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Sunday 31 August 2008

Leaf of the Day: Balloon Plant and a Good Bug

After 6 months of visiting Leu Gardens and recording my haphazard finds, I have written about and sketched over 120 of the different plants, flowers and trees. However if I were ever to feel at all pleased with what I have done, the amount still to do, see, discover and record is overwhelming. Sometimes I forget there are 50 acres of land ranging from neat and tidy rose garden to the gloriously unruly, tropical jungle.
My trip to Leu on Thursday took me to areas of the garden I don't often visit. The South Woods are very quiet and secluded with tall majestic oaks, pines, sweet gums, hickories and scores of camellias The gardens are well known for their camellias, over 2000 species. There is nothing obviously showy here at this time of year but it is a lovely place to wander and on Thursday I saw 7 different oaks, discovered the second Sausage tree, watched the squirrels and woodpeckers busy in the tree tops, and I even found a Butcher's Broom plant (see post here) which was a complete surprise. The perimeter paths are the least busy and I must have walked for an hour without seeing one other person. Here two ancient Live oaks arch over one of the South Woods paths.

I then revisited the Horror Tree to see if there was evidence of the "bones". There were quite a few old leaf stalks around and I even found the soggy and rotting remains of 2 pods which I brought back with me. They are outside drying, in the hopes that one or two seeds may be still intact.

The Butterfly Garden is always on my rounds too at some point. It is more or less at the heart of the garden and a pretty place to sit for a while and watch the many different fluttering beauties which are attracted there. Very often I meet Joel who looks after this particular garden and takes care of the caterpillars which as gardeners know are something of a mixed blessing. But, when I say "takes care" I mean very much in the caring sense. On Thursday he walked past with a handful of passion flower leaves and I saw bouncing around on the back of his cart half a dozen big stripy caterpillars."Gotta get these little fellas off to the nursery", he said.
The pretty Balloon Milkweed Asclepias physocarpa grows in the butterfly garden too. Its unfortunate green hairy pods will ensure giggles and have secured it some blunt but fair colloquial names, Devils balls, Family jewels etc. In a vain attempt to deflect attention from its obvious attributes it is also optimistically called the Swan plant. The pods are a light as, well.. a balloon, and contain fine downy seeds which float round the garden and self seed, so it can be found popping up almost anywhere.

It is much loved by the Monarch butterfly caterpillar, but also it seems, by the delightful red and black assassin bugs. I have seen them before on the other Asclepias flower I drew, the beautiful Crown Flower here. They come under the category of beneficial bugs patrolling the garden to keep down the insect pests including aphids, and mosquitoes. They also eat caterpillars, so I guess Joel has divided loyalties. nothing in the garden is straightforward is it!
If you like bugs, Whats that Bug site here is fascinating and some particularly gruesome photographs.
The actual milkweed flowers have a very unusual structure and pollination method which I will return to another time as I intend to go back to the crown flower to make a colour study.


Balloon Milkweed and Bug

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Saturday 30 August 2008

Leaf of the Day: The Unassuming but Miraculous Horseradish Tree

Time after time I find something at the Gardens which amazes me. “Amaze” is my most overworked word but in every instance it really is justified. On Thursday I was wandering along the quite paths on the westen side of the gardens, not looking for anything in particular, and happened upon this modest little tree tucked away in a side border. I nearly didn’t bother with it. I thought “Oh this is quite pretty”, and idly wondered why a tree would be called a “horseradish” tree when the root of the brassica Armoracia rusticana, is the normal source. But this tree must take the biscuit for being the most 'amazing' I have come across yet, not for beauty or size or anything outward but for its astonishing and well documented usefulness.
Just 5 minutes on the Internet revealed a tree that has been hailed by biochemists as the most nutrient-rich plant ever discovered and by others as simply the “Miracle Tree”
This is the Moringa oleifera, the Horseradish Tree, known by many other names, including the Drumstick Tree, the Ben Oil tree, and Mother’s Best Friend.

This heady acclaim is because almost every part of this plant can be used to our benefit in some way or another. Just nutritionally it takes some beating. Bio chemists have discovered that weight for weight powdered Moringa leaves have seven times the vitamin C of oranges, four times the calcium of milk, three times the potassium of bananas, four times the vitamin A of carrots and two times the protein of milk. The edible pods are also high in nutritional value and are cooked like green beans when young. The flowers, high in calcium and potassium are eaten cooked and apparently taste something like mushrooms.
Another extremely useful property of this plant is as a water purifier. The powdered seeds have been shown to be extremely effective in removing bacteria and it is used as a purifier for river water and desalination agent.
These two particular properties , nutrition and water purification, have led to initiatives to introduce this pretty little tree to areas of deprivation and malnutrition. It is easy to grow in tropical and desert areas, thrives in poor soil and recent strains are more frost hardy and will grow where oranges can survive
It is a very important tree.

Great photo from the University of British Columbia site here, courtesy of Melanie Brown of the APPEF PROJECT, TOGO.
and here is one of the comments in response to the photo.

I read this post with great interest. I am Sri Lankan and just about all gardens there have a spindly "murunga" or "drumstick" tree. We never ate the roots but the pods and leaves were eaten regularly. As kids we loved "drumstick curry" because of the work involved scraping the flesh off the hard peel! The leaves have a distinct taste which I would not describe as an "off taste". To cook the leaves, the leaves were first stripped of the main stem and then cooked by lightly sauteing it with a small amount of onion. In the coastal areas, crabs were always cooked in a curry with Murunga leaves. In the hills, the leaves were blended into a pan fried bread (called roti's) by the Indian tamils (mostly very poor workers' in the tea estates). I am very glad to now know that these leaves are very nourishing. Thank you.

Posted by: June at May 8, 2008 8:15 AM

Medicinally, it is used for the treatment of skin infections, lowering blood pressure, reducing swelling, healing gastric ulcers, lowering blood sugar and a mild tranquilizer. Drinking the water from the boiled beans is also said to alleviate the symptoms of arthritis…I presume because of its anti-inflammatory properties. This alone would be a relief to many (she says with some feeling!)

What else?... well the Moringa seeds yield a fine high quality edible oil, ben oil, which when refined is clear, odorless, and resists rancidity. It is used for oiling watches, as a perfume base and of course for cooking and, like Jatropha has been identified as a possible bio fuel source.
The bark and sap are used to make a blue calico dye which is used in Jamaica and India.
It is another “living fence post" tree and when everything has been eaten, squeezed, pressed and extracted, the fibres can be used for matting, paper and cordage and the seed cake for animal fodder and fertilizer.

This image of Moringa pods from Moringanews here.

Some history ....
The Moringa is a native of India, where it grows wild. It was well known and valued by the ancient civilizations of Rome Greece and Egypt, and there is apparently a written record of it from 2000 BC.
The name Moringa is from the Tamil and oliefera, means " oil-bearing."
It is the only genus in the plant family Moringaceae in which there are 13 species. There is a website here with information on the family.
The tree itself is a pretty delicate thing which can achieve above 10 meters but can be cut back to about 1 meter allowing the leaves and pods on the new growth to be within arms length.

Lovely old print from "Flora de Filipinas" at Wiki

Culinary uses abound and you will find recipes on the Internet. I am going to try some and will report back. The leaf I brought home to draw is past its best.
The leaves are used fresh in salad like coriander, or they can be added to soups. The pods known as "drumsticks", hence one of the names of the tree, are cooked and eaten when young like green beans or when older the pulp is extracted and added to stews or curries. In India the pods are fried and also preserved in cans. It is a good ingredient for curries mixed with coconut, poppy seeds and mustard. The seeds can be roasted or removed from the pods and used like peas. The only warning note seems to be about eating the root which, although it tastes like horseradish must be carefully peeled as the root bark is toxic.

Here is a quick and easy way of getting some moringa nutrition into your diet from Hendry Creek Hideaway, see link below.

Add dried, crushed Moringa leaves to oil with other fresh herbs. Dip hot bread.

For some more good info and great photos go to Hendrycreekhideaway of Fort Myers here

There is much more information on the Internet than I have time to sift through for this post but Moringa does have its own website, Moringa here
It is multi-lingual site with Moringa information and connects people who are interested in all aspects of this amazing little tree.

I think we should all try to grow one. I am sure there is room on the balcony for just one and I know here in Florida they definitely grow well. I think I should start a campaign.

Two odd additional things, the tree is said to host ghosts at night and the seeds are very like those of the Midnight Horror tree.. strange..


Leaves and Flowers of the Horseradish Tree

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Friday 29 August 2008

Leaf of the Day: The Sausage Tree and The Perilous Bench

Oh the wonderfully funny sausage tree .. It elicits the silliest of behaviour from everyone and must be one of the favourites in the garden, with children and open-minded adults alike.

Nice old postcard of the Miami Sausage Tree from Miami University Archives here

My introduction to the sausage tree was probably on my third visit to Leu. I was walking down by the cycads lost in prehistoric musings, when I heard helpless and uncontrollable giggling coming from an adjacent path, the kind of giggling that only women are capable of and makes you want some of whatever they were having. I couldn’t imagine what was going on. All would be quiet for a moment or two, then another great wave of hysterical laughter would break out. By the time I arrived, three middle aged, elegantly dressed ladies were convulsed with laughter. Tears were streaming down one woman’s face as each was taking her turn to have that photo-of-a-lifetime opportunity with the wonderful sausage tree fruit. It must be my funniest experience at the gardens to date. In between their giggles they explained they were on holiday, the men playing golf while they were garden visiting ...I wonder who had more laughs that day.

I was prompted to write this post because two aspects of yesterday's Midnight Horror Tree reminded me of the Sausage Tree, the flower and the sword of Damocles, and the two trees are in fact related, both from the Bignoniaceae family.
I had only seen a fallen flower from the sausage tree before but remembered the trumpet shape. Now I see the exact same internal arrangement of the stamens. This is because they are both bat pollinated flowers.

Photo and more info from here

The Horror Tree Flower Spike

And the Sausage tree spike...

This image from the excellent Waynesword site here

To access the nectar, (sometimes as much as a teaspoonful) at the base of the flower the bat must push its head well into the flowers corollary. You can see the stamens are positioned so as to deposit pollen on the bat's head. It will then visit, hopefully a different tree and pollinate another flower. The trees are not self pollinating and need another tree nearby to successfully produce fruit. I had thought this was the only one at Leu but yesterday, on another off path exploration, I found a second one! ..another reason for this post!

However fruit eating bats are quite rare in Florida and according to Tropical Designs of here (A site all about growing things in south Florida) birds may be the pollinators
“When a tree is found with fruit they were probably visited by the native Red Bellied Woodpecker or the Spot Breasted Oriole. These two birds sometimes visit the Sausage Tree in the evening just as the flowers are beginning to open, apparently looking for insects that are attracted by the nectar found inside the flower. The head of the Woodpecker is the right size to pick up pollen from one flower and carry it to another, similar to the way the bats do. The Spot Breasted Oriole, which was introduced from Mexico and has naturalized in South Florida, is the same size as the Woodpecker and also causes pollination. "
Certainly the tree at Leu is happy and very productive.

My March photo

The other reminder from yesterday’s post was the legend of the sword of Damocles and what I have termed "the perilous bench". The giggling ladies were having their photos taken sitting on the bench which is positioned under the sausage tree, a nice shady spot to rest for a while, until you look up and see, hanging above your head by that horsehair thin string, the enormous Damocletion pod. Normally there are a couple of pods displayed on the bench. I have speculated that the reason is less about public information and more about public safety.
Should one of these happen to fall on you, you would certainly sustain some damage, perhaps more to your pride than anything else would be terribly ignominious to be dispatched to the next world by a sausage tree fruit wouldn’t it?
Enthusiatic planters are advised to locate these trees carefully, car parks are not a sensible site and I am sure the gardeners at Leu do some judicious pruning.

I thought the insides of these extremely heavy pods might contain some lovely arrangement of interesting seeds but there is just dense fibrous material embedded with small seeds. The pods can be well over 2 feet long and weigh 20 pounds.

Some practical information about the sausage tree. It is a native of Africa and likes riverside locations where the pods are enjoyed by hippos, elephants, monkeys, and giraffes and the leaves are an important source of fodder for cattle. Uses for the fruit vary from, ingredients in skin cream preparations and shampoos, additions to beer making to hasten the fermentation process, as a powerful purgative and evil eye protection. As you can imagine it has inspired many local names, many no doubt unprintable but including one, in South Africa, that means ‘the fat tail of a sheep’.

My drawings today are of a leaf, from the new found tree, and the remains of one fallen and dried-up pistil which I have had for some time. The shrivelled up central part would have become the sausage. The sausages themselves are not very exciting to draw and, well, the thought of trying to get one of these monsters home in my back pack on the bike is just too silly for words. Imagine being stopped by the police as you wobble your way along the highway with an enormous pod. (Incidentally the Arab name for the sausage translates as the " father of all kitbags").
So I sketched the perilous bench instead, just as it was today ..complete with two warning examples and an ominous hanging pod above.

Sausage Tree Leaf, Pistil and the Perilous Bench.

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Thursday 28 August 2008

Leaf of the Day: The Midnight Horror Tree

In the darkest deepest wilds of Leu, there is a tree that you would never normally see. You have to go "off path" to get to it and once you arrive at the tree trunk there is nothing to see, except the trunk, which is not out of the ordinary at all. You can't see the top easily because, if yesterday's gumbo limbo was tall this is much taller, its crown waving above the nearby palms. I would not have noticed it, except for a fallen pinky white flower that was lying on the floor of the forest. From a distance it looked like some kind of mushroom and I was interested because since the rains started there have been many exciting mushrooms and fungi springing up. Braving extensive spider's webs and the chance of disturbing an innocently snoozing snake ( what I do for this blog!) I found, not only was it a rather beautiful flower, but it also belonged to the wonderfully named Midnight Horror Tree. The ticket was hard to find too, buried in leaves and soil, not many people come this way .

So this is the Midnight Horror Tree, Broken Bones Plant, Tree of Damocles, Oroxylum indicum.
Why does it have this terrible name? I was hoping for a nasty poison or wailing spirits of the dead or something equally ghoulish. There is nothing quite so bad. However this tall tree develops spectacular, meter-long curved pods which are held high up above the leaves.

They look like curved scimitars and on a dark windy night, rattle and sway, ready to fall and pierce the unsuspecting traveller or spear the misguided sleeper who has chosen this particular tree for shelter. They are quite alarming and hence the Sword of Damocles name.

The analogy with the Damocles story is interesting as, at first, Damocles was unaware of the sword hanging over him, busy as he was, enjoying the pleasures of a great man. Only when he looked up did he see the danger and decide a simpler life was better. Like the sword these pods, carried high up in the tree, would not at first be noticeable to a passer by.
Having this thought in my head, I would not be inclined to sleep under these precarious pods, hanging by their single horsehair, the unease would be palpable.

This photo, others and more info from Joe Pan's Malay blog here

Contributing to the image of "horror" might be the strange white winged seeds which are contained in the pods, they are like little white butterflies which could glow a ghostly white in the moonlight, looking like disembodied eyes perhaps, and apparently the huge leaf stems fall at the end of the season to form piles of " broken bones" at the base of the tree. The big flowers which are eaten in Thailand, only bloom at night, and are pollinated by bats, an additional macabre touch I suppose.

However this bad name is hardly justified, as in reality this good tree is a very useful medicinal plant. Amongst other things, the seed contains oils and flavonoids "One of the main flavonoids, chrysin, has been the subject of much study; among its potential applications is to alleviate anxiety" Anxiety no doubt caused by being in close proximity to the tree.
And a curious footnote, rice farmers use the pods and leaf stalks to dispatch paddy field crabs which they then presumably eat.

It is hard to see much of the tree at Leu as it is right in the middle of a densely wooded part of the garden, but eventually I noticed a flower spike right at the very top. You can see it sticking out at the left below.

This photo I took with small digital zoom is not much more than a silhouette, but you can see the remains of the flowers and on the right at the bottom there are the beginnings of a pod. Now these pods will be something else! I shall keep coming back to this tree, sword of Damocles or not I will be there when they fall..

Jatropha Update. Yesterday I heard a programme all about Jatropha biofuel growing in India .. (BBC Radio Listen Again here) It was very interesting if a little inconclusive but the wonderful thing about Jatropha is that it will grow in waste lands. Sadly they are short of man power to harvest the crops as all the bright young people have left the countryside to work in the computer industry.

Midnight Horror Flower.

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Wednesday 27 August 2008

Leaf of the Day: Gumbo Limbo and Peeling Tourists

The leaves of the curiously named "gumbo limbo" tree have evaded my grasp so far as it is high tree, holding its leaves far above my reach, but of course, Fay has done me another favour by depositing a small branch on the ground. The small and pretty leaflets are not particularly special but do have a interesting lopsided profile.
The gumbo limbo Bursera simaruba has many names, its common name in Florida, is derived from the Spanish "goma-elemi" meaning "gum resin." I must admit I was hoping for something more exotic possibly a traditional dance or something of the kind. However its pet name in all its tropical homes is the "tourist tree". When you see the red flaking shiny bark you know why, a week of scorching southern sun on northern skin, lightly greased with Ambre Solaire..

It's a really nice and useful tree tree and will have red fruits in the autumn and winter, which are an important and very nutritious food for migrating and local birds ( Well, they will be somewhere up there in the heavens way above my head, so I will probably never see them)
It is also known as the turpentine tree as it produces a turpentine like resin used in the West Indies to make glue, varnish, insect repellent and a kind of incense. The aromatic sap is used as a treatment for gout, while the leaves are brewed into a medicinal tea as relief for back pain.
The Tainos people of the Eastern Caribbean would burn the fragrant turpentine both as insect repellent and possibly for ceremonial purposes and they used the resin to varnish the exteriors of their large dugout canoes, to protects against marine boring molluscs.
The gumbo limbo was also discovered to make extremely practical, and attractive, living fences which I had seen in central America. It is a very useful attribute of quite a few trees to be able to regenerate quickly from a cut branch. In regions where otherwise there would be problems with rotting or termite eaten fenceposts, you can, quite literally, stick a branch in the ground and watch it grow. At first it seemsquite odd to see leaves and branches sprouting out of wooden fence posts, but what a great way to fence your ranch, nice for the birds as well.
I didn't take a photo in Costa Rica where we saw them up near the volcano at La Fortuna but here is the gumbo limbo as fence, in Costa Rica from Ecolibrary here .

I read somewhere that, however hot the weather gets, the trunk of the tree is always cool. I haven't tried hugging this one yet but I will.

It is one of the Old World 'Torchwood' trees from the family Burseraceae so called because of the inflammable nature of their wood, which are rich in resins. Interestingly, included in this group are the exotic and evocative frankincense, Boswellia sacra and myrrh, Commiphora myrrha which was once worth its weight in gold. They are still valuable, and frankincense trees are becoming endangered due to overtapping.(We don't learn do we?)

The leaves are compound, with leaflets usually in 3's to 11's. Mine is a 7 leaflet leaf, one a little deformed. I drew one right hand leaflet to show how the shape of each leaf has a bias, according to its position on the stem. This means that they hang very prettily, slightly overlapping. Another tree I have in my imaginary garden.

Gumbo Limbo Leaf and Leaflet

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Monday 25 August 2008

Leaf of the Day: Pummelo, Pumelo, Pomelo.. whatever

When I was writing about the Contorted Orange the other day (here) I felt sure that Leu would have a Pummelo. They would just have to have a specimen of this very early citrus, and sure enough there it was, with many other varieties in the citrus garden and another "windfall" for me yesterday as one large fruit had fallen on the ground. It is huge. I have a picture of the fruit on the tree but also this one on a plate with a regular sized lemon and a pencil so you can see how absoutely enormous it is.

This one is the well named Goliath Pummelo, Citrus maxima, and to recap a little, it is one of the first 4 citrus fruits from which the modern varieties are descended. It is thought that the basic orange we all know and love, is a cross between this monster and a mandarin. Little and large makes medium I guess. It was considered more a curiosity than a good eating fruit and something of a talking point for tropical fruit displays. A tricky addition to Carmen Miranda's topknots though!

Additionally, Wiki tells me that "The pomelo is also known as a shaddock, after an English sea captain, Captain Shaddock, who introduced the seed to the West Indies in the 17th century from the Malay Archipelago."
I will, annoyingly, now remember this little bit of trivia, as I can't get Tintin's Captain Haddock out of my head.

But the leaves, the leaves are a nice surprise, not quite as simple as a normal citrus these have a winged part to the lower, a winged petiole to be exact.
A very worthy leaf of the day.

I had also forgotten that there was a pummelo in the "Amazing Rare Things" exhibition (see my other posts here), how could I ! Also a Buddha's hand citrus which I wrote about before here.

Both are attributed to Vincenzo Leonardi 1621-c.1646 who was producing drawings for the collection of Cassiano dal Pozzo and provided illustrations for Giovanni Battist Ferrari's "Hesperides" of 1646, a treatise on citrus cultivation. It is fascinating and the digitised version of the book is online here

You can see the slightly winged shape at the base of the leaf here but it is much more pronounced in my leaf from Leu.

The Pumello.

Pummelo, whole fruit and half ...c1640

And Vincenzo's drawing of the Buddhas Hand citron, known here as the "digitated lemon".

Digitated Lemon ...c 1640

There is something about these wonderful old images which some modern works lack..I feel we sometimes go for perfection rather than character, something I will try to keep in mind.


Pummelo Leaf

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Leaf of the Day: The Goldfinger Tree and Sun

This morning the sun was shining. The windows were thrown open and warm breezes flowed through the house, lifting the sense of damp and everybody’s spirits too. Delighted, I cycled down to Leu where, instead of the normal Sunday morning solitude, the gardens were full of people, all so pleased to be outside in the sunshine again.

On the way I was able to see what Fay had done to the parks and gardens, with leafy debris littering the streets and the occasional fallen tree. My cycle route takes me round Lake Sue where the decks of the jetties, which usually stand high out of the water, are marooned, their wooden walkways to the land invisible under inches of water. In both Mead Gardens and Leu Gardens low lying areas are flooded making wonderful fleeting watery worlds which I used to love when I was a child. There was something magical about paddling through the waving underwater grass in those temporary lakes and at Leu a beautiful big Red Shouldered hawk was standing by the edge of one of these newly formed ponds, seemingly admiring itself in the waters.
I did take a photo but only from a distance, just enough to identify it, so here is a perfect image from Audubon... complete with Spanish moss which Fay has draped all over Orlando.

There was not too much damage at the gardens, one or two trees had lost branches and of course, for me, there were plenty of fallen things to find, one was the curiously beautiful flower of the Gold Finger tree Juamulloa mexicana.

This unusual plant which originates from Central America can be either a shrub or climber. It was described by one site as a hemi-epipyte which is a plant which spends some of its time as an epipyte growing on a host, before sending roots down to the ground, so it can grow quite happily on a tree or in the garden. These waxy orange yellow flowers form at the ends of the branches and it is apparently a member of the potato family. This tree at Leu is growing in the ground but leaning on a large palm for support.
The flower is in two parts with an orangy bract with a red flower.

Juamulloa Mexicana

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Sunday 24 August 2008

Leaf of the Day: Damp and Ergot and the Dragon Fruit again

Today there has been a chink in the clouds and a glimpse of sun, but not for long. One of the problems with all this rain is that everything in the apartment feels damp, the sugar, the biscuits, the bed linen and in particular my drawing papers. If you have ever tried to write with a pencil on damp paper you will know how frustrating it is and to try to do a detailed drawing is very difficult. The pencil either digs in hard, making a nasty indented line or slides over the now spongy surface. It loses the resistance you need to give a nice crisp line and you have to go up a couple of grades to a softer pencil which makes detail on a small scale almost impossible.
Post Fay, we are also having local warnings about the dangers of household mould from the receding flood waters. Moulds are very interesting and can be good or bad and I was reminded of the dangerous and intriguing fungus, Ergot.

Ergot is a fungus that grows on grain crops and is decidedly dangerous. The effects of eating the fungus in bread or flour made from infected grains can be fatal.

When rye, which it particularly attacks, started to be grown more widely in Medieval Europe, epidemics of " ergotism" broke out with horrible results. Arms and legs would feel to be on fire, convulsions and terrifying visions ensued, sores developed and in the worst cases where the nerves were destroyed, gangrene would set in and the disease became known first as the Holy Fire.. a punishment for God for some ill deed or other, but later as St Anthony's Fire.

There is a very interesting article here about "Ergot in Rye" and its dire consequences, especially regarding the persecuting of witches, (as in the Salem witches ) as it is thought that their convulsive witch-like behaviour may have been brought on by ergot poisoning.

Matthias Grünewald's great 16th-century Isenheim Altarpiece was commissioned by Antonite monks for the hospital chapel of their monastery in Isenheim. Here the monks cared for patients suffering from this terrible disease, the altarpiece both acknowledges and comforts the suffering. It is a magnificent work .

In 1670 a French physician, Dr. Thuillier, through observation, some clever deductions and looking at the records of outbreaks, put forward a theory that the little cockspurs in rye could be to blame, but with no conclusive evidence could not persuade farmers it was their rye crops which were the cause of all the deaths. It was not until 1853 that Louis Tulasne, an early mycologist and illustrator, examining the life cycle of ergot concluded that it was the fungus growing on the inconspicuous flower of the Rye which was the possible culprit rather than the rye itself.

It's a fascinating story with connections to ancient Greek rituals and hallucinogenic ceremonies from 400 BC..and of course is infamous as one of the original ingredients of LSD.

Moulds, and fungi can, of course, be very beautiful as this bread mould

This beautiful image from the Wellcome Trust here
"Bread mould
The fruiting body of bread mould. As the mould grows, it propagates itself by forming spores that are released into the environment and grow into new mould colonies.Colour-enhanced scanning electron micrograph by
Liz Hirst."

Of course some moulds and fungi are harmful some are not, after all, if we didn't have some edible moulds, we would be without the gorgeous blue cheeses.

Today having given up with the damp drawing paper I did get round to doing a study of the dragon fruit.. great magenta's and pinks. It is quite a little monster isn't it!


Dragon Fruit

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