Tuesday, 2 September 2014

hot lips

 There is the bloom of a flowering shrub in South America called the Psychotria elata, which bears an uncanny likeness to a pair of human lips. It has the vulgar name of hookers' lips but that does not detract from its popularity—the rare plant poached for Valentine's greetings. Maybe it is a case of partial pareidolia, since the effect only lasts a short time and the mature flower begins to look rather like a pair of diseased lips that no one would want to kiss—and possibly hence the name—but the effect seems too convincing to be just accidental. I wonder what evolutionary forces could have pedigreed the appearance. There is no lore to the plant that I could locate, other than Amazonian tribes using it for medicinal purposes (earaches, etc.) and no mythology of some forlorn lover transformed out of pity by a sympathetic god or cursed out of spite, humbled spirit of the forest or even vegetable intrigues—the other flowers casting this one out to be forever a curiosity to humans or a sly deal with those man-eaters to lure people deeper into the jungle.
I suppose it probably appears as something else entirely and more straightforward in the eyes of pollinators and predators. Still, I appreciate how well our houseplants have us trained to cater to their needs and wonder if there's not some higher dimension to this selected trait—an evolutionary goal to be cultivated in a hot-house and tended by environmentalists, exchanged as a symbol of affection or blogged about. Naricissus would have liked like the last two especially.