Leaf of the day: 50 (ish) Yaupon Holly Leaves

I am revisiting a few plants this week to fill in some gaps for the exhibition. Today the Yaupon Holly, another favourite tree of mine. It’s the tree of the nauseating Black Tea ritual which I wrote about here, in the post “Yaupon Holly, and a liquor that sorts the Men from the Boys”. Even if your Latin is rusty, the botanical name, Ilex vomitoria, gives the game away. The blog post will be printed for the exhibition and I felt this important Florida native needed some better representation than the one pencil drawing I had made. The trees at Leu differ slightly but I found a nice sprig of the weeping variety to paint on Saturday. These elegant trees still have some berries and are really so pretty, with tiny leathery leaves, the very longest on this sprig is only 1 inch long. There are also even tinier white flowers. I have painted two but they are difficult to spot.

This branch is from a particularly attractive weeping tree at Leu which grows in the Arid Garden, taken back in early December. Until recent pruning, the berry laden-branches cascaded right down to the ground, arching and criss-crossing so elegantly. The Arid Garden is undergoing some reconstruction at the moment, ousting some non arid species for some more desert loving plants. It will be very interesting to see how it develops. The frogs will have had a shock as their overgrown home near around the pond has now been razed to the ground, but I am sure they will have found some other accommodating damp spot nearby.

I would definitely plant a Yaupon Holly if I had a garden. Not only are they very attractive (and can be used as a substitute for box as a hedge), but when times are hard and coffee expensive, a chew on the leaves will give you that necessary caffeine hit, so valued by the Timucua Indians. I have read that as well as being brewed for “black tea”, the plant was used as an hallucinogen to “evoke ecstasies” but also, confusingly, the bark was used to treat nightmares?
That seems contradictory to me but in the mysterious and sometimes dangerous world of ethnobotany all is possible.

Yaupon Holly Sprig

Watercolour on Fabriano HP. 15″x9″

Leaf of the Day: The Toothache Tree and Tarpon Sponges

On Friday evening we stayed at Tarpon Springs. All you have to do is forget for a moment the busy traffic on highway 19, hammering relentlessly up and down, to and from Tampa to the Panhandle. If you can do that you barely need to suspend your disbelief at all to imagine you are on a small Greek island inlet. Tourist shops and small restaurants line Dodecanese Avenue, bouzouki is your background music and elderly Greek men sit together and chat as the sun goes down. The shops are full of sponges and souvenirs and fishing boats and trip boats line the quay. When a friend suggested we go to Tarpon I really had no idea it would be so Greek! We only stayed overnight enough time to have some excellent fish and meet a young man the Sawgrass Tiki bar, who still dives for sponges with his uncle.

It’s a small, still dangerous, but profitable business having recovered from the “red tide” blight of 1946. (the red tide still seems to be a bit of a problem here) There is an informative website here about the Florida sponge industry.

images from interesting old Florida post card’s page here

Saturday, and we are heading north to Cedar Key, but stopping on the way at Homosassa for a really good breakfast at the very friendly Bear’s Pa Cafe, a wander round the remains of the old Sugar mill and to learn something about the scalloping season which had started at the beginning of July. The river inlet was teeming with boats big and small and families old and young all going out to the Gulf to gather scallops.

Continuing up to Crystal Springs, we stopped at the Crystal River Archaeological State Park which houses the remains of a very important pre-Columbian, Native American site with burial mounds, a temple platform, and 4 ancient stele.

The six-mound complex is one of the longest continuously occupied sites in Florida. For 1,600 years the site served as an imposing ceremonial center for Native Americans. People traveled to the complex from great distances to bury their dead and conduct trade. It is estimated that as many as 7,500 Native Americans may have visited the complex every year.

Should you visit and bump into Michael, one of the park rangers, he will bring the whole place alive for you, showing you how to see the figure in the carved stele and to my great delight taking us “off path” to see some native plants and trees I didn’t know. I now do know what poison ivy looks like and what its horrible effects can be, I understand more about the old uses for wax myrtle, the water locust, and the needle palm. He also identified this for me,

The huge lubber grasshopper. Big, bright and tasting disgusting due to some toxic froth they produce, they meander about, safe in the knowledge that their colours alone are enough to warn off most predators. ” even those big old alligators spit ’em out” said Michael. He also introduced me to what he calls the squirrel proof Toothache Tree. It’s the Prickly Ash, the Tickle Tongue Tree, or Hercules Club. The leaves and berries have a lemony fragrance and the bark and leaves contain alkaloids which cause numbness of the mouth, teeth and tongue if chewed so allegedly relieving toothache. It has large spine-tipped pyramid shaped projections,on the trunk, (yet another spiny plant) which turn slightly downwards so discouraging even the most valiant squirrel. It was a pretty tree I thought. I was sorry I could not get a leaf to draw as they were all too high for all of us.

Michael has also brewed and “quite enjoyed” the yaupon holly drink. My respect for him grew by the minute. I have to admit I am now very curious to try it myself, so the next time I find myself flagging and low on energy I am going to reach for a couple of yaupon leaves instead of a coffee… but then look where curiosity got the cat..

Leaf of the Day: Herbert’s Giant Radish and the Vegetable Police.

Yesterday I heard on the radio that, due to food shortages, it is becoming conceivable that the EU vegetable police who ensure that no deformed or non-conforming items of fruit and veg can disgrace the hallowed counters of the supermarkets, may in fact be relaxing their rules. Regardless of how things actually taste we have been subject to a dreary conformity and a quite horrible dumbing-down of the glorious variety of odd and interesting produce, just another symptom I suppose of a society that seems to value the superficial over the important.

“We ( now) want to have two classes, allowing supermarkets to sell funny shaped vegetables,” said Michael Mann, a spokesman for the European Commission.

Change however may be slow. The rules on bananas are remaining the same but at least cucumbers will be allowed to wriggle a bit.

I quote from the ‘Independent’ article all about knobbly veg here

The rules for bananas will remain unchanged, meaning both overly bendy and straight fruit cannot be labelled class one. EU directive 2257/1994 dictates that top bananas must be “free from malformation or abnormal curvature of the fingers”. Regulation bendiness helps speed packing and prevent damage in transportation. Class two bananas can have full-on “defects of shape”.

Directive 1677/88 stipulates that class one cucumbers may bend by 10mm for every 10cm of length. Class two cucumbers may bend twice as much. This will be relaxed.”

A footnote to the cucumbers is that enthusiasts will no doubt be very interested to know that a new and delightfully considerate variety has been developed to ensure propriety at that elegant afternoon tea party. You will be able to wolf down those dainty crustless cucumber sandwiches without fear once you have ascertained that your hostess has cultivated only the “Burpless Tasty Green” variety. According to the blurb, “the fruits are not giants like most other Japanese varieties – cut them when they are about 9in (23cm) long and enjoy the crisp, juicy flesh from which both bitterness and indigestibility have been eradicated.”

However, in support of the mishapen and the indigestible, I have made a sketch today of a giant of a radish. This I bought, along with a cobra shaped courgette, from Hector at the Winter Park Farmers market. He has some fine fruit and veg and some herbal teas that sound as though they would rival the yaupon holly drink for their purgative qualities. He and I talk about vegetables, be prepared for some more interesting specimens.

This radish is 3″ in diameter and a beautiful pale pink. Inside the same pink colouring radiates out in a starburst from the centre. I have no idea of the variety but it is a radish to be reckoned with.

Herbert’s Radish

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