In a recent post we wrote about Sarah Simblet’s work in progress, drawing an enlarged alder catkin (see post). Here is a sneak preview of the finished drawing. Far right of the photograph of the drawing (out of focus) is the female flower of Alnus glutinosa.
Spring is fast approaching and our attention is beginning to shift to emerging tree flowers. Among the first to appear are the many wind-pollinated species. Trees such as birches, hazel, oaks and willows have beautiful pendulous male catkins, or inflorescences, containing many scaly bracts (flowers) in place of petals seen on many insect-pollinated plants.
Another species that bears catkins is the alder, Alder glutinosa, common on river banks across much of Europe. They may not capture our attention to the same degree as the yellow ‘lamb’s tails’ catkins of hazel, but alder catkins are just as beautiful. Use a magnifying glass, or even better a microscope, to study a single catkin and its many bracts and you will enter another world.
Sarah Simblet has started work on a drawing of an alder catkin, which although only 5cm (2″) long in real life, will be large enough to fill a double page spread in The New Sylva book. She is using a binocular microscope provided kindly by the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford, which allows Sarah to work at this scale.
The photo shows an early stage of the drawing as Sarah is working on the structure of the illustration. She is working with pencil, while the trusty goose feather that she uses to sweep away the rubbings is close to hand. She’s had the same feather for 20 years! Under the heat of the microscope light the bracts were maturing and beginning to open, releasing their pollen. Once that Sarah is happy with the form of the drawing she will use pen and ink to provide the detail.
Sarah Simblet has been making the most of the cold weather, retreating indoors to illustrate some of nature’s tiny hidden wonders using a microscope.
Exploring the collection of materials at the University of Oxford’s Herbarium, Sarah found a cross-section of a female cone from a Scots Pine Pinus sylvestris. The photos here show just how tiny the sample was, yet Sarah’s drawing may fill a whole page of The New Sylva book. Sarah said that it was tiring to draw the subject when her eyes had to adjust repeatedly between the bright light of the microscope viewer and the black inks on her drawing paper.
When John Evelyn was writing his Sylva almost 350 years ago, the microscope was just beginning to reveal an amazing new view of the world. One year after Sylva was published, Robert Hooke’s Micrographia was published, also by the Royal Society, in 1665.