Monday, April 26, 2010

Denise Rivers volunteering in the Seed lab

Denise is among the more regular volunteers at the Seed Lab at the Botanic Gardens. For 6 years she has been volunteering with Greening Australia in a variety of roles - potting up in their nursery at The Gap or out seed collecting. Greening Australia is one of the partners in the locally based Seeds for Life project which is running in conjunction with the MSB project (Millennium Seedbank Project).
Bush regeneration and land care is something she has given much time to in recent years, aiding the ongoing effort to rid bush land of weeds, especially vines that strangle and kill off shrubs and trees as well as introduced species.
I've been in the lab on several ocassions with Denise and had wonderful conversations around this work she is involved in. I am thrilled to post her excellent photos that she has kindly emailed from her own personal collection with accompanying text from notes made to go with images.

The ground berry - Acrotriche  epacridaceae Denise says its particularly hard to pick this low lying bush without being scratched to bits. With a stick to lever up the branches with berries on them and gloves to save hands the berry is collected with great care. In an attempt to generate seeds for planting many methods have been tried - like soaking in boiling water, keeping in a dark room, soaking in a can of coke, leaving them to soak for 24 hours in water - even putting them in bird droppings with moisture and holding in a dark place. The Gap's native nursery finds refridgeration for 3 months is best so far - and perhaps easier!

Monkey Pop Vine or  Parsonsia straminea Our photographer thinks this would make a great hair piece or blonde wig. Working in the bush last year she had the pleasure of watching hundreds of clusters of these floating by. Note the seedpods are found on the end of the silky hairs. The monkey rope is the usual host plant for the Common Crow butterfly, and its caterpillar is called "Mr Curly"....reminiscent of Leunig for those who know this cartoonist! ... a charming story!

Sterculia quadrifida - the peanut tree is native in this region and edible, striking easily from seed and is also known to be fast growing. Interested in planting it? Its perfectly suited to this region but bear in mind it does grow to 18 metres! The pods are spectacular and the black seeds are the edible bit. Ive seen this and other local species at the Northey Street Farm in Brisbane - see website on the sidebar lower down!

Acacia mangium still in its pod (top photo) and separated (underneath). If you observe closely these have an amazing yellow cord - like an umbilical cord almost - linking black seeds to pods. It zig zags out if you carefully unravel it! Denise notes its very strong smell and says a mask is required for cleaning. She points out some acacia have a soft seed coat and are easy to release...others need hot water and prying open.

Tabernaemontana pandacaqui ( Banana Bush) The 3 to 16 red seeds contained in the pouch are poisonous and is said to be quite a sight when one manages to find this plant in fruit... rare as it is.

Castanospernum australe or Black bean is common and particularly loved by children for making boats and toys with - and by artists for their splendid tactile quality and interesting archetypal forms. Denise notes they germinate very easily but need to be fresh when planted.

With gratitude to Denise for kindly taking the time to supply these excellent images with text and for sharing her stories with us. Its an enormous contribution Denise and so many others like her are making in our communities, quietly, with so few seeing them hard at work.

Postscript: inspired by the sight of Denise's photo of the Monkey Pop Vine seeds the splendidly talented artist Altoon Sultan sent me several photos of Milkweed to share here. Based in Vermont, in the US Altoon delights those who visit her blog Studio and Garden with the interweaving of daily life between her studio and garden on an old hill farm. Once a native New Yorker Altoon has work in many public collections including the Met in New York and Tate Gallery, London.

About the first 2 images below Altoon wrote:

'I was returning from my midday walk on this brilliantly clear day and noticed that in the field alongside the barn, the milkweed silks were glittering like so many puffs of pure light. The pods were open, allowing the silk to blow in the light wind, its small seeds ready to scatter.'

Then in another post she adds:

'When i photographed milkweed a few days ago I didn't realise that the seeds in the pods pictured were immature. Yesterday I noticed that each of the larger seeds, a flat oval shape, had a circular gathering of tiny threads on its end. this lovely billowing form carries the seed on the wind.

Milkweed silk, I discovered, was used to fill jackets during World War II and is still used to fill some natural fibre pillows.'

'The milkweed pod pictured above was sitting on a windowsill in my kitchen; after a few days I noticed that the silk and seeds were billowing out of the pod. I went to touch it and, marvellously, all came flowing out, as in slow motion, enlarging and moving forth. It was amazing. And then I had the seeds floating all over the kitchen, not at all easy to gather.'   Read this post here.

With sincere thanks to Altoon Sultan for sharing this evocative imagery and writing!


Mlle Paradis said...

FABulous post Sophie!!!!! UNbelievable, and gorgeous, these seed pods! Makes me want to jump on a plane and rush right over to exam them closely.

i mean bizarrely wonderful and I would love to paint them too.

To add my two bits to the milkweed conversation, I grew up with them too, in the Midwest of America. It may be that they were what was called "kapok" when used as stuffing but I'm not sure and very recently I read somewhere that some part of the plant was/is useful as a holistic remedy. (At that moment, I was like, I haven't seen any of these in donkey's years, how on earth would I get ahold of any?) And now voila!

Wonderful post. That's a saver!

sophie munns said...

Lovely to have you visit here Mlle Paradis!

Let me know when the plane is arriving... I seriously hope you manage to get here one day!

One can find rapture taking over with the pure delight and magnificence of these extraordinary finds. That thing of not expecting to be so transported ...the fact one comes across these things often accidently or that we are taken back to childhood fascinations - as with milkweed for you!

Kapok I always heard of. Im sure I've laid my head on the odd kapok pillow... although it conjures up long ago memories.

Interesting about the holistic angle. I loved website's list of collections for the fact that one is of pharmaceutical material and histories -would love to investigate that.

Great world of interior etc post yesterday MP!

I'm sure both Denise and Altoon will be pleased to know you enjoyed this.Its great to have the shared stories and images... a vivid way to gain new understandings of things!

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