Leaf of the Day: Crucillo Sprig and Seedling Update

Today I am having a studio and balcony sort-out day. In my “studio” which is the other bedroom I have the small nature table which is now covered with bit of pods and twigs and leaves. They are all getting out of hand and occasionally a seed pod explodes and seeds ricochet around the room. It is Ant’s perfect adventure playground of course. Yes, Ant is still here. Why? The balcony door is open day and night. He must just prefer to be inside I suppose, yesterday he was mountaineering in my jar of brushes.

I also have a few pots on the balcony where I optimistically plant things, sometimes bits of stem that I have drawn, sometimes small cuttings and the occasional seed. Many are doing well. I am particularly delighted that the “leaf” of the beautiful Red Rhipsalis here is growing, my Soapberry seedling is a now a tiny tree, the Crown of Thorns and Stapelia which Pedro gave me are thriving and all the leaves of the various Sansevierias are sprouting roots and the piece of Devil’s Backbone here is beginning to zig zag its way to heaven.

My seedlings are doing well too. The tiny Desert Rose seedlings look like little plants already. There were 6 but I managed to knock the head off one of them.

And to my amazement the Silky Hakea here seeds have sprouted. On one of my visits a few weeks ago I noticed that the Hakea I like so much is dying. All the beautiful pods had opened up and almost all the seeds had gone. This may be a natural part of its life cycle as it has to be damaged in some way for the pods to open, but I did manage to find three intact seeds and wondered if they might germinate for me. My methods are haphazard to say the least and because I like to see how things grow I just use damp kitchen towel in an old upside down plastic fruit container. After only a week they had sprouted and here they are just shrugging off their seed coats, looking happy and relatively healthy I think.

But my favourites for the moment are the two spindly and comical Gout plant seedlings. They sprang out of their pots within a few days of planting and I am entranced by their elegance and vigour.

Bill and Ben… not quite twins, but related.

I´m afraid I have called them Bill and Ben .. well, a little silliness has to creep in every now and then. My American readers were probably spared the much loved UK 1950’s children’s TV programme with the two flower pot men puppets and the very annoying Little Weed..

Image from Whirligig TV here

I need some more time and a better sample to continue the cotton drawings so today I drew the little crucillo sprig that has been waiting for a couple of days now . It seemed happy enough in some wet oasis but the leaves are just beginning to droop.

It is labelled as “Randia laetevirens” Crucillo Bush, the name meaning “little cross” for obvious reasons. It was the cross formation of the white stems that caught my eye and the leaves are dainty but there are some very sharp spikes on the ends of the twigs. I have not been able to find out very much about this particular variety but Austin and Honychurch writing about the Randia aculeata (White Indigoberry) in “Florida Ethnobotany” say it is described as the “little cross” in South American countries and the branches sold as small Christmas trees in the winter.. so this must be a close relative. I will amend this post if I find out.


Leaf of the Day: Grevillia Banksii pods and Hakea update.

Last week I brought another Hakea pod home with me, hoping to actually see it opening up, but it got the better of me, splitting slightly along the seam on Friday and then overnight opening up. The surprise this time was how the pod opens up and in so doing releases the beautiful black seed from its case, demonstrating the real design elegance of this plant. The wing tips of the seeds are attached to the top 2 sides of the pod so when it opens it lifts the seed clear of its case. I think the drawings will explain it better. This is different from the one I drew earlier. I draw things just as I see them and am no expert botanist, so I must assume that the earlier pod did not contain a viable seed. On Sunday morning the pod had opened even wider..I am wondering when the seed will actually become detached. (I am sure this thrilling account has you on the edge of your seats but, to me, it is the most fascinating thing to watch how these natural mechanics work.)

While collecting this pod I also noticed some really funny little empty pods on the ground and brought a few back. If you were of a whimsical turn of mind you would have to say they are definitely pixie hats! They turn out to be from the Red Grevillia(Grevillia banksii) which is another Australian native and from the Proteaceae family, the garden planners at Leu obviously made a little Aussie collection here. These are the empty pods which had developed from the flowers. I can’t see the flowers (if there are any at this time) as the tree carries its branches too high for me to reach but the next time I am there I will make more of an effort. Having done some research though, I understand better how the pods develop and this beautiful illustration from Ferdinand Bauer shows the flower and fruit formations. I do hope I get to see a flower this season.
I imagine the little hooks are to attach the seed to passers by, hitching a ride to a new destination.

The plant was named by Robert Brown the Scottish naturalist who spent 3 years collecting and describing new species of plants in Australia. He and Bauer had worked closely together during Mathew Flinder’s Australian expeditions on the ship the “Investigator” and when they returned to England, published various volumes of their findings. The “Illustrationes Florae Novae Hollandiae” published, in 1813 was a collaboration between Bauer and Brown and contained the drawing above. Bauer was an exceptional artist even engraving his own plates, such skill is humbling!… more of Bauer at a later date.


Hakea again and Grevillea Pods

Leaf of the Day: The Curiously Beautiful Silky Hakea Pod and Some Firechasers

In my work room I have a long table that houses my paints and my ever growing collection of twigs, pods, bits of branches, bark, seeds and the like. They generally sit there until I get round to drawing them and I tend to assume there won’t be much activity in that direction apart from the odd displaced ant wandering around. However, while I was away a few things were not so dormant as I had thought. Three seed pods have changed. The beautiful big green cone I had found has turned brown and is springing open from the bottom up and the little ginger seed head which I drew last week has split open to reveal pale green seeds and is now possibly even more lovely. But the biggest surprise is the woody pod of the Silky Hakea, Hakea sericea which has split in two, to reveal what is probably the most beautiful seed pod I have seen to date.
They are, of course, just doing what comes naturally, drying out and getting ready to shed their seeds.

I had seen these woody pods some time ago and thought they were some sort of gall, this one above looking like some strange perching bird. Last week I gathered one from the tree at Leu and taken a photo of the name tag. The Hakea is not a plant I am familiar with at all and, not having had time to look it up before we went away, I was totally unprepared for such an unprepossessing thing to open up and reveal something so beautiful. It has split along a sort of beaked ridge which runs down one side of this inch and a half long pod revealing two black winged seeds set into the sheer surfaces of two solid halves. When I say ‘set in’, it looks just as though the finest craftsman has set silky ebony shapes into a setting of two-tone creamy ivory. It is quite exquisite. The surface of each half is as smooth as smooth, a sharp contrast with the pods outer surface which is so rough and pitted. The pods are heavy and knobbly and, it would appear, impenetrable, but having read a bit about them now I realised why. This is one of those extraordinary plants that needs fire.

The whole subject of the ecology of the burnt landscape is fascinating. What we view with dismay as complete and utter devastation, will immediately be readjusting even before the last drifts of smoke have blown away and although it may seem an impossibility, some species of plants and animals are dependent on fire and do not thrive without it. Australian species of plants are particularly well adapted to fires, cypress cones and banksia seed pods open up with fire and so do the Hakea pods. Mallee eucalyptus trees have large underground roots known as lignotubers which enable them to regenerate after fires and many are able to grow new leaves and branches from burnt trunks.
There was not, mercifully, a fire in my work room but the Hakea also responds to ” damage” by going onto emergency regeneration mode and opening up its seed pods.
Fires then can be very useful, releasing seeds, removing competing plants, open up areas to more light, enriching the soil with ash and creating ideal growing conditions for some plants.

There is also a curious wood boring beetle, the black fire beetle, Melanophila acuminata that actually flies to the fires. Like some little heat seeking missile, they are able to detect fires from many miles away either by smell or by infrared heat sensitive areas located under their wings.

Great photo from German site here

Alerted and hot to trot they zoom off to the charcoal forest to meet and mate. Researcher Nathan Schiff who has been studying these pyrophillic insects describes the smoking remains of the fire as a heady “nightclub for bugs”.

They then lay their eggs under the bark of the burnt trees followed in hot pursuit by the little black backed woodpecker, another fire following creature, who will eat the beetles and grubs, camouflaged beautifully by its “charred” feathers.

Photo, bird call and head banging from the Cornell bird site here

My drawing has not really done this beautiful thing justice, and I will maybe try a colour version. You need to hold it in your hand to really appreciate the different surfaces textures and the subtle colours, in my eyes no jewellery designer could make anything more beautiful, give me a super Silky Hakea Pod over those gaudy Faberge eggs anyday.


Silky Hakea Pod