Friday, April 30, 2010

a closer look

These seeds are all found in Western Australia - I will have more on this soon. From a wonderful book 'Australian Seeds' that I wish to discuss in some detail as it provided excellent research material for the recent work I did for the Homage to the seed exhibition thats on at the moment in Noosaville. This weekend I will be visiting Noosa and stopping by at Embiggen books and Gallery.
See top right sidebar for more information about this. You can of course enlarge these seeds by clicking on the images.

I rather like the smallness of the images... in keeping with how tiny so many seeds actually are.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

April 17th to May 16th - Homage to the Seed Show

Read an overview by the show's curator Warren Bonnet on the Homage to the Seed exhibition at the Embiggen Books Blog.

Sophie Munns - Homage to the Seed

The show opened 17th April and runs 4 weeks. Read more here.

Sophie Munns Exhibition

Sophie Munns at Embiggen Books

Work may also be viewed at Sophie Munns Studio Archive.

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!

What species is that? Archidendron lucyi

This wonderful species Archidendron lucyi is found in the tropical rainforests of North Queensland as well as Melasia and the Solomon Islands. Also known commonly as scarlet bean it has the most fascinating structure - is about 70 to 120 mm long and 15 to 25 mm wide although the way it curls around disguises its length somewhat. On the following page of this excellent book below by Wendy and William Cooper is a very similar bean called the Salmon bean or Archidendron vaillantii. This is where the advice of staff at the gardens is critical due to the similarity between species - to an untrained eye its difficult to distinguish what is what. I like to double check wherever possible... as Jason Halford from the Seed lab (see post from april 19)  has stated at times plant identification can require quite a bit of cross-referencing for him to be sure. I expect I may have to edit posts over the year due to the limits to my knowledge. Already this has been the case after guided tours where so much is being taken in and notes and memory fail one. It's therefore reassuring to hear from experienced staff that they also can ocassionally make false readings first up.

IMG_0344 by stevenality.

You can appreciate the challenge in drawing some these forms. The colour is amazing and watching them opening truly spectacular. The seeds are a blue black and in a particular light can look satin-like which adds to the intrigue of this exotic fruit from the Nth Qld rainforest.

This single pod is typical of the way they curl around - taking up the space of the palm of one's hand.
This post was in response to the gardener/photographer Em from the wonderful weblog Garden Fool based in the state of New York. Thanks for your query Em which I will take up further this week at the Gardens with staff there.

When researching on this species I came across a remarkable website that contains a huge archive of images taken under the microscope of inside the wood of a diverse range of trees from around the globe. I have yet to read about this site in detail from North Carolina State University. Here is the image for the wood from this rainforest species above.

Click on this below to enlarge for reading:

This particular emtry comes from the Insidewood Images collection of North Carolina State University. The site was found through google but I am finding the links dont work to this when I try and enter them. You might find a way into  NCSU and then all collections  at:

Aristolochia griffithii

As you can see the images from the inside wood collection are stunning and remind me of abstract 
forms not unlike ones I have been drawn to paint from time to time.

Thottea siliquosa

Daphnandra repandula

Gaura sinuata

enduring seeds - more from Gary Nabhan

On the previous post I introduced books that I had found on the shelves of a local Brisbane library. The one that really stole my attention for the fact of it being so scholarly, beautifully written and of critical relevance was Gary Nabhan's  'Where our food comes from'.
Since looking at his website I've found various other publications including the one above and a 5 minute audio "sowing seeds that will take the heat" dealing with an alternative idea to freezing seeds for seed banking by planting seeds in a desert farm in Arizona to develop seeds that will 'take the heat"!

To read Nabhan's website visit here and visit his blog click here.

some publications shown on the website.

Where Our Food Comes From

Sunday, April 25, 2010

weekend reading

A visit today to the Toowong Library resulted in some fascinating finds. The more reading one does on the history of where things of a botanical nature come from - especially now familiar and common edible things - the more intriguing and dense the stories seem to become. Books have been written about coffee, chocolate, portatoes, nutmeg and the list goes on. Plant derived foods that are now everyday kitchen items once sparked wars and gambling with lives to obtain.

Mark Kurlanksy, in  book I found a few years ago titled "Choice Cuts" says
      "Food is about agriculture, about ecology, about man's relationship with nature, about the climate, about nation building, cultural struggles, friends, enemies, alliances, wars and religion."

This is pretty much a short list of directions for consideration and research in relation to seeds - not just concerning food. Science definitely needs inclusion on this list - now more than ever! Out of curiosity I borrowed all these books below in order to see if and where seeds might feature in the discussion. This first title looks like be a must read...a short book...but possibly a good introduction to this topic. By the way, any reader who knows of these or other worthwhile related reads please do email or comment - It would be good to know more on this!

Whilst at the dinner table discussion over some gems from Brillat-Savarin made for an interesting exchange. Particularly enjoyed his experiment with coffee making but so much more awaits the reader of this text! 
An Aphorism from the Professor:  "The pleasures of the table are for every man, of every land, and no matter of what place in history or society: they can be part of all his other pleasures, and they last the longest, to console him when he has outlived the rest."

A quick peek into Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic world was both seductive and peppered with interesting tales.

Not yet gleaned anything about this title below!

The Bunya Cookbook below I was particularly curious about as it was produced here in Brisbane specifically for the Aboriginal and Islander communities featuring indigenous ingredients where possible. I would like to elaborate more on this later.

Perhaps the most remarkable book in this collection for its gritty future thinking WHERE OUR FOOD COMES FROM has a first chapter titled The Art Museum and the Seed Bank

Before dawn on July 6th , 1941 a half million drawings, paintings, artifacts and ornaments from the great Hermitage were boarded onto the first train leaving Leningrad for sanctuary away from Nazi invasion which was eminent in this city. Six days it took in the planning and execution to get ready to send the Hermitage Art Collection into hiding - a collossol effort by hundreds called in to help - including the artists. Three blocks away on Saint Isaac's Square lay hidden a 2nd treasure trove - a Seed Bank of more than 380,000 samples of seeds, roots and fruits of some 25,000 species of food crops that had been collected by Russia's world class cadre of plant explorers since 1894.
The story from here appears to be truly astonishing - the fact that the Bureau of Applied Botany is still there today and was not bombed in the 900 day seige by the Nazis that cost 1,500,000 lives. Known now as the N.I.Vavilov All-Russian Scientific Research Institute of Plant Industry it still harbours seeds and scientists. The Vavilov story is riveting - of a plant scientist who travelled to 5 continents in search of crop diversity and its importance in staving off famine - who met his end starved to death by Stalin despite or because of his legacy of plans for food democracy. Its a must read if the topic is of interest.

Much more could be said of all these books. The last one above is a sobering story of one man's vision for dealing with the issue of farmer's rights, food democracy and food security 70 years ago. The future of seeds requires we address the quality of our global environment and the democratic right for all to access our global seed heritage.

Click on text below to open and read about this book and the American based author who just won a Russian medal for this work which you can read about at and see more at his website

Below: this document of about 20 pages in length was produced around 2003, and if I recall accurately, presented at Terre Madre - the International Slow Food Conference/Convivium in Italy. Please correct this is you have further information!

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