Leaf of the Day:The Zoo Garden and the Snail and Butterfly Vines

I was a lucky child because my parents loved both gardening and the natural world and instilled in me an appreciation of wild and cultivated plants from my earliest years. I had a small patch of ground where I experimented with my own flowers and always loved to grow anything that had an animal name. Unfortunately many of my favourites were weeds which was not particularly popular with my father, my carefully nurtured crop of snapdragons and foxgloves growing side by side with “dents de lion” coltsfoot and fat hen which merrily seeded themselves all over the garden. But I loved my little “animal” garden.
Already, just glancing down my haphazard plant list from Leu there are many animal names, donkey’s ears, lion’s tails, parrot’s beaks, horsetails, bear’s breeches, shrimp plants, fish tails, lobster claws, various dragons, bat related flowers, leopard spotted plants, toad lilies, bull’s horns, porcupine bushes, crocodile ferns, foxtail ferns, spider plants, snaky things of various kinds, cat’s whiskers and birds of paradise.

Here are two more which are easy to grow, pretty and whose names describe them well,
the Butterfly Vine Mascagnia macroptera and the Snail Vine Vigna adenanthus.

The shrubby Butterfly vine is native to Mexico and, oddly it seems to me, a member of the Barbados cherry family. It has pretty yellow flowers but it is probably the butterfly-shaped seedpods which make it so attractive and interesting. The flowers and seedpods decorate the plant at the same time and at Leu it has engulfed a chainlink fence and is trailing along the adjacent ground, obviously very happy. The seed pods turn from green to brown and they really do look like butterflies. The green ones I picked some time ago have kept their colour well and older ones range from vari-coloured to a pretty mottled brown.

A selection of 6 of the seeds pods, definitely some very nice art /craft possibilities here.

The second animal plant is the Snail Vine Phaseolus adenanthus, Vigna

I had to include this great image from KillerPlants here because it was photographed by Chelsie Vandaveer here at Leu Gardens and much better than mine!

This is a South American native and a fast growing vine. The lilac coloured, spiraling flowers are fragrant and the leaves are pretty too. (They didn’t survive over the weekend for me to draw). The long curled structure is the keel petal which hides the stigma and stamens. The bees who visit this flower have to push against the keel to access the the sweet nectar, so releasing the stamens and stigma, from their protective sheath. The bee, who has to be the correct weight to do this, will brush against them, both picking up new pollen and depositing pollen from another flower. Cross pollination has occurred, ah, the wonders of nature.

I was just thinking that this Christmas when money is tight, a few packs of animal seeds would make a different gift for a nature loving child or would perhaps spark a bit of interest in plants. It may sound a bit simplistic but isn’t it a lovely introduction to looking after things? Hmm.. lets think… which of the virtues could we engender in the kids…”patience” perhaps, “hope”, definitely. Ok, plants may not be quite so animated as some electronically powered things but they do have their own slowly unfolding charms. Having a horticultural zoo might just sow a seed (sorry) which could blossom (sorry again) into of a lifetime love of plants and, let’s face it, the odd few days of understandable childish neglect will have less disastrous consequences on the plants than on the luckless hamster.

Nice gift for us adults too, (she says, just in case my nearest and dearest are struggling for ideas)
Being somewhat inclined to the odd and bizarre I have just planted some Devils Claws, Proboscidea parviflora. How exciting! I have spares!

From a drawing point of view neither of these subjects excite me too much, both work better as three dimensional objects. You need to be able to turn them round and wonder at their structure and form, but they were definitely worth a couple of sketchbook pages.


Snail Vine and Butterfly Vine