I am almost finished but have also run out of time. Tomorrow I leave to go home to the UK for almost a month, to do some very tedious things including renewing visa and passport all of which require a mountain of absolutely 100% correct paperwork, undamaged fingertips (it’s a good job I am not gardening at the moment) and enormous patience.
The crown flower has been very slow, particularly this time because it had to be correctly detailed for identification purposes rather than artistic ones, so everything I did had to be measured and very careful. I don’t really enjoy the measuring but can see its importance, and at times like this, a microscope would have come in handy.
I have also had some more ant problems, not of course from “Ant” who remains my faithful companion, but from an army of tiny ants who career about the drawing and smudge themselves into the surface of the paper. They appear from nowhere, love the milkweeds and lodge in every nook and cranny of my desk. At the slightest movement they employ scatter tactics and fan out across everything. Fatalities have occurred, mainly it seems on pristine parts of my white paper. My greatest aim, so far on the course, is to finish a submission with unmarked paper… some hope…
Super photo of the pod ( do I really need my own real, live one??) by Ram Thakur from Trek Nature here
The pods are typical of the other milkweeds and, to me, are one of the more interesting parts of this curious plant.
I am beginning to understand a little more about the paint handling for this very exacting style of work and am very keen to get onto some subjects of my own choosing and design. I hope to get to Kew while I am in the UK as there is an exhibition of botanical work referencing plants that have an economic value.. that’s my kind of plant! Beautiful and useful.
I have had to leave this unfinished as, despite having returned to the plant 5 times over two weeks there are still no seed pods.. and so there remains an “optimistic gap” for the pod.
“Optimistic gaps” are very useful things generally in life and some of my very favourite things. They hold the promise of perfection and are generally much better left as gaps than filled.
The next 3 weeks are definitely an Optimistic Gap, as I am still not quite sure what I will be doing or exactly where. After working so hard this year for the exhibition, freelance work and assignments I do feel in need of some input time. Time to just look at the world that exists beyond the 4 corners of my drawing board to which I feel I have been somewhat unwillingly chained recently.
I am optimistically taking my sketch book which I hope won’t remain an empty gap.
Crown Flower 80%
I decided not to post each step-by-excruciatingly-slow-step of this assignment but today have put a couple of stages together. I only have 2 more days to get this done so, if it all goes wrong I just won’t have to worry too much.
I have spent quite some time looking at the flower with a magnifying glass and dissecting bits here and there. I have had two trips to the gardens this week for more specimens and today I watched the insects which delight in hanging out on this curious flower, but could not see any exciting pollen transference going on. These lovely red milkweed bugs are always around and are important pollinators.
and I was rewarded with a nice stripy monarch caterpillar too.
I would really like to add these two insects to the drawing as they are all inter dependent; the monarch butterfly only feeds on milkweeds and the red bugs are expert examples of “co- evolution”
“The relationship of milkweed to all the milkweed insects – a relatively small guild of orange and black insects that advertise the fact by their coloration that they feed on a noxious plant that makes them unpalatable – is known as co-evolution.
Through the pressure of herbivory, plants are selected to become more toxic, by so doing they leave behind some of the herbivores (in evolutionary time) but not others. Those herbivores not left behind are those that are capable of overcoming the plant defenses and in some cases, such as the milkweed feeders, are able to incorporate the plant defenses as part of their own defense against predators.”
There were ladybirds as well…I am not quite sure how they fit into milkweed world.
And I did some painting too, Stage one and Stage two. It’s all very slow! Magnifying glass in one hand, paintbrush in the other… Hmmm not really me.
It’s quite a big painting, 16 x 11 inches.
Crown Flower: Stages One and Two
Today more sketches of the Crown Flower, trying to concentrate while I listen with growing dismay to the swine flu reports. I am trying to be optimistic as in a week’s time I am due to fly home to the UK for a long visit…most of May. I am so looking forward to it, so I am just thinking positive.
I was looking in more detail at the flower head and the leaves. The structure of the flower is so odd. There are 5 sepals only seen from the underneath of the flower, then 5 petals which do at least look like petals. Then the central “crown” part which consists of 5 stamens, the buttress like structures, which are joined with the filaments to form a structure called a “gynostegium”, a fusion of the male and female parts of the flower.
This superb photo of a White Crown Flower by G D Carr from the Hawaii Education dept here shows the top of the crown, where you can see 5 little black points.
These I think are called the glands and if you can get a scalpel in at this point you might be able to extract the “pollinia”. These are the structures which hold the pollen, not loose pollen as we usually imagine, but flat waxy pollen drops, in pairs, attached to the gland.
Here is the scan I took yesterday after I had found the pollinia. It is tiny, just 2mm long, but scanning it at high res did give me a reasonable result.
Crown Flower Pollinia
Somehow… and I am still not entirely clear how this works with this particular flower, an insect has to attach one of these to its leg and transport it to another flower.
If you are interested in milkweeds, there is a stunning web page by Brian Johnston with wonderful macro/micro photos and a clear explanation of the intricate process of the pollination of the Common Milkweed Asclepias syriaca here. The milkweed structures are all basically similar but I think I might email him to ask if he can explain exactly how it works with this particular flower… How does the insect (probably one of the red milkweed bugs) get these particular pollen sacks on its leg???. I had to work quite hard to get the thing out, but then, as we say in Lincolnshire, I probably wasn’t holding my mouth right.. 🙂
More Crown Flower Sketches
Today’s drawing is a study of the very beautiful Crown Flower, calotropis gigantea, or giant milkweed. After a day of frustrating computer, phone and general technological horrors it was lovely to sit down and look at the exquisite structure of this flower which has waited patiently in the fridge for 4 days. Actually these little flowers are rather good at surviving as they are one of the flowers used for Hawaiian Leis and were said to be amongst the favourite flowers of Queen Liliuokalani who was the last reigning monarch of the Hawaiian islands.
Another Hawaii beauty from www.dakinedecor.com
Asclepias are named after Asklepios, the god of medicine in ancient Greece who professed to be able to raise the dead. It’s not entirely clear if he did this with Milkweeds as some are extremely toxic!
The God Hades, fearing an alarming loss of souls for his underworld kingdom, persuaded Zeus kill Asklepios. To cut a long and complicated story short, involving snakes, cyclops, Apollo and a host of other luminaries, Zeus eventually regretted his actions and immortalised Asklepios in the starry constellation known as the “serpent-bearer,” hence the serpent twined round the staff which is still the symbol of the medical profession.
The “design” of this flower is just beautiful, as is Rene Binet’s famous design for the entrance to the World Exposition in Paris, 1900. Binet had based his design on a drawing from the bologist Ernst Haeckel’s wonderful “Art Forms in Nature” which I am sure I will be returning to very soon.