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.