Flashing Flowers, Glowing Owls

I’m always intrigued by really leftfield mysteries, and this one certainly seems incredibly bizarre. While researching details in the Gentleman’s Magazine (Vol 59, Part 1) (1789) of the “Pickled Knight” of Danbury, I discovered on the same page a “Botanical Discovery”.

The article claims a recent and “very curious phenomenon has been observed on certain flowers by M.Haggren, lecturer on Natural History based in Sweden. He perceived a faint flash of light repeatedly dart from a marigold. Surprised at such an uncommon appearance, he resolved to examine it with attention and to be assured it was no deception of the eye.”

Haggren and now a witness again see the flashes and describe the event as “The light was most brilliant on marigolds of an orange or flame-colour; but scarcely visible on pale ones.”

Throughout the months of July and August (1788?) at sunset for approximately half an hour the phenomena was witnessed. However, if it had been a rainy day or misty, nothing was seen.

According to Haggren, the following flowers emitted flashes and usually in this order:

  1. Marigold (Calendula officinalis)
  2. Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)
  3. Orange Lily (Lilium bulbiferum)
  4. Indian Pink (now called French Marigold) (Tagetes patula)

There is no evidence or such, but to discover if fluorescent insects were responsible, the flowers were carefully examined (with and without a microscope) without anything being found.

The article contains the assumption that the flashes might be electricity, but Haggren believes after witnessing the flashes close up that the flashes came from the petals only. Moreover that the petals are flashing due to phosphorus pollen bursting from the flower’s centre and then settling on the petals, presumably the fluorescence disappears instantly?

There needs to be further research about this phenomenon but a clue to the real cause of this alleged phenomenon is the order in which the flashes occur – could Haggren be right in his deduction and the distribution of phosphoric pollen occur at different times after sunset? Did Haggren actually exist? Its not the first time that I’ve found articles from magazines of this age to be figments of the imagination.

I’m really interested in luminescent plants and creatures, one of the first UFO cases I read about as a young boy (The Kaikoura Lights – 1978) was partly debunked as being Owls being covered by luminous funghi. Since then I have discussed sightings of such things with botanists and witnesses, I am always amazed how objects can be perceived and in most circumstances be misidentified by even the most experienced professional.

I will certainly research the flashing flowers phenomenon further, I want to know more about Haggren and also if any conclusion was found to the flashing, as they say, “the game is afoot!”