Leaf of the Day: Heliconia Episcopalis and the Aristolochia, again

Tuesday. Just when I need all my faculties to be at their best for some fine work the lens falls out of my good glasses…sods law. It’s not the end of the world as I have many pairs of cheap reading glasses but it’s just one of those things that you don’t need. However, onwards and upwards. I went down to Leu for some rather myopic flower searching and I have painted two flower heads, the Heliconia episcopalis and the almost cute aristolochia. (I made sure this one didn’t bring along quite so many flies.) This is my second attempt at the aristolochia and of course the frustrating thing is that some parts of this one are better than the previous one and some are worse, but as I am running out of time this has to be it.
I enjoyed the heliconia as I like strong simple structural shapes. It is a brilliant orange yellow, and mere paint just cannot imitate the strength or vibrancy of the colour. It shows the remains of the spent flower head and one new flower emerging from the bracts. It is called the “episcopalis” due to the shape resembling the episcopal mitre.
From Wiki here is another of these diagrams that I like so much… of the evolution of the mitre… something I have never turned my mind to before.

There is also a shell with the same name .. the little Episcopal Mitre shell

Image from Beachcomber shell site here

Shells are so beautiful and so paintable aren’t they? . I am hoping to find some interesting ones when we finally get down to the Keys. Here is a whole other branch of natural history painting which I will have to try. When, I wonder.

Heliconia Episcopalis and Aristolochia Fimbriata

Leaf of the Day: Three Reluctant Flowerheads

I have been to the gardens today to look for more inspiration for flowers but got very sidetracked by some extremely interesting oranges, loofahs, more Jatrophas, spice trees, the rare Juanulloa mexicana, the Agaves and some great Ladies fingers pods. This did not help at all with today’s mission to find some flowers to paint for the course. Also, having mentally earmarked some, when I go to collect a specimen I find that the Glory Lillies are no more, the Aristolochias are decimated again by caterpillars, the Coral Tree flowers are now very much past their best and even the Black Eyed Susan is flowerless. Flower wise it had been a bad day, not helped by getting soaked to the skin in my way home in the big storm that swept through Orlando at lunchtime. Also a hopeful model died on the way home even in a cool box.
But I have three possibles and made preliminary sketches but I have to say I am not much inspired.

The first and the most interesting is one of the gorgeous heliconias..the smallest I can find ..the heliconia episcopalis. It has a bright red orange inflorescence with the remnants of spent flowers peeping out of the sides.
The second is the dainty little flower of the Dwarf Poinciana otherwise known as the Pride of Barbados because it is the national flower of Barbados. Alternatively it is called the fence flower because it grows into a small bushy tree with thorns, so good for effective and pretty fencing! This one is a bright red and yellow variety with an interesting flower structure and long red whiskers. Its Latin name Caesalpinia pulcherrima gives rise to more interesting information as it honours the Italian 16th Century physician and botanist Andrea Cesalpino. He made many important observations about plants and the body but from a botanic point of view it is the two publications, De plantis libri XVI (1583) and his Herbarium 1550-60, one of the oldest herbaria still in existence, for which he is held in high esteem. The first, a herbal was a collection of acute and insightful observations about plants, their structures and their classification. His system of classification was deemed to be the most important until that of Lineus who honoured him thus, Quisquis hic exstiterit primos concedat honores, Casalpine Tibi primaque certa dabit.

Which I think, very roughly translated, means that the honours should go to Casalpine as he was the first. ( apologies to any Latin scholars, you might like to put me right?)
His second ‘book’ is a herbarium ( a collection of dried specimens)containing 760 plants and now held in the Museo di Storia Naturale di Firenze in Florence. Sadly there is not much visual information on the Internet that is obvious from a quick search, but here is an image from the museum website.

In desperation for something else to paint I have also turned reluctantly to the anthuriums. I don’t really like them. I don’t know why and there is not much to say about them except that they do have some great leaves..now if it was the leaves I was drawing it would be a different matter, but the flowers? …well maybe I am missing something.

One of the problems with this assignment is size.. I would love to have taken home one of the huge magnolias or the strelitzias or a stunning double ‘angel’s trumpet’ flower, (at least I could have given myself over to its narcotic scent which might have helped the creative process along a bit) but I am limited to getting 7 flowers onto one A3 sheet…sigh..
Anyway here are 3 preliminary sketches of these flower heads.


Heliconia Episcopalis Dwarf Poinciana, Anthurium,

Leaf of the Day: Sample and Sniff in the Gardens and the Heliconia again

Blogs have their limitations don’t they? There are some things about my experiences in the garden that I just can’t share with you. The heady scents for one. Today it was the gorgeous White Champaca, the exquisite Chinese Perfume bush, and the Gingers. Crush the leaves of any of the Bay Rum trees between your finger and you will have a peppery nose clearing thrill. There are Camphor trees, the narcotic Angels Trumpets, fragrant Camelias and Frangipanis, Roses and the lovely Sweet Osmanthus. I have found a Star Anise tree whose little pods are still green at the moment and you can scratch, sniff and sample your way round the herb garden, with the Parsley, the Thymes, the Arugula and the amazingly sweet Sweetleaf herb which I had never seen before.
It may raise the odd eyebrow as you are casually grazing on the plants but those who don’t are missing some interesting experiences. You have to go about this with caution though. As I have said before there are probably more things in the garden that will kill you than cure you. But today, furthering my unofficial research for the possible “Eat you way round the Garden” guide for Leu and with Pedro’s expert help I sampled a few more “edibles”. I tried the tiny Strawberry Guava Psidium cattleianum and the Natal plum Carissa macrocarpa. You have to be careful with the Strawberry Guava as the very red and tempting ones often contain little worms as demonstrated somewhat gleefully by Pedro..I was not quite so keen after that, but they do taste good. The Natal Plum was Ok, slightly bitter but a beautiful deep red colour inside. I have brought back a green regular guava which I hope will ripen at home and is currently scenting the whole house..just wonderful.
My work today was interrupted by an exciting 4 hour loss of power due to the failure of the transformer which sits outside our apartment. Three large trucks and six large men arrived to replace it encouraged by all the locals who, not having any television to watch, re-lived the old days of community spirit. However I did manage to finish the heliconia, which I had just sketched before. It’s a bigger piece than usual 20 inches across, and has been sitting on a drawing board half done for over a week. I had to complete it without the plant, which is not at all ideal but it had finally given up the ghost in the fridge. This was another experiment with a different paper (this time NOT surface), because next week I have to start 7 coloured flower heads…as always there are some good and some not so good aspects to it .. but it’s all about practice.


Heliconia Clinophila

Leaf of the Day: Heliconia Clinophila, First Sketch

Today I spent most of my time in the jungly shade garden at Leu Gardens where Pedro showed me the absolutely stunning Heliconias which hide away in this quiet part of the garden. You have to brave some extensive spiders webs and ten million mosquitoes but what you see makes up for the hardship.

They are truly wonderful plants with a variety of structurally superb flowers that either hang in pendants or are held erect in a variety of showy spikes properly known as panciles. (A pancile is a branched cluster of flowers.)
They are part of the most fascinating order, the Zingiberaceae, or the Ginger family, and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The definition from Wiki is:
“A family of flowering plants consisting of aromatic perennial herbs with creeping horizontal or tuberous rhizomes, comprising of 52 genera and more than 1300 species, distributed throughout tropical Africa, Asia and the Americas.”
Many species are important ornamental plants, spices, or medicinal plants including shell gingers, ginger lily, turmeric and cardamom.
The name Helicona, after the Mt Helicon fits well with the exotic and strange appearance of these plants. Mount Helicon was the home of the muses forever beautiful and inspirational and the mountain itself wreathed in the mysteries of the gods.

The heliconia’s bracts are large and colorful and hide the sometimes inconspicuous flowers The fruits also develop within the bracts which are often filled with water and house a distinctive aquatic micro-ecosystem much like the bromeliad tank plants which I wrote about before.

In the tropics, the natural home of the heliconias, many rely solely on hummingbirds for their pollination which accounts for their bright red yellow and orange colouring, and the long tubelike shape of the flowers, which ensures that only hummingbirds with their long curved bills and and even longer tongues can access the rich nectar.

It is another example of a mutually exclusive relationship between animal and plant, with some heliconias relying on one specific humming bird for pollination. The different species also “use” the birds in different ways, making sure that the design of the flowers deposits pollen on different parts of the hummingbird’s body so avoiding the contamination of another nearby species.

This beautiful image from gonetoamerica blog here

According to the page on heliconias here from the Cloudbridge project in Costa Rica, the big leaves also provide a home
“for disk-wing bats (bats with suction-cups on their wings) and several species of tent-making bats. These bats construct shelters for themselves by chewing along both sides of the midrib of Heliconia leaves, so that the sides fold down, making temporary “tents.”

Some very cute tent bats from Costa Rica, from a fab site of images of Costa Rica here , one of the many things we didn’t see there and all the more reason to go back.
And I wish I had taken a bit more notice of the flowers, but writing this has reminded me of the very frightened tourist who came on a tour of the Monteverde reserve with us. She was wearing a red t shirt and to her terror was constantly surrounded by little humming birds who according to the guide thought she was a flower. Lucky her I thought. Here in Florida there are not many hummingbirds, but if you are lucky enough, you would be most likely to see the redthroated variety.

Sweet pic from a hummingbird migration site here

I have never seen one at Leu yet but I am not there at dawn and dusk (yet ! ) which is the best time to see them. They are gorgeous little things.

I found an old rather broken piece of the Heliconia clinophia but love its strong rhythmical zig zag profile and the seed pods which spray out of the bracts. I will certainly try some of the other flowers soon too. It is a big piece, 16 inches across, so it will have to be painted on a half sheet piece of watercolour paper. Today I only had time to do these initial sketches, one small study of the bract and as you can see, the larger sketch across two sides of the sketchbook.


Heliconia Clinophila