Monday, October 20, 2014

Where are my images?

When I linked this blog to my Google profile, some of my images disappeared from this blog.  No warning, no display box, no choices to make.  So please bear with me while I begin the laborious process of  re-connecting my images with the appropriate blog post. 

I'm not sure why this happened, when  I researched it I found that other had suffered in the same way.  My photos are still showing in my Google profile, but just not linked up to Blogger.  I'm sure Google has lost many bloggers and received many irate communications.  I may move to another blog site, but for now will try to repair this one.  Thanks for your patience!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Pipevine and Polydamas

Even a month and a half later, both pipevine and caterpillars are still going strong!

This pipevine (Aristolochia species) isn’t one of our Florida natives (we only have one that I know of), but I enjoy seeing the swallowtail butterflies fluttering around it.  Why would pipevine attract swallowtails?  It’s not the nectar, although the very odd, weirdly-but-possibly-pipe-shaped flowers seem like they would hold pools of delicious nectar or pollen.  It’s the leaves, especially the soft young leaves at the ends of the new vine tips. 
As you’ve probably guessed by now, pipevine is one of the larval foods for swallowtail butterflies, in my area attracting the Polydamas swallowtail, Battus polydamas. 
The pipevine
A series of posts (or even books) could be written about this unique species.  I’m fascinated by every part of it, from its strange blooms, to its intriguing seed pods and heat-shaped leaves.  This species grows from seed easily, and is now reseeding itself nearby (I see the tiny vines starting in several places).  The leaves are a symmetrical heart shape (cordate to botanists) with slim petioles. 
The blooms give the plant its common name of pipevine or Dutchman’s pipe, as they are thought to resemble a curved pipe stem of a Dutchman-style pipe; think of Sherlock Holmes and his ubiquitous pipe. The flowers are fleshy and curvy, the colors a gradation of pale green near the stem with intricate burgundy patterns over pale yellow or cream on the lips.  The flowers on this vine are about 3 inches by 2 inches, but variable in size, like the leaves.
Young pipevine leaf.
The seeds are spread by the open seed pods, which are shaped like parachutes complete with suspension lines!  These tiny parachutes hang upside down, waiting for the wind or a passerby to jostle the winged seeds out of their nest.  Once out, the winged seeds float to the ground, hopefully to fertile soil.
Pipevine seems to thrive on little care.  Also called calico flower and birthwort, its been used in herbal remedies for childbirth ailments, arthritis, edema, and as a disinfectant.  Pipevine contains the toxin aristolochic acid, which is what gives the swallowtail caterpillars and butterflies their survival edge, as they become both toxic and distasteful.    
Some Aristolochia species are invasive, so don’t let me encourage you to plant these everywhere!  
Wingspans of the butterflies in my yard are about 3 to 3.5 inches wide.
The Polydamas butterfly
Also called gold-rim swallowtail, the Polydamas butterfly is the only tail-less swallowtail in the eastern United States.  They are a tropical species found in peninsular Florida, the Florida Keys and the Bahamas.  Occasional strays may wander as far north as Missouri and Kentucky.  Once of our black and yellow butterflies (a tropical adaptation?), the upper surface of the wings is black with yellow bands along the margins.  The underside of the wings is black, with yellow spots on the top wing and bright orange to red spots on the bottom wing.

The black, brown, and orange caterpillars emerge from small yellow eggs and begin their gastronomical   From there on, it’s all about eating the tender young pipevine leaves until it’s time to create the chrysalis.  The chrysalis may be brown to gold or green – but I’ve noticed that the green ones turn brown right before the butterfly emerges.  I’ve been waiting to post this, as I keep hoping to catch one in action as it emerges, but they’re too quick for me!  Be sure to watch the two YouTube videos from the links at the bottom for a close-up view of the transformation from caterpillar to chrysalis and then to butterfly – very cool!
Caterpillars are brown to black in color.
adventures by consuming the egg shells.
The sketch was done in my
Aquabee Super Deluxe  spiral-bound sketchbook
9x6 in, (22.86 x 15.24 cm), 93 lb. paper,
Sakura Micron Pigma pen 01,
and Daniel Smith watercolors.

The top wings are black with golden rims.
For more information on the web:
 University of Florida, with photos of eggs, caterpillars, and host plants.  
Wikipedia on swallowtail butterflies in general.  
Biokids from University of Michigan on swallowtails in general.  Brief but concise paragraphs covers many aspects of butterfly life.  
Butterfly fun facts, photos and facts about polydamas or gold rim  and photos of the osmeterium of different swallowtails.  
Floridata. About pipevines.
Heuristron, with photos here for butterflies   and here for pipevine photos.  
YouTube video from caterpillar to chrysalis!  
YouTube video from chrysalis to butterfly!  

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Resurrection Fern

At the bottom are two fronds (under clear contact paper) showing variability.

Resurrection Fern
Polypodium polypodioides

This tiny fern has always been a favorite of mine.  It grows in an epiphytic fashion, anchoring its wiry roots into the bark of trees with deep fissures, and receiving nourishment from the water and dust in the atmosphere using energy from the sun via photosynthesis.  The fronds of this fern are fairly small, but I’ve seen some that grow up to 3 or 4 inches. 

It’s called the resurrection fern because it has an adaptation that allows it to transform from a withered brown cluster of curled leaves to a vibrant unfurled green frond.  This adaptation allows it to survive long periods of drought until the rains come, which is helpful in south Florida, with our dry fall-winter-spring and our rainy summers.  Scientists tell us that resurrection fern can stand up to a 95% water loss without perishing.  Compare that to humans, who often find a 15% water loss a fatal event.

The curled, dry fronds, waiting for water.
I learned that this feat is possible because of a protein called dehydrin.  Dehydrin allows the cell walls in the leaf to fold when drying, in a way that can be reversed without damage.  As the fern dries, it manufactures dehydrin, turns brown, and stops photosynthesis.  When moisture is available, the fern takes water in through its stomata (tiny openings on the bottoms of leaves that allow for gas exchange), turns green, and begins photosynthesis once again. 

I’d always thought of it as native to tropical Florida.  Imagine my surprise to find out that these ferns range from Florida to Delaware and then west to Texas!  Not only is it native to the Americas, but it’s also native to Africa.  

A complex ecosystem in a small space.
This ink and watercolor study is of a live oak branch that fell to the ground after a rainstorm.  The branch broke into several smallish chunks, so perhaps it was insect-damaged; my experience with oaks is that the wood is very strong.  I loved the interplay of texture and colors in this tiny universe of lichens, mosses, bark and fern.  Once again, sketching a subject led me to ask questions and then to start

Needless to say, scientists are studying the property of dehydrins, which could have many applications.  Did you know that resurrection fern has gone into space?  It was the subject of a 1997 experiment on board the space shuttle Discovery.  To read more about this fascinating plant, visit the hyperlinks within the text or listed below.

As always, thanks for visiting!

The sketch was done in my:
Aquabee Super Deluxe  spiral-bound sketchbook
9x6 in, (22.86 x 15.24 cm), 93 lb. paper
Sakura Micron Pigma pen 01,
Daniel Smith watercolors.

Wikipedia on resurrection fern 
Time lapse YouTube video of resurrection fern coming back to life
Wikipedia on dehydrin

Friday, August 8, 2014

Nature journal tip learned at the 2014 FNPS conference Nature Journal Workshop

My demonstration page - complete with clear contact paper!
One of the things I love about facilitating workshops and classes is that we all learn from each other.  In mid-May, seven participants joined me for a 3-hour nature journal workshop at the annual Florida Native Plant Society (FNPS) conference at Florida Gulf Coast University. 

We normally start out getting to know each other and talk about what we’d like to get out of our time together.  We had a great group of people, some who had very little sketching experience and some who were looking to brush up on rusty skills.  One of our group was Dr. William(Bill) Hammond, professor emeritus at FGCU, and long-time visual journal keeper.

During our time together, Bill shared a tip he’s been using for years in his sketchbooks.  When he comes across a plant he’s unfamiliar with, either to identify or to learn more about, he flattens it out on the page of his sketch (or the page opposite) and seals it to the paper with a piece of clear contact paper.  What a great idea, and one I wish I’d tried years ago! 

Two months later!
Bill donated a bit of clear contact paper that I used on a sprig of winged sumac that served as my subject for a demonstration sketch during the workshop.  Even though flattening the plant against paper doesn’t allow for the play of light through and reflected by the leaves, it does allow for a general color reference, accurate measuring, and a record of the shape, number, and placement of leaves. 

Now you’re wondering, how does that leaflet look since two months have gone by?  Answer: as good as the day I mounted it!  The clear film seems to darken the colors a bit, but they are still vivid.  This is a great tool, especially for those times when you’re only able to get in a rudimentary sketch.

A few marks describe the habit.
The demonstration plant is Winged (or Shining) Sumac, Rhus copallina, which was growing alongside a nearby road.  On my sketchbook page, I typically note the date (sometimes the time), and the context of the sketch.  The context here was the FNPS workshop in Palmetto Hall at FGCU, and I included the weather (hot! and windy).  On the page opposite my drawing, you can see that I was showing how to mix and test out colors. 

I like to quickly sketch in the habit of the plants I’m drawing: whether it’s a tree, shrub, vine or herb including quick color notes.  In this case, most of the shrub was green, only some of the leaflets were bright red/magenta.  As I washed the leaves with a watercolor wash, I attempted to show the shininess of the leaves by drawing up pigment with a clean, nearly dry brush. 

Variations in color bring it alive.
If time permitted, I would have completed the entire leaflet, but now that I look at this page after the passage of time, I like the look of just the few leaves in color.  At the time I also wondered about the bright red coloring of some of the leaves – I noticed that the nearby area had burned, perhaps causing the coloring that I associate sumac having in the fall and winter. 

Looking at my sketch again brought all of these memories back to me.  This is one of the reasons I love keeping a nature journal!  Seeing my drawing and reading my notes brought back a vivid recollection of creating those two pages.  I can almost experience again the hot wind and the bright sun when I collected this specimen.

By the way, clear contact paper is now a staple in my sketch kit!

The sketch was done in my:
Aquabee Super Deluxe  spiral-bound sketchbook
9x6 in, (22.86 x 15.24 cm), 93 lb. paper
Sakura Micron Pigma pen 01,
Daniel Smith watercolors.

To read more about Winged or Shining Sumac:

Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida factsheet  

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Nature Journaling at the FNPS Conference!

This Thursday I’m thrilled to be leading a Nature Journal Workshop for the 34th annual Florida Native Plant Conference in Ft. Myers, Florida!  Just one of the many exciting events at the 4-day event, the Nature Journal Workshop is open to 10 aspiring journal-keepers.  The workshop takes place Thursday, May 15th, from 1 to 4 pm at Florida Gulf Coast University (see conference site for exact location).  We still have spaces open!

At the workshop, you’ll learn the basics of starting a nature journal and have the opportunity to start a journal page with the art supplies provided.  Yes – a starter kit of artist-quality supplies is included in the cost of the workshop!  Each participant receives a lightweight tote bag with the FNPS logo, a 6 x 9 inch spiral-bound sketchbook, Micron Pigma ink pen, pencil, and eraser.  A small folding palette with primary colors and a medium size waterbrush rounds out the kit, along with a few other items.  You’ll also receive a handout of drawing tips to take home, a great reference for beginners and experienced artists alike to use later. 

If you’re not sure that this workshop is for you, I invite you to read some of my thoughts.  Scroll to the bottom for links and contact information.

Keeping a Visual Nature Journal

The process of keeping a visual nature journal is a path.  It isn’t about creating a finished product or a pretty picture, but is rather a reflection of my curiosity and explorations.  Every time I sketch something, I deepen my relationship with my subject by experiencing it differently.  I ask questions and think more deeply, and get to know my subject on an intimate level.

Those of us who draw and write about the natural world carry on a long historical tradition of curiosity, exploration, and investigation.  We need not be accomplished artists – just alight with the fire of curiosity and a desire to put thoughts and observations on paper.

Our own visual journals may contain quick sketches, detailed studies, photos, maps, poetry, or scientific observations.  We might record the progress of our garden, our explorations of nearby habitats, or simply our emotional responses to the beauty and diversity of the natural world.

Here’s what I’ve discovered that makes these journals valuable to me:  my drawing and painting skills have sharpened, especially when I draw on a weekly basis.  My observation has improved – I find myself specifically seeking out details in order to capture them on the fly or to write them down later.  My knowledge base has become more dimensional; not only have I learned more, my emotional connection to nature has become more specific and I have a deeper sense of how individual parts fit into the whole.

I recommend that you try to keep in mind the process, and not get over-involved with the outcome of each page.  As you practice, you’ll find your skills improving in every area.  Don’t be discouraged if you start and then stop.  When you’re ready, you’ll pick up your journal again and the words and pictures will flow onto the page.  Remember that it all “begins at the beginning” with that first step.  This is your exploration of  the natural world around you!

For more information: 

FNPS Conference home:

Nature Journaling Workshop at the conference:

Contact Marlene Rodak ( or 239-273-8945) for more information on the conference and how to register for the workshop.

Contact Elizabeth Smith for more information or questions on the Nature Journal Workshop (