During this challenging time since the onset of Covid 19 and all its implications, we can hopefully spend some time to take a deep breath and admire the spectacles which are gifted to us by nature.
One of my passions as an artist is to explore the roots and routes of plants around us. I document my research and express creativity in various ways. This depends on how the plant speaks to me in its locality and also how it is valued in other cultures. I adopt a multidisciplinary approach to my art practice,exploring ideas through drawing, painting, sculpting, sometimes through writing and public sharing and also by experimenting with natural pigment and fibre extractions for textile designs.
In this sharing I will highlight two plants located in the Botanic Gardens, Roseau, Dominica. Both plants have been introduced to Dominica from other parts of the world. They are very rare in Dominica and each bring with them a unique story, as all plants have buried in their roots. Most of all they bring a vibrancy of colour through their amazing flowers.
Last week, on my shopping trip to Roseau, I drove through the Botanic gardens, my usual scenic route. Driving slowly through. I was struck by the majesty of two trees in particular, both ablaze with colour at this time of year.
As I set out on my journey, armed with mask and sanitizer, I was aware of rising anxiety going into Roseau after a period of time in 'Covid Lock down'. My spirit was immediately lifted and calmed by the sight of these two trees in full bloom and sporting my favorite shades of sunshine yellow and orange. A decision was made to stop on my way back from town to breathe in the fresh air and soak in the unbelievable colour spectacle before returning home.
The trees of focus today are both rare in Dominica and survivors in our Botanical treasure trove which was established in 1889. So many specimens have been lost over the years, most recently after hurricane Maria in 2017.
1. Buttercup Tree ( Cochlospermum regium ) also known as yellow cotton tree.
The Buttercup tree is a small flowering tree endemic to Tropical America. It is also common in Southeast Asia. The tree is deciduous and grows to about 8 meters high. It starts blooming late in the year, shedding its leaves in spring and leaving a canopy of bright sunshine yellow flowers.
An online plant identifier was used to identify the name of this tree using photographs taken on my visit to the gardens. Some say it is a Brazilian Rose, which is Cochlospermum vitifolium, but in pictures I have seen the bloom appears much less complex. The English name Buttercup tree is also a bit confusing, because it is used for a few trees including Cochlospermum religiosum which also has much simpler flowers.
We are in the month of May and the tree is almost bare of leaves now. Tall thin branches are topped with clusters of large yellow flowers, each about 15 cm in diameter. A trail of flowers on the grass leads me to the tree and I look up in wonder. The canopy of yellow set against the clear blue Dominican sky is a sight to behold. An equal amount of fallen a flowers lie on the green grass below making the sight even more spectacular at this time of year.
As far as I am aware this tree is not utilized in Dominica and is purely ornamental. There are two specimens in the Botanic gardens at the moment and I also spotted one as I drove past State House today, all are in full bloom.
In Brazil this tree is used in herbal medicine to treat various infections and research is still being done into its medicinal benefits. In Thailand this tree is called Fai Kha and was introduced to Northern Thailand about 50 years ago, where it became a very popular ornamental plant.
In colour psychology, yellow resonates with the left side of the brain which deals with logic. It is also said to be a colour which stimulates the brain and brings about mental clarity. Because of its association with sunshine, yellow is an excellent colour to uplift the spirits and has associations with hope, joy, optimism, cheerfulness, courage and confidence,
A perfect colour for me on a day which required a boost in courage and spirit. I was even inspired to do a quick painting when I got home.
2. Bengal kino (Butea monosperma) also known as Flame of the forest, Parrot tree, Velvet leaf, Bastard teak, Paladha
Butea monosperma is an ornamental tree but is also has many uses in traditional Indian medicine. It was given its latin name Butea because of John Stuart, Earl of Bute an 18th century, patron of botany who had associations with Kew gardens in London.
It is a slow growing decidious tree of the fabaceae family. Native to tropical and sub-tropical parts of the Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia. This tree has bright orange firm flowers which have a plush velvety texture. Each flower has five petals attached to a dark green velvet cup which attaches them to the stalk. Some of the petals are flame shaped and when in full bloom the branches have a fiery appearance.
These flowers first appear in February and keep on forming up to May when the branches becomes loaded. The leaves are pinnate and slightly furry underneath arranged in three big leaflets, each leaflet 10-20 cm long. Most of the leaves fall between January to April and from March the tree becomes ablaze with fiery colour.
This plant is important in the Hindu traditional celebrations for the festival of Holi which marks the birth of spring, a festival of bidding goodbye to the old and preparing for new beginnings. It is also used in Hindu culture to celebrate Shiva the deity associated with creation, protection and transformation of the universe.
As far as I know, this plant it is not utilized in Dominica. In other countries it has many uses, with each part from flowers, leaves, bark, seed, stem and gum having a purpose. The tree has been used extensively homeopathy and Ayurveda medicines for both internal, external and spiritual purposes.
Ink from gum was used in Asian cultures in the past. Fibre can be extracted from inner bark and roots. The flowers yield a yellow dye also used to colour textiles in some cultures.
As part of my ongoing natural dye research, I tried a simple experiment by boiling a few of the flowers to test dye potential. I treated some silk and cotton fabric samples with alum and iron mordants and then soaked the pre treated samples to test the dye quality.. I was very happy with the vibrancy and range of colours being acieved. Further testing will have to take place to determine stability of this dye.
All photographs taken by Carol Sorhaindo and copyright of the artist.
Our connection to place and culture is impacted on by the plants we associate with in our landscapes, many of which are imprinted in our memory. In this post I will highlight two trees in the Dominica Botanic Gardens which bring a smile as I reflect on a fun childhood growing up in Dominica and walking through the gardens after school. These two trees are the Velvet Tamarind Tree and the Cannon Ball tree. The history of the plants found in botanical store houses such as the Dominica Botanic Gardens should be valued and documented as an important part of our heritage. Memory and human stories give a voice and life to the history of a place. Dominica played an important role in the economic expansion of Britain even after slavery was abolished and well into the 20th century. The Dominica Botanic Gardens established in 1889 is sited on a former sugar plantation. It was a satellite station of Kew Gardens in London and was an important testing ground for tropical plants brought in from all over the world. Many of these specimens have been destroyed over the years by hurricanes and other circumstances.
With trade and global exploration came the increasing fascination with the new and exotic botanical species, “Gardens became like precious jewel boxes in which each gem was laid out side by side in order to be inspected and admired." (Wulf A. 2008)
The title of this post ‘Cannon Balls and Velvet Hearts’ reflects Dominica’s turbulent Colonial history, a history full of invasions, battles. To this day our landscape is littered with evidence of this. Today cannons can be seen strategically sited at many of our heritage locations.
Black velvet hearts for me symbolize the African souls taken from their homes and transplanted into Dominican soil as a result of The Transatlantic slave trade. Tamarind, a tree which makes me reflect on the sourness of this part of our African history, a tree connected with the hangings of our African ancestors on the plantations.
Velvet tamarind (Dialium indum)
Also known as Monkey tamarind, African velvet tamarind, Yuk Lee and locally as tamawen – vlu In Igbo it is known as Icheku, In Yoruba as Awin, and Hausa as tsamiya-kurm. It is also called licki-licki by some people
The Velvet tamarind tree was located in the ornamental section of gardens close to the Cannonball tree. Sadly it is now lost to us since the passing of hurricane Maria in 2017. This fruit-bearing evergreen tree, prefers a tropical climate and is native to S.E Asia and tropical areas such as West Africa.
It belongs to the family Leguminosae, and has small, flatish fruits with a beautiful hard shell covered in the smoothest black velvet. When cracked open there is a brown edible pulp which surrounds a single brown seed. When the pulp is sucked it has a tamarind flavour with a dry powdery texture. The tiny fruit are popular in Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal and in Asia the pulp is collected and mixed with spices and served as a sweet which sounds very much like our much loved tamarind balls.
The flowers are white and arranged in shoots and are loved by hummingbirds, bees and butterflies In Dominica the fruit though small was loved by children walking through the gardens on their way to and from school. Many adults who enjoyed the gardens in younger days will remember Velvet tamarind and searching in the grass for the tiny black velvet hearts which had fallen from the tree.
The Velvet Tamarind fruit in many countries is used in traditional medicine. The leaf, bark and the fruit are valued and used in herbal applications. This fruit is also known to be mineral and vitamin rich, acts as an antioxidant and promotes digestive health. The tender leaves of velvet tamarind have been used in skin treatments to stimulate the growth of healthy skin and protecting wounds.
I find it fascinating when I look back to things we ate as children, unusual fruit and plants which unknown to us at the time, we now find that many of these have health benefits. I would love to hear from anyone who has special memories of this tree or any other unusual trees in the gardens.
Cannonball tree – Couroupita guianensis carrion tree
The Cannonball tree is native to the tropical forests of northern South America, especially the Amazon Basin. It is also found in India, Thailand and parts of Africa. The tree was given its species name Couroupita guianensis by the French botanist J.F. Aublet in 1755.
This tree was severely damaged during hurricane Maria and like much of the vegetation on the island is still in recovery. This year I am pleased to see it is bearing its first fruit since the hurricane.
The Cannon ball tree is an unusual tree as most trees bear their flowers and fruits on the branches, rather than along the trunk. The large round fruit are rusty brown in colour with rough skin. The mature fruit are about the same size and resemble cannon balls, hence the name. The ripe fruit have a white flesh with many seeds and when exposed to the air the flesh turns blue. In some countries the fruits are eaten, but only occasionally because of the unpleasant odor. The brightly coloured flowers are zygomorphic and measure around 12 cm across. They are thick and waxy in texture with a sweet scent attractive to bees and bats which aid pollination
The extracts of some parts of the Cannonball tree are said to possess antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. In some cultures this plant is valued for its medicinal properties with extracts of different parts of the plant being used to treat hypertension, tumours, inflammation, common cold, stomach ache, skin conditions, wounds and treating toothache. In some Asian countries it is valued as having cultural and religious significance.
The Fruits have hard shells which are used as containers and the wood of the tree is used to manufacture boxes, toys,
An illustrated guide to Dominica’s Botanic Gardens, Forestry, wildlife and parks division
Wulf A. (2008) The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire and the birth of an obsession, windmill books, London pg.91
Welcome to my Blog. Through these posts I will share my creative journey as an artist, one which will include botanical reflections, natural dye and fibre explorations, creative writing and musings; an ongoing unravelling, spinning and weaving threads.
This has taken a long time to come to fruition since 2015 when I graduated from Leeds College of Art, UK (now Leeds Art University) with an MA in Creative practice. Where has 5 years gone and what have I been up to as an artist since then. I am a great believer in the saying 'every thing in its time'.
The word 'BOTANGLED' is used as a brand name for my natural dye textile creations but it is also so much more - Botanical Entanglement sums up my creative journey and an investigation of migration and living between two worlds of contrast, England and The island of Dominica in the Caribbean.
How are these worlds woven together? What inspires me as an artist and how do I explore this in my Creative Practice as I traverse the landscape? The plants I encounter bring me constant joy by their diversity and beauty. These plants also inform culture by their very use and association, raising lots of questions. How can I unpick this intertwined botanical web? Can this investigation contribute to a better understanding of the complexities of migration and concepts of historical entanglement?