Ghost In The Machine - Understanding The Language Of Flowers


In 1758, the Swedish botanist, zoologist, and physician Carl Linnaeus published the tenth edition of his book‘Systema naturæ per regna tria naturæ, secundum classes, ordines, genera,species, cum characteribus, di erentiis, synonymis, locis’ or translated:‘System of nature through the three kingdoms of nature,according to classes, orders, genera and species, with characters,di erences, synonyms, places’.

Linnaeus developed his classi cation of the plant kingdom in an attempt to describe and understand the natural world as a re ection of the logic of God’s creation. To him, the sexual system whereby species with the same number of stamens were treated in the same group, was convenient but also arti cial. Linnaeus believed in God’s creation, and that there were no deeper relationships to be expressed. He is frequently quoted to have said: ‘God’ created, Linnaeus organized’.(Latin: Deus creavit, Linnaeus disposuit).



The lily is a tall perennials ranging in height from 50 to 120 cm. It forms naked or tunicless scaly underground bulbs which are their organs of perennation. Bred for beauty, Oriental Lily Casa Blanca features large outward-facing, bowl-shaped, milky-white flowers. It has recurved petals and contrasting red-orange anthers with markings such as spots and brush strokes. Heavily scented, this elegant Lily can produce up to 6-8 blossoms per stem, spreading or reflexed, to give flowers whose semblance varies from funnel shape to a ‘Turk’s Cap’. The tepals are free from each other and bear nectar at the base of each flower. The ovary is ‘superior’ - borne above the point of attachment of anthers. The fruit is a three-celled capsule. The bulb grows naturally at some depths in the soil, and each year the new stem puts out adventitious roots above the bulb as it emerges from the soil.

The Casa Blanca Lily is part of the Oriental Family which is often referred to as ‘stargazers’ because many of them appear to be looking upwards. This idea dates back as far as 1580 B.C when images of lilies were discovered in a villa in Crete. The lily was so revered by the Greeks that they believed it sprouted from the milk of Hera, the queen of the gods.

In the Victorian language of flowers, lilies symbolize chastity and virtue and were the symbol of the Virgin Mary’s purity and her role as an Angel. They are used most commonly at funerals where they symbolically signify that the soul of the deceased has been restored to the state of innocence.



The Bearded Iris, from the family Iridaceae, is a perennial plant that varies in height from 35 to 120 cm. It comes from the South of Europe and is characterized by a stoloniferous, hardy rhizome with thick, creeping underground stems. It has sturdy, sword-like leaves and six petals - three upright and three hanging.

The Bearded Iris is a hybrid of pale blue Iris Pallida, yellow Iris Variegata, purple-blue Iris Germanica, and perhaps other southern European species. It exists in a wide range of colours, flourishing from May to the end of June in chalky soils that remain dry even during the winter.

The name bearded relates to the fuzzy line, or the beard, that runs down the middle of each fall. The word Iris comes from the Greek Ἶρις, meaning ‘rainbow’ or ‘Goddess of the Rainbow’. According to mythology, Iris was the personal messenger of the Goddess Juno, acting as the intermediary between the Olympus and the earth. She was in charge of bringing the messages from the Gods to the humans, and so the flower assumed the meaning of hope and auspice. Travelling with the speed of the wind from the sky to the earth, and into the depths of the sea and the underworld, she would always wear flowing, multi-colored robes, generating with her fluctuating movements of a rainbow.

Iris was also in charge of taking away the life from people, from which derives the ancient tradition of using Irises to ornate tombs.



“The thunder crashed and storms of blinding rain poured down from heaven. Iris, great Juno’s [Hera’s] envoy, rainbow-clad, gathered the waters and refilled the clouds.”

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“Iris, in her thousand hues enrobed traced through the sky her arching bow... Iris entered, and the bright sudden radiance of her robe lit up the hallowed place... Iris departed, and fled away back o’er the arching rainbow as she came.”


“Spreading her wings, the goddess [Iris] took off from earth, describing a rainbow arc under the clouds as she flew.”

Due to the high popularity of this Iris, as well as the introduction in 1900 of new types of irises, the number of hybrids is increasingly growing. The first knowledge of the flower dates back to the ancient Egypt, where the Pharaoh Thutmosis brought back a vast amount of unknown bulbs and flowers from his military campaign in Syria. These were studied and then used both to embellish the gardens and for their medical properties.

The flower also became linked to Royalty and is used, for example, in the coat of arms of the city of Florence. Furthermore, the aroma obtained from the Iris’ rhizome was believed to be the favourite of Caterina de’ Medici, from whom the denomination as ‘Queen’s water’ derives.

Iris is the national flower of Japan and in their culture, irises flourish during spring are associated to the ideas of rebirth, purification and protection. The leaves are used in the baths to protect the body against evil spirits, or are placed on the bed to protect the rooms from external invasions, bad influences or fires.

In the language of dreams, dreaming of Irises is believed to bring positivity and inspiration to your life. Irises represent courage and wisdom, following your instincts, and faith and hope in yourself. When you dream of Irises in all colors, it might indicate a desire to set free some hidden aspects of your personality. This meaning goes back to the idea of the rainbow, indicating a reality shaped by a variety of hues and possible meanings.



Fritillaria acmopetala (pointed-petal fritillary), from the family Liliaceae, is a bulbous perennial with an erect stem reaching heights of 30–70 cm. The long, straight, very narrow leaves grow in whorls about the lower stem and in pairs near the top. The stem has one (or, very rarely up to three) nodding, bell-shaped flower at each node. The final 10cm of the stem is bare.

It flower around April/May and each flower has six petals, each 3 cm long. The outer petals are a yellowish-green with some darker patches and red veins, while the inner petals purplish brown at the top and bottom. The insides of both is yellow. It produces up to three pendant flowers per stem with olive-green and burgundy striped exteriors. Fritillaria Acmopetala prefers rich, well-draining neutral pH soil.

It is native to rocky limestone mountain slopes in northern- Cyprus, southern Turkey, the Nur Dağları of the Hatay Province, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine. It grows naturally in pinewoods, Macchia, open woodland, and cornfields, especially under the olive trees in the Girne-district of Cyprus.




Eremurus is a genus of around 40 flowers that belongs to the lily family. It is a clump-forming perennial with rosettes of strap-shaped basal leaves producing dense racemes of small star-like flowers on erect, leafless, stems. Its leaves and flowers grow from a central crown and flourish in early to midsummer. It has fleshy starfish like roots and a long almost tuberous shape, with inflorescences at the tip resembling a long spike. Colours range from snow white and bright yellow to pastel pink, orange and copper. Some plants may have more colours at once.

It originates in the dry grasslands and semi-desert of central Asia, especially of Iran, Turkey and Afghanistan. Some varieties also thrived in the Himalayan regions. It can grow up to 3 meters and is one of the highest flower known to man. Its spikes are topped with densely packed buds that gradually relax into flower from the bottom upwards. Taken individually, the flowers are quite small, the petals a pale almost peachy pink, eventually bleaching to white with contrasting orange stamens and a yellow central boss. The overall effect is quite stunning, with hundreds of lightly scented flowers - much loved by honey bees - arrayed around the top meter of each spike.

The genus name derives from the Greek words ‘Ekemos’ which means solitary and ‘Oura’ which means tall. Eremurus are commonly called Desert Candles, both recalling their bright hues and the meaning of their Greek name as ‘Heremita’ - the person that used to live as a solitary soul in the desert. Because of their appearance, they are also known as Foxtail Lilies. The common names of this plant describe the look of the flower spikes, bushy like the animal's tail, and their preferred types of environments: sunny and dry.

Eremurus ability to live for long periods without water came to symbolise patience and endurance. Its roots accumulate high levels of fructans during their growth and are traditionally used to cure jaundice, liver disorders, stomach irritation, pimples, bone fractures and is used as a glue for industrial application. Furthermore, its leaves are edible, and have been consumed as a palatable vegetable by tribes of the Kinnaur district in India for centuries.

Due to the fact that these plants come from difficult geographical terrains, where conflicts are frequent and severe, this plant genus is still relatively unknown. The first hybrids, in fact, were produced by Sir Michael Foster only in the early 20th century.



Lupinus, commonly known as lupin or lupine in North America, is a genus of flowering plants in the legume family of the Fabaceae. The genus includes over 200 species, with centers of diversity in North and South America. Smaller centers occur in North Africa and the Mediterranean. It is widely cultivated, both as a food source and as ornamental plants.

The species are mostly herbaceous perennial plants ranging from 30 to 150 cm. The leaf blades are usually palmately divided into 5 to 28 leaflets, or reduced to a single leaflet, as in a few species of the southeastern United States. The pea like flowers, each 1–2 cm long are produced in dense or open whorls on an erect spike. They have an upper standard, or banner, two lateral wings, and two lower petals fused into a keel. The flower shape has inspired common names such as bluebonnets and quaker bonnets.

The legume seeds of lupins, commonly called lupin beans are consumed throughout the Mediterranean region and the Andean mountains, and were already eaten by the early Egyptian and pre- Incan people. They were particular popular with the Romans. They cultivated the plants throughout the Roman Empire for their ability to improve the fertility of soils.

While originally cultivated as a green manure or forage, lupins are increasingly grown for their seeds. They are highly regarded as a stock feed, particularly for ruminants, but also for pigs and poultry and more recently as an ingredient in aqua-feeds. Like other legumes, they can fix nitrogen from the atmosphere into ammonia via a rhizobium–root nodule symbiosis, fertilizing the soil for other plants. This adaption allows lupins to be tolerant of infertile soils and capable of pioneering change in barren and poor-quality soils. The taxonomy of Lupinus has always been confusing. How many distinct species exist or how they might be organized within the genus is not clear. The plants are variable and the taxa are not always distinct from one another.

Professor Martyn says that the name owes its origin to Lupus, a wolf, because plants of this genus ravage the ground, by overrunning it, after the manner of that animal. Lupinus is also said to be derived from Greek ‘grief’ whence Virgil’s epithet ‘tristes lupini’ – from the fanciful idea of its acrid juices, which produced a sorrowful appearance in the countenance.

Pliny, instead, recommended the white lupine as they would give a fresh colour and cheerful countenance to those who ate them. The eating of Lupines was, also, thought to brighten the mind and quicken the imagination.

The seeds are said to have been used by the ancients, in their plays and comedies, instead of pieces of money: hence the proverb ‘Nummus Lupinus’ - a piece of money of no value.

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The blushing bride is a single stemmed, erect, evergreen shrub, 0.8-1.5 x 0.5 m. Flowering stems branch off the main stem producing fine, dissected leaves and end in terminal flowering buds. It produces 1-8 ivory to pink flowers per branch.

Serruria florida naturally occurs on the Franschhoek side of the Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve. It grows on mountain slopes in soils derived from granite, which is found below the sandstone soils typical of the Table Mountain Group. It was first collected by Swedish botanist Carl Thunberg in 1773. It was recorded and described but not again seen or collected for another 110 years. Professor MacOwan found the Franschhoek population which was then cultivated at Kirstenbosch and later presented to royalty in England.

The species name florida refers to the Latin meaning free-flowering or producing abundant flowers. Its common name, blushing bride, was derived from folklore. One version states that a young man would court a maiden, presenting her with a flower. The deeper the shade of pink, the more imminent the proposal, causing the maiden to blush. 

Another follows similar lines, stating it was custom for a young gentleman to wear a flower in his lapel when he was about to propose. The deeper the pink of the flower the more ardent his affection for the maiden and again the result would be a blushing maiden or bride to be. 

This species is critically endangered as it is threatened by alien invasive species such as hakea and pines. Too frequent fires are a critical threat to the remaining wild populations, as immature plants are not given enough time to produce seeds that will rejuvenate the underground seed bank.

These beautiful flowers are pollinated by insects. Seeds are released and dispersed by ants in their underground nests, which form the seed bank.

Serruria florida is one of the fynbos species that is highly dependant on a fire ecosystem. The parent plants will die in a fire and only seeds survive to form the next generation. Seeds will only germinate after fire has occurred. Too frequent fires destroy the natural seed bank as young seedlings require two years before they are mature enough to produce flowers and the new seed crop.

Anna Skladmann presents a site-specific installation on the building front of the New Covent Garden Flower Market called 'Ghost In The Machine - Understanding The Language of Flowers'. The artist juxtaposes the errors and ghosting of her scanning machine with the fragility of exotic botanical ndings that she sources at the market. The specimens have no roots, they are cut and are ready for trade, oating in the technological glitches of her scanning machine. Only the botanical names and their origin stories point to their heritage, home and adopted mythology. She raises questions on botanical classi cations systems exploring notions of nature and society, cultivation and the machine.

A temporary installation on the building facade of the Flower Market at New Covent Garden Market, Nine Elms Lane, SW8 5BH

Commissioned for Art Night 2018

A project supported by joint venture company VSM (VINCI St. Modwen), working in partnership with Covent Garden Market Authority.

Anna Skladmann