Through the Looking-glass

My latest plant is one that is easily overlooked. It’s not tiny, the flowers aren’t minute, but it doesn’t have many blossoms at any given moment, and the stems are slender and unbranched.

Triodanis perfoliata is one of our local members of the Campanulaceae, or Bell-flower Family.

This species has egg-shaped leaves that are widely spaced along the stem and usually one or two blossoms open at any given time.

The common name for this plant is Venus’ Looking-glass. I think this stems (ha!) from the unique way the fruits are constructed. Instead of breaking open along a seam as most capsules do, the fruits open by a single pore that opens in the side. The flap of tissue that initially covered the pore rolls up like a little Roman shade, leaving a peep-hole through which the microscopic seeds can fall out.

Fruit photos by Larrhy Allain

Sometimes the pore goes all the way through. In variety shown above, var biflora, the pore is located above the middle of the capsule.

Another interesting fact is that most of the fruits are not made by the showy purple flowers. Instead, they’re the product of cleistogamous flowers–reduced, non-showy flowers that are self-pollinated. Plants with cleistogamous flowers can get away with self-pollination because, usually, they are so genetically heterogeneous that no bad effects of inbreeding occur.

I sketched var. perfoliata, which usually has 2 (or sometimes more–got to get in as much color as possible!) showy flowers open at the top and the pore on the fruit located below the middle.

Since the leaves have low, rounded teeth, I initially charted it with wavy leaf margins, but that gave the impression of too much toothiness…

… so I did not carry them into the finished chart.

I’m happy with how these turned out. It was fun to do a plant less complicated than some of the others, without a lot of backstitches. You’d think by now I’d have all the colors of the floral rainbow, but nope! I had to add a couple for this design.

Here’s a close-up of what the stitched flowers would look like, complete with white style and stigma.

And here are the little peep-hole fruit:

When put in the chart with my other plants, they look very tall and leggy, but really, they are about right. If I stitch them in company, I can always take out a node or two of stem and make them a little shorter.

If anyone is curious, here’s what my doodle space looks like now.

Looks like spring!

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Plants Don’t Read the Rules

My latest plant is something of a maverick. Meet Claytonia virginica, Spring Beauty.

They more than deserve their name. They flower in the spring at the same time as—and frequently together with—bluets. Where you find one, you usually find hundreds, if not thousands.

Mt. Cuba Center | Virginia Spring-Beauty - Mt. Cuba Center

Look at those hot pink stripes! The flowers can be white or pale pink, but the petals are marked with that great pink that is so commonly found in plants in the group that used to be called the Caryophyllidae. This group has betalain pigments for pink and red, rather than the more common anthocyanins–think prickly pear fruits, beets, rhubarb stems, etc. The two sepals and the stems are often pink as well. The flowers nod before and after blooming.

The plants are low-growing, with narrow, grass-like leaves. Each one grows from a roundish corm that lies deeply buried at the bottom of a very slender stem. It is a real challenge to collect a whole plant as a scientific specimen, since the stem breaks if you even look at it funny. On older plants the corms can be several centimeters across–and they’re edible! In fact, the other common name for this plant is “fairy spuds.”

The other characteristic that makes this plant a nonconformist is that it doesn’t seem to care how many chromosomes it has. There are reliable counts of 2n= anywhere from 12 to 191. Extra set or two or ten? No problem! Lose one somewhere? Doesn’t matter. Plants are much more tolerant of having their genetic material disturbed than animals are. All of this variation can be reflected in how the plant looks. Extra petals are not unheard of.

I drew two plants, one with white flowers and a green stem and one with pale pink flowers and pink-flushed stem and sepals.

This is how they charted up.

In a symbol chart with colored backstitch, things get very wild very quickly!

The program doesn’t show very thin backstitch lines very well in chart view, but this is how they might look stitched.

I may, when it comes to stitch them up, shorten the internodes–the distances between the leaves, because the plants are often a bit more compact. A close-up shows how they might look with colored anthers and the veins a more reasonable width.

I’m reasonably happy with these. I don’t know how Gerda-ish they are. Her designs didn’t include much backstitching, and I don’t believe she ever called for a French knot. But you can’t have spring beauties without stripes!

Soon it will be spring beauty time for real! I can’t wait to find a patch, plop myself down, and bury my nose in their sweet-scented glory.

A Spring Flower Perfect for the Holidays

It is cold, bright, and definitely winter outdoors and, today being Epiphany (as celebrated—the actual feast is on the 6th), we are winding down the Christmas season with all of its feasting and goodies. How much butter have we consumed in the last few weeks? Too much!

So, butter. Buttercups. You can’t have a lineup of spring flowers without buttercups. They’re iconic; instantly recognizable. They’re on of the first flowers little children learn to recognize. I can remember holding a blossom under a playmate’s chin to see if they “loved butter.” I seem to have misunderstood the tradition, though. You’re supposed to look at their chin for the reflection of yellow from the shiny petals. I always though the point was to mash the flower into the friend, leaving a smear. Yep, definitely yellow!

Buttercups belong to the genus Ranunculus, the type genus for the Ranunculaceae, introduced in a previous post. Think: divided leaves, yellow flowers, lots of stamens, lots of stamens, little achene fruits. That covers most of them. There are a few with white petals or no petals at all, and not all have divided leaves. The yellow ones, though are almost always a bright chrome yellow with no hint of orange or red at all. And shiny! To me, the petals have always looked like they were cut from fancy wrapping paper, the glossy kind that tape can barely stick down. They like to hang out in wet places, and a stretch of wet pasture or roadside solid yellow with them is a sight to behold.

There are multiple species of Ranunculus in Texas, and someday I hope to do a piece with several different kinds. But for now, I chose Ranunculus fascicularis. It is easy to identify. The leaflets, aside from lobing, have smooth margins, and the petals are relatively long and “strappy”, as opposed to some of our others with toothy leaflet margins and short petals.

The above photo shows a low-growing individual, but usually the flowers stand well above the foliage.

I did a sketch with front and side views of flowers, a bud, and a head of achenes.

I know the petals are long, but they still looked a bit too long, so I shortened them in the charting.

The larger the charts become, the worse the screen-caps of them look! That floating flower in the upper right shows the flower as it would be stitched, with some long backstitches forming the stamens:

The side-view flower would be done in two shades, just to keep the petals at least a little distinct:

This is one case where I can compare my work directly with Gerda’s. I’m not sure I have a buttercup chart of hers, but I found some images of different species online.

She didn’t do a face-on flower, possibly to avoid having to deal with the stamens. That is always an option, and I could easily amend the chart to feature two side-view flowers.

All in all, I’m pleased with how this turned out. I look forward to sharing other buttercups in the future!

Life Gets in the Way, But Here is an Anemone

It has been a while. Thanksgiving and then Christmas preparations have sidelined the wildflower charting, but I did manage to finish some Anemones.

Anemones, or Windflowers, belong to the buttercup family or Ranunculaceae They have the divided leaves, many not-united pistils, and many stamens common to the family. They are unusual, though in not having any petals. Instead, the sepals are petal-like and showy. How do botanists know that the parts are sepals and not petals? I’m not sure, but in the 1800s German botanist really studied plant anatomy, down to seeds and hairs and pollen, and by looking at various groups of plants in all stages of development, tracking the fate of individual groups of cells, they figured out that where only one whorl of perianth (collective term for petals and sepals) is present, it’s sepals.

There are many showy varieties of garden anemones, like this one:

(Creative Commons License, photographer Llez)

The two species found locally are less showy but just as pretty. This is Anemone berlandieri.

The sepals can range anywhere from white to lavender to intense blue or purple. They’re much less colorful underneath and the flowers open mid-morning. You can walk through a whole patch of them when the flowers are closed and not notice them. But when they’re open, they’re lovely. The green column in the center is a tall receptacle on which the tiny individual pistils are located.

Anemone berlandieri can be recognized by how the involucre (whorl of leaf-like bracts) on the flowering stem is borne above the center of the stem, and by how the bracts of the involucre look different from the true leaves. The leaflets of the true leaves are less finely divided, as can be seen in this herbarium specimen. (Note that the stalks of the individual leaves may be longer or shorter.)

In contrast, Anemone caroliniana has the involucre below the middle of the flowering stem, and it is about as divided as the leaves. There are differences in the hairiness of the stem and rootstock as well.

I charted A. berlandieri as a plant in full, fresh flower.

The small flower in the upper right shows how the stamens would be put on with backstitch:

The shaded sepals are charted in three colors of floss, but if one was very careful, starting each sepal at the same point in the variegation, it might be possible to use variegated floss.

It doesn’t really show, but the lower right leaf is charted for a blended thread, one shade of green and one of purple. Why? Because the leaves can sometimes have a purply-bronze cast:

A stitcher would be free, of course, to make the leave entirely green. When stitching over one, a choice between green and purple would need to be made. As far as I know, Gerda never called for blended threads, since her designs were meant for one strand of Danish Flower Thread, so this is a real departure from the norm.

I charted a second plant, this time A. caroliniana, at the gone-to-seed stage. At maturity, each tiny separate pistil matures into a fuzzy achene and the whole mass breaks up and the fruits float away:

My plant has lost its sepals and petals and the achenes are fuzzy-grayish, but they’re not yet flying away.

I’m reasonably happy with this pair. They’re recognizable as anemones, and even with my scandalous notions of variegated floss and blended threads, they’re not too far off Gerda’s garden path.

Smelly-lotus, Take Two

The design has marinated and I’ve made some changes. Everywhere there was an obvious straight line, I crookeded it. I shortened a few leafstalks and the stalks of some of the leaflets. I made two of the flower spikes curve just a bit. I changed out the greens to a bluer set. It should say “background” better.

A stitched mock-up of the top:

The bee still looks wrong at this magnification. The backstitch lines are too thick. I softened the colors, shortened the body, drew the off hind leg properly/slightly shorter, and moved the pollen baskets up on the “thigh”. Finally, I gave the eye a little highlight, since this is seen in life and in photos. Bee eyes are shiny. (I drew the line at giving itrosy cheeks, but wouldn’t that be cute?)

In the actual needlework, I will probably need to adjust the colors of the wings to have enough contrast with the ground fabric without being so stark.


But I Do Not Love the Bee

Looking ahead to needing more in-the-background plants for my design, I’ve charted another tall plant this time: Melilotus indicus or Annual Yellow Sweet Clover. (can we throw a couple more adjectives in there?)

This is another introduced plant that has made itself completely at home in Texas. It was brought in as a forage plant for livestock. It can be up to about two feet tall, and the leaflets in the compound leaves vary widely from more-or-less-diamond-shape to nearly wedge-shaped. Individually, the bright yellow flowers are not much to look at. They have the typical pea-family shape, with five petals of three different sizes, and are only a few millimeters long. The newest flowers are at the top of the inflorescence, so the lowermost flowers are faded, and below them are the ovoid, single-seeded legumes. M. officinalis is similar, but it has larger flowers.

This is a very cheerful plant. It begins flowering early, while it’s still chilly, and the yellow flowers are a welcome note of color. Best of all, though, is the scent. This is what you smell when you smell “new-mown hay.” The aromatic compounds belong to a class of chemicals called coumarins. These same odor molecules are responsible for the smell and flavor of vanilla and the sweet-licorice scent of the local acacia trees. The compounds are extremely long-lasting. If you open a herbarium cabinet that houses Melilotus specimens, the scent of a summer meadow comes rolling out.

The plants tend to be a bit on the floppy side, so this sketch is a bit stiffer than I’d like.

Sweet clover needs a pollinator.

Here’s the pencil-graph. Liberties were taken with the leaf shape.

The bee looks fine up there, doesn’t it? Everything is fine until we chart this design up. I used three colors of yellow in the flowers so that the inflorescences wouldn’t be just solid yellow blobs.

I… don’t love it. The lower leaves are very dark here. The actual thread is lighter, and I think it will help this plant to recede into the background, but it still feels off and I don’t know why. Too dark anyway? Too stiff? Leaflets too pointy? Leafstalks too long? I mean, it’s a passable presentation of an actual plant (and I swear I wasn’t looking at this specimen when I sketched!):

But something still rankles. And ugh! That bee! Dark eyes on a light head makes it look mean and shifty-eyed. Bees should look soft and pettable. I played with the colors over and looks only slightly less awful.

Darker is definitely better, along with the shorter “neck”, and the yellow pollen-basket pantaloons are all right, and the wing outlines will be thinner than the program shows, but it still looks wrong. Maybe it needs to be smaller…

Oh, well. I will let it “marinate” and look at many photos of bees, as well as some stitched ones and see if I can figure out what the problem is. No one ever said I can only take one shot at a design. I bet even Gerda didn’t nail everything on the first try.

How Does Your (Wildflower) Garden Grow?

I’m nowhere near done charting plants, but I’ve already started thinking ahead about how I will use the designs. The current idea is to make a large, rectangular piece with all of the often-overlooked flowers one might find on a sandy roadside in spring. Future pieces might feature the showier things like bluebonnets and paintbrush, and so on.

Gerda did a number of pieces like this, putting together assemblages of wildflowers or “weeds” in designs like this:

Pin på Gerda Bengtsson Danskt broderi

(I actually have this kit!)

Since I changed charting programs, I’ve put all of my designs into one big file as well as saving them singly. This lets me keep track of what I’ve got, what the color balance is, whether things are staying at the same scale, etc. It looks like this:

There they all are! That’s not how I’d arrange them, of course. The software will let me move them around, put some behind others, etc. Right now the Gaura looks way too big, but I will be working on adding some more tall plants, so it won’t stick out so much in the final lineup.

Once I saw them all together, it was obvious that the bluets I began with were much too big, and so was the Golden Hedge Hyssop. They were the right size to play with one another, but too large to go in with the others. I spent a good long while making smaller versions of all four designs. Here are the two sets of bluets together:

Wherever size bluets are needed, I’ve got the bases covered.

Fun discovery: In looking for the Gerda photo up there, I Googled “Gerda Bengtsson weeds” and guess what was one of the images returned as a result?

Hee hee hee! I wonder if people will stumble into this little blog and have a look around?

A Gaura By Any Other Name Would Be as Pink

It wasn’t even on my list of plants I wanted to do, but I suddenly found myself thinking of how I would chart a Gaura. Maybe I thought the collection of plants needed some pink that wasn’t tinged with purple. It also needed some height, as the henbit was the tallest plant so far, and that’s not really a big one. I’ve just been drawing tinies. Time for some vertical elements!

The Gaura I had in mind was Plains Beeblossom, the plant I learned as Gaura brachycarpa. It is slender and wand-like, but it’s not as gangly-tall as our other species, so it will probably play well in a design with the other things I’ve charted.

Unfortunately, in recent decades, those pesky taxonomists have shoved Gaura into Oenothera and this plant is now Oenothera patriciae. (Ptui.) I liked Gaura. If my undergrad botany students could tell the species that were Gaura from the other Oenothera (and they could!), why meddle? Blah, blah, DNA, blah, cladogram blah. In my head and heart it will always be Gaura.

This plant is in the Onagraceae or Evening Primrose Family. This means that the floral parts all sit on top of the ovary–in fact, there’s a long floral tube or hypanthium separating the sepals, petals, and stamens from the actual ovary, which is very, very inferior. Most members of the family are 4-merous. That is, their floral parts are in fours or multiples thereof. G. brachycarpa is a bit different, though, as the flowers are more often than not 3-merous, which used to trick the students into thinking it was a monocot.

The flowers of Gaura are really interesting. All of the petals are pulled to one side–in this case, the top. The stamens and style all hang down. The flowers start out white but fade to pink after pollination. Even the sepals turn pink or red. (Bees can’t see red, so presumably this keeps bees from wasting their time with flowers that have already been visited). At some point, the stamens fall off, followed by the petals and sepals. The fruits are three-lobed capsules (or four-lobed, if there were four petals and eight stamens).

There is an utter lack of whole-plant photographs, so here is an herbarium sheet to provide a notion of how the plant is constructed:

It didn’t take too long to come up with a sketch. I could tell that the stems and leaves would be easy to chart and the flowers would be fiddly, what with six stamens and a long style apiece. (I’d forgotten there were six; I was thinking three.)

Copious notes about the various colors of things!

Here’s the finished hand-chart.

The pencil shading is me trying to keep my place as I translated this into a chart within the software. Here it is as a color-block image, without the grid lines showing. (It will be taller than this! This is much reduced)

A close-up of the flowers as they would appear stitched larger than life

The uppermost flower is white and has not been pollinated, the others have been pollinated for varying periods of time. In the lowermost flower, the stamens have already fallen off. I didn’t take a lot of trouble charting the stamens. The stitcher will have to place them where they look best. If stitched very small, it is going to be tricky to get all six in there. They might have to be done with a slender strand of 100 wt silk thread rather than a strand of floss.

I pronounce myself satisfied. It’s recognizably Gaura. It’s definitely Gerda-ish, and It is just right, size-wise, when compared to my other charts.

Next time, I will show you how everything I’ve charted so far looks all together!

A Trifecta of Veronicas

I intended to do only one Veronica, one of the tiniest and least-conspicuous of spring flowers. But, well, it wanted friends.

Veronica is a genus of dainty little flowers. The common name for the genus is Speedwell. I’m not sure why, but I would hazard a guess it’s because the moment you pick the plant, the corollas all drop straight off—good-bye! It can be very tricky to make a good herbarium specimen!

They all have opposite leaves and four-petaled flowers. Since the uppermost petal is actually two fused together, it’s usually larger. The flowers can be blue or white and may be marked with darker lines or have the petals not all be the same shade. The fruits, like those of bluets and Shepherd’s Purse, are charmingly heart-shaped.

So now we have Veronica arvensis, Corn Speedwell, which has midstem leaves with no stalks and the blue flowers nestled in the axils of bracts that don’t look like the true leaves.

The flowers on this are tiny, only a few mm across. You pretty much have to have your nose in the turf to spot them.

Veronica polita is similar, but the flowers are on long stalks in the axils of the true leaves.

The third Veronica I charted, Veronica peregrina, has sessile flowers in the axils of bracts, like V. arvensis, but the flowers are white. It’s the only one of these three that is native to North America.

There other species, one with the absolutely fantastic name of Veronica beccabunga and very large flowers, but it’s not known from Texas, much to my sorrow.

I drew the three of them together.

The features of each are a bit exaggerated–pedicels a bit long on one, leaves a bit toothy on another, and the flowers on the V. arvensis somewhat too big, but they are very much themselves.

Stitched on a taupe-ish fabric, they’d look like this:

(Some of the backstitches appear not to connect. No worries. They would.)

I am rather indecently pleased with these, the middle one (V. polita) in particular. I originally had a pale greyish “eye” in all three but really, in the middles one can see the pale green ovary and the pale bases of the petals. Making the centers green and outlined in white is just the thing. I used three different colors for the foliage, but that could easily be altered. It’s just so that not everything has the same color leaves when I decide to put them all in the same piece. I might tidy up some leaf margins a smidge, as the V. arvensis is leaning towards having lobed leaves in this chart, but by and large, I think we are good here.

Kudos, as always to the photographers whose photos I have shamefully nabbed for these pages. If they’re yours and you want them removed, just say the word.

Purse of the Shepherd

More early spring plants are clamoring to be charted. Henbit needs its constant companion and fellow European import, Shepherd’s Purse. The slanty Latin name is Capsella bursa-pastoris, literally, “purse of the shepherd.”

Like the Draba I started this project with, Shepherd’s Purse is a member of the Brassicaceae or Mustard Family. It has the typical cross-shaped, four-petaled flowers, and the fruits are silicles. A silicle is a special sort of capsule–two-chambered, with the two halves of the fruit falling away from the persistent central partition (whose fancy name is replum). Apparently, the heart-shaped fruits of Capsella look like the pouches shepherds used to wear on their belts, and the tiny golden seeds inside are the coins. The plant has a basal rosette of lobed or toothy leaves, with unlobed leaves farther up the stem. Many people mistake the heart-shaped fruit for leaves.

It’s a humble plant of roadsides and waste places, content not to have the showiest flowers, and happy to be useful in a number of herbal remedies. Supposedly it’s good for cramps. Whether it was introduced as weed seeds in grain or deliberately as a medicinal is not known for certain.

I like to use the little heart-shaped fruits when I make pressed-flower arrangements, especially if I’m framing someone’s wedding invitation for them.

This plant was fun to draw, right up until I got to all the fruit. It was tricky to get the stalks to array themselves naturally without too much overlapping. In life, they’d be borne all around the stem, but for clarity, they pretty much have to go to the side.

The buds are uppermost, then opened flowers, then just developing fruits, with mature fruits and the remnant, membranous replums at the bottom of the flowering stalk.

The design calls for a LOT of backstitching, which won’t be so much fun to stitch and which was a bear to chart on my tiny graph paper.

(Why yes, those are little bits of Arenaria up at the top. There’s no sense in wasting graph paper!)

This is another plant whose flowers just disappear on a white background, along with a good bit of the backstitching. This is a color-block mockup of what it will look like on a golden fabric.

Well, it is gold in the charting program, all right?

This is what it might look like stitched.

Once again, colors, blah, blah, blah. Here is the “floss toss” for all of the greens:

It will be much brighter and springier in person.

I’m reasonably happy with this one. The leaves are very Gerda, the flowers, not so much. What is exciting, though, is the thought about what a dozen or two of these charted flowers are going to look like all in the same piece. Here’s a tiny taste:

This will be SO much prettier and crisper stitched up. I can’t wait!