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 (

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Old Port of the Isles Hotel ~ a.k.a. Remuda Ranch

A landmark from SW Florida's past.

In 1967, I turned thirteen, the year the original Port of the Isles Hotel was constructed.  Growing up in the Midwest seemed far removed from stories of innocent consumers buying Florida swampland.  The Gulf American Corporation (GAC), notorious developer of Cape Coral and Golden Gate, built the hotel in order to wine and dine potential buyers and investors, who were often flown down to experience the beauty and bounty of Southwest Florida. 

Now condemned, the hotel displays No Trespassing signs on every chained and padlocked door.  The predominant paint scheme reflects the pink and turquoise  hues of the 80’s, but in a sadly humorous attempt to update the exterior, someone has painted the front of the lobby and entrance wing a more fashionable yellow. 

The hotel was actually in operation last spring, when we had an opportunity to sketch the building and grounds, and meet the friendly and helpful managing-family-in-residence.  We were also allowed to see the interior and to use the restroom off of the defunct bar, which was a memorable experience.  I’m sorry to say that this once lovely building exuded mold and decay, fraught with broken and rusted fixtures, peeling paint, and weedy borders.  This year we returned in March, wondering if this trip would be our last chance to experience a piece of old Florida history and culture. 

The hotel was also known as Remuda Ranch, and its past includes drug smuggling, clandestine meetings, and a gathering place for concerts and parties.  In its more demure days, the ballroom hosted annual proms for nearby high schools. It’s sad to see it aging: the buildings deteriorating, the parking lot cracked and weedy, the pool drained and dry.  I can imagine the happy laughter, baking sun, splashing water, and the clinking of ice in highball glasses around that pool…

The Hotel lies 22 miles east of Naples off Tamiami Trail, to the north of a community called Port of the Isles, and nestles alongside Fakahatchee Preserve State Park.  I sketched a montage – the edge of the parking lot first, adding the hotel entry and butterflies flirting with the nearby weedy flowers.  I’m using a 6x9 inch Aquabee spiral-bound sketchbook, a sepia Micron Pigma, my small travel palette of Daniel Smith watercolors, and two sizes of Aquabrush.  I’m drawing directly with my pen, so you’ll see a lot of sketchy lines and draw-throughs.  We’ll just call those the charm of plein air sketching!

For more exploring about the history of this area:

A 1968 aerial photo of the hotel and surrounding land in the Marco News.

“Golden Gate Estates Nefarious History”  excerpts on To Twit, perchance to dream blog/forum.

“Paradise Crushed,” Broward-Palm Beach New Times article about the history of GAC and how it and the Fakahatchee affected one man’s life.