Leaf of the Day: Tulip Tree Leaf

This pretty variegated leaf came with me from the West Dean Gardens, pressed inbetween the pages of a sketch book. I had forgotten I had put it there. So my drawing is of a slightly dried up leaf but the pattern was still as bright and its lovely shape still true to life. The stem is long and elegant allowing the leaves on the tree to flutter beautifully in the breeze.
It is the tulip tree Liriodendron tulipiferaso called, of course, because of the shape of the flowers., but I thought the leaves were quite tulip shaped like too.

I have never seen one in bloom, but it was hard to miss this tree in garden with its beautiful variegated leaves, pale green with darker green markings, and of course the unusual shape.

The tree is native to the Eastern United States and the lovely wood is well known to cabinetmakers and it was the favoured tree of dug-out canoe makers including, allegedly, Daniel Boon the great 18th C American frontiersman.

This 16th Century engraving, showing the making of a dug out canoe is, I think, again from from De Bray’s work based on the observations of Jacques le Moyne who I wrote about under the Yaupon Holly post here . He is the one who recorded the interesting black tea (yaupon holly) ceremony amongst the Timucua Indians of Florida. .. its hard to forget that one!

Tulip Tree Leaf

Leaf of the Day: Yaupon Holly, and a liquor that sorts the men from the boys

Today I have started a week of sketching at Leu Gardens. I spent quite a long time just looking at the colours and mixing up appropriate greens and I did manage a couple of sketches which I will post later this week. Last week I was looking for Yaupon Holly in the garden, which I assumed was going to be something like an English Holly. It is, in fact nothing like an English Holly. It has tiny pretty leaves and they are not prickly! With directions from Tony and Cecil I found two trees. One a pretty weeping variety, which was covered with pretty orangy red berries and the other one, the native yaupon tree.
I have been curious to see this tree after reading about the Black drink in the book I have borrowed from the library about Jacques Le Moyne the 16th century artist and adventurer who I mentioned in an earlier post here .
Le Moyne arrived in Florida in 1562 with a French expedition and started recording the lives of the Native Americans. Things didn’t go too well for these early settlers who were ousted by the Spanish after 2 years and Le Moyne had to flee for his life after most of his companions were killed by Spanish forces. His original drawings were lost in a fire but when he arrived in England he was commissioned by Walter Raleigh and collaborated with an engraver Theodore de Bray to produce a series of extraordinary illustrations recording the lives of the Timucua tribe of Indians in northeast Florida. The legitimacy of Le Moyne’s hand in the works is now questioned but they remain some of the very first images of the New World and its people to be circulated in Europe.

The particular reason for his mention in this post is that in one engraving “An Indian Chief in Council”, a circle of men are gathered round and being handed a liquid to drink from shells . The drink is the “Black Drink”, made from the Yaupon Holly..the Latin name is Ilex Vomitoria which should alert you to some of its properties!
The Timucua people had a ceremony in which, to prepare for hunting trips and other important tribal matters, the highly caffeinated cassina tea, brewed from the leaves of the Yaupon Holly was served. The caffeine content was so high that it induced vomiting in many and it was thought that the ability to hold your drink, and your stomach, showed you were fit and able to withstand the rigors of hunt or battle. In lesser quantity, and strength cassina was served as a drink of friendship and alliance..allegedly. Caffeine was a prized commodity and yaupon holly was traded as was tobacco… I wonder if Good Queen Bess ever sipped a afternoon cuppa of Ilex Vomitoria?.. if so I bet she held up well.

Vomiting top right and top left!

This image is from the University of South Florida’s excellent website “Exploring Florida” here. It shows all the engravings and beautiful details too.

The figures in this slice of Indian life looks quite odd to us now but De Bray, not having seen the Timucua people himself, was basing his idea of the human form on contemporary 16th century European painting and, of course, the fashionable body shape of the day, so all are well muscled-up, the girls draped languidly around their boiling cauldrons while the chaps are assuming artistic and classical stances even when being sick. I think the reality was somewhat different.

The whole set of engravings are completely fascinating and sometimes rather greusome..but well worth a look.
This, then, is the innocent looking little Yaupon Holly. Should I feel myself flagging tomorrow I might consider chewing on a leaf or two…it might well improve the drawing.


Yaupon Holly

Leaf of the Day : A Gummy Unfinished Begonia Leaf

The trials of the natural history artist 2..problems with the weather, materials and mosquitos.
If I am ever tempted to complain about the discomfort and the difficulty of working in a hot climate I always try to think of two great lady pioneers of Botanical Illustration, Margaret Mee and Marianne North who both took their art materials out into the jungle to record rare species, braving disease, violence and sweltering temperatures. Today however, my comparably very trivial problems have been enough to make me want to throw the coloured pencils in the bin, head straight for the airport and and book a ticket to ( I hear ) snowy England.
The humidity and torrential rain have made the paper damp. The high temperatures have wilted my model and made the already quite waxy coloured pencils gummy and soft, so drawing with them has become like applying a candle to a hotplate. My attempts to draw the fine delicate fringe to this little begonia leaf has tried my patience to the very limit. I have given up.
To add to all this I have 11 mosquito bites, 5 of them on my hands.. Why?? Why are there mosquitoes? Why do they bite your fingers when there are nice big accommodatingly smooth and unwrinkled bit to attack. What is the point of the bites itching so badly that you want to tear the flesh from your bones with your teeth? …
However, thankfully, I did get to the library today which was a more soothing experience.

Some early accounts of Florida ..good and bad.
There I found a book about an early intrepid Florida explorer and recorder, Jacques Le Moyne, who in 1562 arrived in Florida with a French expedition and recorded the lives of the Native Americans. The French were driven out of Florida by the Spanish and Le Moyne was one of the few to escape alive. The survivors eventually landed in Britain where Le Moyne remained. I will return to him when I have read more.
But I also came across this early song about Florida. The first on record written in English, it appears in a manuscript in Oxford’s Bodleian Library dated 1584. Had the Anon author, I wonder, whiled away a couple of hours in an ale house with Le Moyne hearing about bizarre and improbable practices from this foreign land, such as smoking dried leaves?.. a notion almost absurd as yesterdays sloth. (Tobacco doesn’t arrive in England until 2 years after this poem , but Le Moyne had already recorded its “medicinal use” in his notes.)

“As I walked toward St Pauls
I met a friend of myne
Who took me by the hand and sayde “come drynk a pynt of wyne,
Wher you shall here
Such news I fere,
As you abrode will compel.
With hy!

Have you not hard of Floryda
A countree far by west?
Where savage pepell planted are,
By nature and be hest
Who in the mold find glysterynge gold
And yt for tryfels sell
With hy!

Ye , all along the water side
Wher yt doth eb and flowe
Are turkeyse found and wher also
Do perles in oysters grow;
And on the land do cedars stand
Whose bewty do excel
With hy!

Wunnot a wallet do well? ”
( a wallet would be useful!)

Almost 200 years later, in 1770, Oliver Goldsmith has a more disconcerting tale to tell prospective settlers who may have felt compelled to try the fair land of La Florida. This is from The Deserted Village.

Through torrid tracts with fainting steps they go,
Where wild Atlantic murmurs to their woe.
Far different there from all that charmed before,
The various terrors of that horrid shore;
Those blazing suns that dart a downward ray
And fiercely shed intolerable day;
Those matted woods where birds forget to sing,
But silent bats in drowsy clusters cling;
Those poisonous fields with rank luxuriance crowned,
Where the dark scorpion gathers death around;
Where at each step the stranger fears to wake
The rattling terrors of the vengeful snake;
Where crouching tigers wait their hapless prey,
And savage men more murderous still than they;
While oft in whirls the mad tornado flies,
Mingling the ravaged landscape with the skies.

Today I am definitely with Goldsmith!

Poems from ‘Florida in Poetry’ by Jane Anderson Jones & Maurice J. O’Sullivan