Leaf of the Day: The Dwarf Turks Cap and Thomas Drummond

It is still unseasonably cold. I have 3 layers of clothes on and had forgotten how difficult it is to draw fine detail with cold hands but that is no excuse for not getting on with the drawing.

I heard some sobering statistics the other day about “practice making perfect”. It seems it is a mixture of some natural talent, backed up with relentless training, that gives people at the top of their game the edge. Violinist Miaxim Vengerov for example has practised his violin for 7 hours each day since he was four. The magic number seems to be ten thousand hours. That is the equivalent of three hours per day for at least ten years. I can’t imagine how many hours I have put into drawing in my artistic life but what I do know that some are unproductive and it has to be quite disinclined practice…unfortunately 3 hours a day of scribbling wouldn’t quite do! I think I have some way to go yet especially with botanical painting.

This brilliant red berry caught my eye the other day and as fruit is the next assignment for the course I need some practise with shine and texture.
It is the fruit of the pretty Dwarf Turk’s Cap, Malvaviscus drummondii otherwise endearingly know locally as the “Sleepy hibiscus” due to the fact that its folded hibiscus like flowers never quite open up completely.

Image from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center here

It is native to Texas but is also a common sight in Florida in alley ways and around wasteland and rambling around gardens. It can be used as a screen to cover a variety of unsightly things and here it has the added attraction of being able to hold its own in the shade of the huge live Oaks. Hummingbirds and butterflies love the nectar which, if you tip the flowers upside down will literally drip out. The young leaves, flowers and fruit are edible, it is called Manzanita” (little-apple) by the Mexicans but as I have only found one berry so far I haven’t tried it, but it will be going on my “eat your way round the garden” list.

The variety name of this plant is named for the Scottish naturalist Thomas Drummond, (1790-1835). He was another eminent and tireless collector and recorder who accompanied Sir John Franklin’s second overland expedition to Arctic America. In 1830 he made a trip to America to collect specimens from the western and southern United States. In March, 1833, he arrived at Velasco, Texas to begin his collecting work in that area and spent twenty-one months in Texas collecting many species of plants and birds. Drummond had hoped to complete his botanical survey of Texas but died in Havana in 1835. He had suffered some terrible illnesses including cholera and fevers and there is a vivid description of some of his expeditions and the awful hardships that these early explorers endured. If you ever thought that collecting plants was a gentile and even slightly effete occupation, think again. I quote from a fascinating short account of Drummond’s life written by his great great great grandson here

“He crossed the Allegheny mountains but contracted a fever which laid him up for ten days in Louisville. He recovered enough to reach St Louis by steamer but suffered a relapse which left him “skin and bone” but still carried on collecting. He then went to Texas undaunted by the brewing of the Texas Revolution and the raging conflicts between Indians and settlers, travelled to Velasco and as luck would have it, just in time to encounter the dreaded cholera which he caught. The same day the captain who sailed with him also took ill and died, all other cases terminated fatally within 10 to 12 hours. He was the only survivor in Velasco making a recovery with no one to nurse him or bring him food “when my appetite returned I was nearly starved for want of food, the few individuals who remained alive being too much exhausted with anxiety and fatigue to offer to procure me anything”Life became no kinder, The Brazos river flooded, submerging the prairies to 15 feet and did not recede for months ( it was called The Great Overflow ). There was anarchy, famine and widespread lawlessness in Texas, but he still found time to send back 750 species of beautiful plants, many of which bear his name. He then navigated an old canoe 100 miles to Galveston Island by himself and wintered there despite incessant rain which lasted for three months.On returning to New Orleans, Dec 1834, he came down with a bilious fever and ” such a breaking out of ulcers, I am almost like Job smitten with boils from head to foot” The boils were so painful he couldn’t lie down for seven nights. Still sick with fever, he headed home to explore the Florida Peninsular. His last letter dated 9 Feb 1835 was sent from Apalachicola in Florida where he was to embark for Havana. There was no further word from Thomas, Hooker received his personal possessions, along with a death certificate that confirmed his demise.

Captain Franklin described Drummond as ” being indefatigable in collecting specimens of natural history, in the course of which service he had been exposed to very great privations. To his perseverance and industry, science is indebted”

After reading this and about his quite horrible experiences in the Canada, my cold fingers are as nothing….shame on me.

The berry I have drawn below is just splitting open. It will split into three segments and have three seeds.. all of which I will plant in honour of Mr Thomas Drummond.

Dwarf Turks Cap, Leaves and Berry