia:

        “Bateson also viewed that all three systems of the individual, society and ecosystem were all together a part of one supreme cybernetic system that controls everything instead of just interacting systems. This supreme cybernetic system is beyond the self of the individual and could be equated to what many people refer to as God, though Bateson referred to it as Mind. While Mind is a cybernetic system, it can only be distinguished as a whole and not parts. Bateson felt Mind was immanent in the messages and pathways of the supreme cybernetic system. He saw the root of system collapses as a result of Occidental or Western epistemology….

        At the heart of the matter is scientific hubris. Bateson argues that Occidental epistemology perpetuates a system of understanding which is purpose or means-to-an-end driven. Purpose controls attention and narrows perception, thus limiting what comes into consciousness and therefore limiting the amount of wisdom that can be generated from the perception. Additionally Occidental epistemology propagates the false notion of that man exists outside Mind and this leads man to believe in what Bateson calls the philosophy of control based upon false knowledge.

        Bateson presents Occidental epistemology as a method of thinking that leads to a mindset in which man exerts an autocratic rule over all cybernetic systems. In exerting his autocratic rule man changes the environment to suit him and in doing so he unbalances the natural cybernetic system of controlled competition and mutual dependency. The purpose driven accumulation of knowledge ignores the supreme cybernetic system and leads to the eventual breakdown of the entire system. Bateson claims that man will never be able to control the whole system because it does not operate in a linear fashion and if man creates his own rules for the system, he opens himself up to becoming a slave to the self-made system due to the non-linear nature of cybernetics. Lastly, man’s technological prowess combined with his scientific hubris gives him to potential to irrevocably damage and destroy the supreme cybernetic system, instead of just disrupting the system temporally until the system can self-correct.

        Bateson argues for a position of humility and acceptance of the natural cybernetic system instead of scientific arrogance as a solution. He believes that humility can come about by abandoning the view of operating through consciousness alone. Consciousness is only one way in which to obtain knowledge and without complete knowledge of the entire cybernetic system disaster is inevitable. The limited conscious must be combined with the unconscious in complete synthesis. Only when thought and emotion are combined in whole is man able to obtain complete knowledge. He believed that religion and art are some of the few areas in which a man is acting as a whole individual in complete consciousness. By acting with this greater wisdom of the supreme cybernetic system as a whole man can change his relationship to Mind from one of schism, in which he is endlessly tied up in constant competition, to one of complementarity. Bateson argues for a culture that promotes the most general wisdom and is able to flexibly change within the supreme cybernetic system.”

        Bateson’s ideas remind me of those of Ivan Illich, Medical Nemesis (1975), esp. his ideas on the “medicalization of life” and “iatrogenesis”.

        For full text of Medical Nemesis see:

        Bateson seems to have a little of the spirit of Kurt Vonnegut in him, too.

        For the thoughts of an historian of science on Occidental science and its relation to China, see:
        Nathan Sivin, Why the Scientific Revolution Did Not Take Place in China–Or Didn’t It? (1982, revised 2005)

        Click to access scirev.pdf

        Nathan Sivin: A Man for All Seasons

        Click to access 03%20Intro%20v21.pdf

        Thank you for the Blake reference – I do not know that poem! I’ve just read a little about it. In return for your Grey Monk of Blake, I give you two grey monks, one departed who continues to inspire a renewal in Occidental spirituality – John Main – and his very energetic student Laurence Freeman, who was just in Hong Kong leading a meditation retreat in December 2011.

        Silent Teaching: The Life of Dom John Main

        Laurence Freeman, Prayer in the 21st Century

        Click to access Prayerin21stCentury.pdf

        (Audio version here:feed://

        Other podcasts and audio files here:

      • Happy connections. I have read and been inspired by Merton for years and pleased to see how John Main and Laurence Freeman have deepened his work. My mother practices centering prayer and while she was here, we sat together every morning. As Main noted, silence and solitude do bring us closer together. In Shenzhen, I listen to teachings by Gil Fronsdal, the teacher at the Insight Meditation Center in Redwood, Ca. The link is: When I can, I also practice in Hong Kong, although lately I have been going to a temple in Korea.

      • Happy connections indeed.

        Your reply brought to mind the Chan Buddhist concept of seeing the universe in a grain of sand.

        In this case, it is a cactus flower.

        Blake had written a poem about that:

        “To see a World in a Grain of Sand
        And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
        Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
        And Eternity in an hour.”

        It seems others have noted the Blake-Chan Buddhism connection:

        Here is a Chinese blog site that talks about the concept:

        And for a link between Buddhism and Genetics, see this:

        “Thuan: Yet another kind of interconnection discovered by science is that we’re all linked together genetically. We all descend from Homo habilis, who appeared in Africa about 1,800,000 years ago, regardless of our race or skin color. As a child of the stars, humanity perhaps experienced a feeling of cosmic affiliation most intensely when we saw for the first time those stirring pictures from the space missions of our blue planet floating, so beautiful and yet so fragile, in the immense darkness of space. This global view reminds us that we are all responsible for our Earth and must save it from the ecological disaster that we’re inflicting on it. William Blake expressed the global nature of the cosmos beautifully in the following lines:

        To see a World in a Grain of Sand
        And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
        Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
        And Eternity in an hour.

        The entire universe is indeed contained in a grain of sand, because the explanation of the simplest phenomena brings in the history of the entire universe.”

        And this:

        拼音:Yī Huā Yí Shìjiè (Yi Hua Yi Shijie)

        The whole world may be found in your Brazillian cactus flower.

      • I took refuge with the Kwan Um School of Zen. Our triennial conference to bring members together is called “the whole world is a single flower”, when our School’s teacher use a flower dipped in ink to write “世界一花” at the end of WWII. Last October, we met in India and Nepal. We will gather again in Fall 2014.

        More prosaically, I am an editor at Architectural Worlds, the journal of the Shenzhen University School of Architecture. I’m wondering: would you be interested in writing a 2 to 4,000 word critical essay on some aspect of either urbanism or a particular city for us? History, feminist, ecological, postcolonial all good and yes, we pay! We are currently reorienting the journal from a strictly just the buildings, ma’am journal into something more critical. Here’s the preface to the first edition (just out):

        Why Architectural Worlds?

        “S” is a tricky letter, signaling more than fill-in-the-blank grammatical shifts from the singular to the plural. Instead, “s” indicates an emphasis on and recognition of lived diversity. We start from one – one world, for instance – and by adding an “s” we suddenly find ourselves amongst a plethora of worlds – the peoples, societies, and institutions of the earth. In other words, the presence or absence of an “s” reveals both the topic of conversation and our level of analysis. Are we talking about the nature of the world in general, or are we talking about distinct cultural worlds?

        Examples of how an “s” might bring us from abstract musing to actual experiences abound. Being means “existence”, but the word beings includes all life forms. Culture refers to our shared capacity to use symbols, while the word cultures reminds us that in practice we use different symbols in different and often incommensurable ways. Indeed, for many topics, speaking about a singular, essential nature indicates an epistemological shift. Thus, in everyday life, we talk about birds or a bird, but mentioning Bird raises the conversation either to the level of taxonomy (all birds are in the Animalia Kingdom, Phylum of Chordata, and Class Aves) or to the poetic (The free bird leaps on the back of the wind and floats downstream till the current ends and dips his wings in the orange sun rays and dares to claim the sky…)

        By changing the journal’s name from World Architecture Review to Architectural Worlds, we at AW are announcing our commitment to and curiosity in human diversity. We still provide the informed, scholarly perspective on world architecture that defined our previous incarnation. However, by widening our editorial scope to include the cultural values and social institutions that distinguish one architectural world from another, we hope to open conversations about the place of architecture in constructing fully human lives. END

        The journal comes out every two months and aims to be bi-lingual, although we’re still working on the ratio and movement between languages. On March 10, I’m hosting a roundtable on Gossip and Architectural Practice, which in turn will be the cover story for the third edition (June). If you feel inspired either A to join the conversation in Shenzhen or B contribute an essay, you are most welcome.

        Another happy thought, I’ve just realized I should add a page to the blog and call for essays!

      • Serendipity drives discovery!

        Thank you for your invitation – I’m flattered. I really liked this:

        “…we at AW are announcing our commitment to and curiosity in human diversity….by widening our editorial scope to include the cultural values and social institutions that distinguish one architectural world from another, we hope to open conversations about the place of architecture in constructing fully human lives.”

        Please let me think about it and I will get back to you by email.

    • To complete the link between the Royal Botanical Garden in Ceylon and how your Brazilian Cactus’s ancestors made the jump from India to China — it no longer would have needed to rely on the pacific gyres, because the P&O Company (Peninsular and Oriental Steamship Navigation Company) started a steamship line from Ceylon to China in 1845, which allowed for shipment of opium from India to China (See Chapter 3: From India to China: P&O and the Opium Trade, 1845-57)

      Flagships of Imperialism: The P & O Company and the Politics of Empire from Its Origins to 1867

      “Flagships of imperialism is the first scholarly monograph on the history of the P&O shipping company, and the first history of P&O to pay due attention to the context of nineteenth century imperial politics which so significantly shaped the company’s development. Based chiefly on unpublished material in the P&O archives and in the National Archives, and on contemporary official publications, the book covers the crucial period from the company’s origins to 1867. After presenting new findings about the company’s origins in the Irish transport industry, the book charts the extension of the founders’ interests from the Iberian peninsula to the Mediterranean, India, China and Australia. In so doing it deals also with the development of the necessary financial infrastructure for P&O’s operations, with the founders’ attitudes to technical advances, with the shareholding base, with the company’s involvement in the opium trade, and with its acquisition of mail, Admiralty and other government contracts. It was the P&O’s status as a government contractor which, above all else, implicated its fortunes in the wider politics of empire, and the book culminates in the an episode which illustrates this clearly: the company’s rescue from the edge of a financial precipice by the award of a new government mail contract prompted, among other things, by the Abyssinian expedition of 1867.”


      So one possible transmission route of your Christmas Cactus’ ancestors to China from the collection of Brazilian plants at the Ceylon Botanical Garden was on a P&O Co. steamship together with some bales of opium.

      • Perspectivehere,

        Thank you for telling the story. I am continuously impressed by your enthusiasm for research and heartened by your ethical commitments.

  4. My last comment is something a little more beautiful.

    George Gardner wrote a book about his travels to Brazil, called “Travels in the Interior of Brazil, Principally Through the Northern Provinces and the Gold and Diamond Districts, 1838-41.”

    You can see related here on pages 48-49, his recollection of the moment when he saw the plant which was to be called schlumbergera russelliana – the precursor to the plant in your apartment:

    “At four o’clock, P.M., we reached a place by the side of a
    small stream, where I determined to remain for the night ;
    and, while the blacks were occupied in cutting wood for
    a fire and in preparing dinner, I took a walk up the
    course of the little stream. As I estimated this spot to
    be at an elevation of about 4,500 feet, I naturally ex-
    pected a vegetation different from that in the valley below.
    The first plant that attracted my attention was what I
    imagined to be a fine individual of Cereus truncatus, in
    full flower, hanging from the under side of the trunk of
    a large tree that was bent over the stream, but on getting
    possession of it, it proved to be a new, and, perhaps,
    a still more beautiful species. I have named it Cereus
    Russellianus, in honour of His Grace the late Duke of
    Bedford, one of the most liberal supporters of my mission
    to Brazil; it has since been introduced to the hot-houses
    of England.”

    Veeerrry coool.

    • Uncanny moments of recognition are very wonderful,thank you for sharing and taking the time to discover. In sympathetic synchronicity, yesterday, I heard another story of uncanny recognition when a young friend told me that her friend had discovered their family genealogy in the Harvard Yanching Library. She, however, was not thrilled, rather nonplussed — just what was her friend’s family genealogy doing in a US library?

  5. Hi there, just became alert to your blog through Google, and found that it’s really informative. I’m gonna watch out for
    brussels. I will appreciate if you continue this in future.
    Numerous people will be benefited from your writing. Cheers!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s