Paul Evans paper at Post-Traumatic Landscapes symposium

a slip of the land |

a slip of the language

Paul Evans

The story of the various meanings of the English word ‘landscape’ makes up an interesting example of the “dynamic construal” of meaning. The ‘Seven Wonders’ project, based on Thomas Hobbes 16th century poem ‘De Mirabilibus Pecci – BEING THE WONDERS OF THE PEAK IN DARBY-SHIRE’, is also a dynamic and collaborative structuring of experience, juxtaposing contemporary poetry and painting.

In this presentation I will reconfigure various poetic/painterly juxtapositions, allowing a degree of slippage to create a new geology of meaning. Focusing on three of the 7 Wonders: Kinder Downfall, Thor’s Cave and Peak Cavern, I will present poems and paintings in new combinations, including ‘Phlegmatic’ by Fay Musselwhite and ‘The Ascent of Kinder Scout’ by Peter Riley (which marks 80 years since the mass trespass that inspired the recent ‘right to roam’ legislation). I will use these to discuss the possibility that all landscape may be ‘post-traumatic’ in the sense of geological process.

I will also ask why the Peak District, the world’s second most popular national park (and a site of immense geological trauma) has, somewhat ironically, come to represent a ‘breathing place’: a site of physical and emotional restoration that encroaches well within the city boundaries of Sheffield, South Yorkshire.


Paul Evans is a contemporary artist based in Sheffield. His practice encompasses a variety of creative strategies including drawing, painting and animation. Often working in collaboration with poets, academics and graphic designers, his recent practice reflects a profound interest in the relationship between the human animal and nature.


Paul Evans, The Downfall III (2012), oil on board.

To reserve a free place at the symposium (which will take place on May 22nd, 10am-4pm), please visit our eventbrite page.

project reflections #28

Upperthorpe Botanicus

Poor flowers in the flower beds of manicured gardens.

They look like they’re afraid of the police …

‘Alberto Caeiro’  from The Keeper of Sheep XXXIII

Feeling conscious of the absence of an introduction, I thought that it might be worthwhile to draft a short conclusion to the project reflections that I have written about the botany of the Upperthorpe, Netherthorpe, Shalesmoor, Neepsend and Wardsend edgelands (project reflections 1, 3, 4, 5, 14, 19, 20, 22, 24, 26 and 27 respectively).   

The aim, in principle, was to create a tentative psycho-botany of the various weeds and invasive plants that thrive on “disturbed ground” around the edges of habitation; to not only describe these ‘flowers that grow in the wrong places’ in botanical terms but to examine – at least in brief – their cultural significance.

Also, last weekend, whilst in conversation with a botanist friend, I was reminded of the fragile precariousness of this urban weed-ecology. Essentially most of these transitional or pioneering plants (poppies, buddleja, Rosebay willowherb etc.) will propagate only in areas of vegetation clearance; in the course of natural habitat development they will soon be deprived of light by forest canopies and, given time, will simply cease to exist. It is a transitory, human-determined and human-dependent flora that has been created in these areas.

In terms of the way that we have become accustomed to contemplating nature, I’m therefore left with somewhat conflicted feelings – where’s the (cleansing) spiritual connection? This is – it would seem – a somewhat muddied, muddled, mitigated nature; perhaps a somewhat less than fully ‘natural’ nature – in comparison to what we might hope to see in a timeless, ‘pristine’ ecology – perhaps in Alaska, for example …

In terms of structuring the texts, I quite enjoyed the caprice of writing the introductory (in bold) paragraphs in the ‘voice’ of an nineteenth century naturalist – a voice that I hoped would contrast with the ‘thick description’  or fact-heavy content of the remainder (culled heavily from Wikipedia but also informed by other texts including The Unofficial Countryside by Richard Mabey – and by a few personal experiences).

I also enjoyed the way that, at times, the language of botanical description formed a dense, impenetrable ‘thicket’ – growing from Greek and Latin roots. This was particularly evident when the botanical description of the complex structure of the common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale – project reflection 22) lead to a baroque profusion of technical terms: bracts (modified or specialized leaves, especially associated with reproductive structures such as flowers, inflorescence axes, or cone scales – from the Latin bractea, thin metal plate, gold leaf variant of brattea … of obscure origin); glabrous (having no hairs or protrusions – from Latin glaber – bald): involucres (a series of bracts beneath or around a flower cluster – French from Latin involocrum – wrapper, envelope); pappi (a modified calyx composed of scales, bristles, or featherlike hairs, in plants of the composite family, such as the dandelion and the thistle – Latin, old man, down on certain seeds, from Greek papposcalyx (the sepals of a flower collectively, forming the outer floral envelope that protects the developing flower bud – from Latin, from Greek – kalux shell, from kaluptein to cover, hide …

The reason for choosing Rosebay willowherb, bindweed, Japanese knotweed (donkey rhubarb) and dandelions was simple – they all feature on the weed control section of Sheffield City Council’s website. Poppies, bracken and briar, sycamore and buddleja were all chosen because they also fall within the categories of pioneering or invasive plants – and they all, on investigation, yielded surprising amounts of cultural – psycho-botanical – reference.

Paul Evans, 2012

project reflections #27


Quiet, of course, it adheres to

The cracks of waste-pipes, velvets,

Velours them; an enriching

Unnatural ruff swathing the urban ‘manifestation’:

The urban nature is basemented, semi-dark:

It musts, it is alone. 

John Silkin,  Penguin Modern Poets 7

In the places that have most recently been abandoned to returning nature – such as disused car parks and the various hard standings from newly failed enterprise – we have found the first pioneering clumps of dark green moss. Somehow, these most ancient of botanical life-forms have found the most fragile of germinative footholds for their diminutive spores – often within the shallowest cracks created by fluctuations of heat or by settling of the ground.

It is thus the brave mosses that are the first to re-vivify the sterility of such terrain.

Favouring the dank (and low levels of light) these pioneering plants – known as bryophytes – began a very similar enterprise some 65,000,000 years ago; leaving the ancient seas to break ground across the barren land … and it was the dead, damp, mosses that made the first soils for the vascular plants that subsequently spread their living carpets across the earth.   

Mosses are small, soft plants that are typically 1–10 cm (0.4–4 in) tall, though some species are much larger. They commonly grow close together in clumps or mats in damp or shady locations. They do not have flowers or seeds, and their simple leaves cover the thin wiry stems. At certain times mosses produce spore capsules which may appear as beak-like capsules borne aloft on thin stalks.

Botanically, mosses are bryophytes, or non-vascular plants. They differ from ‘higher’ plants by not having internal water-bearing vessels or veins, and no flowers and therefore no fruits, cones or seeds. They are small (a few centimeters tall) and herbaceous (nonwoody) and absorb water and nutrients through their leaves. Mosses have stems which may be simple or branched and upright or lax, simple leaves that often have midribs, roots (rhizoids) that anchor them to their substrate, and spore-bearing capsules on long stems. They harvest sunlight to create food through photosynthesis. Mosses do not absorb water or nutrients from their substrate through their roots, so while mosses often grow on trees, they are never parasitic on the tree.

They can be distinguished from the similar liverworts by their multi-cellular rhizoids. Also, in most mosses, the spore-bearing capsule enlarges and matures after its stalk elongates, while in liverworts the capsule enlarges and matures before its stalk elongates. Other differences are not universal for all mosses and all liverworts, but the presence of a clearly differentiated stem with simple-shaped, ribbed leaves – without deeply lobed or segmented leaves and not arranged in three ranks – all point to the plant being a moss.

There are approximately 12,000 species of moss classified in the Bryophyta.

Moss is often considered a weed in grass lawns, but is deliberately encouraged to grow under aesthetic principles exemplified by Japanese gardening. Moss is thought to add a sense of calm, age, and stillness to a garden scene.

A passing fad for moss-collecting in the late 19th century led to the establishment of mosseries in many British and American gardens. The mossery was typically constructed out of slatted wood, with a flat roof, open to the north side (maintaining shade). Samples of moss were installed in the cracks between wood slats. The whole mossery would then be regularly moistened to maintain growth.

project reflections #26

Burn Weed

It is my hope that it has now become apparent to the reader how many of the pioneering plants that I have thus far described employ – by means of adaptation – various ingenious biological defenses against the animals that might eat them.

These defenses constitute the great armoury of spines, thorns, prickles, bristles – and bitter, unsavory compounds and poisonous concoctions – that botanical nature has designed and brewed up to deter animal interest, investigation, and ingestion.In terms of our human experience of these arms and fortifications, there can surely be no more commonly suffered strategy than the sting of the common nettle – Urtica dioica. Every child – and every parent – must surely be conscious of that shockingly unpleasant ‘first contact’ with this painful weed; of the alarming white bumps and reddened skin that we associate with ‘nettle rash’.

Stinging nettle or common nettle, Urtica dioica, is a herbaceous perennial flowering plant, native to Europe, Asia, northern Africa and North America – it is the best-known member of the genus Urtica. The plant has many hollow stinging hairs called trichomes on its leaves and stems, which act like hypodermic needles; injecting histamine and other chemicals that produce a stinging sensation when contacted by humans and other animals. The plant has a long history of use as a medicine and as a food source.

Stinging nettle is a dioecious herbaceous perennial, 1 to 2 m (3 to 7 ft) tall in the summer and dying down to the ground in winter. It has widely spreading rhizomes and stolons, which are bright yellow, as are the roots. The soft green leaves are 3 to 15 cm (1 to 6 in) long and are borne oppositely on an erect wiry green stem. The leaves have a strongly serrated margin, a cordate base, and an acuminate tip with a terminal leaf tooth longer than adjacent laterals. It bears numerous small, greenish or brownish flowers in dense axillary inflorescences.

The leaves and stems are very hairy with non-stinging hairs and they also bear many stinging hairs (trichomes), whose tips come off when touched, transforming the hair into a needle that will inject several chemicals: acetylcholine, histamine, 5-HT (serotonin), moroidin, leukotrienes, and – possibly – formic acid. This mixture of chemical compounds causes a painful sting or paresthesia from which the species derives its common name, as well as the colloquial names: burn nettle, burn weed, burn hazel.

Urtication, or flogging with nettles, is the process of deliberately applying stinging nettles to the skin in order to provoke inflammation. An agent thus used is known as a rubefacient (something that causes redness). This is done as a folk remedy for rheumatism, providing temporary relief from (or at least a novel replacement for) pain in the joints.

As Old English stiðe, nettle is one of the nine plants invoked in the pagan Anglo-Saxon Nine Herbs Charm, recorded in the 10th century. Nettle was believed to be a galactagogue, a substance that promotes lactation.

Because it contains 3,4-divanillyltetrahydrofuran, certain extracts of the nettle are used by bodybuilders in an effort to increase free testosterone.

An annual Stinging Nettle Eating Championship draws thousands of people to Dorset, where competitors attempt to eat as much of the raw plant as possible. Competitors are given 60 cm (20 in) stalks of the plant, from which they strip the leaves and eat them. Whoever strips and eats the most stinging nettle leaves in a fixed time is the winner. The competition dates back to 1986, when two neighbouring farmers attempted to settle a dispute about which had the worst infestation of nettles.

In Europe stinging nettles have a strong association with human habitation and buildings. The presence of nettles may indicate that a building has been long abandoned. Human and animal waste may be responsible for elevated levels of phosphate and nitrogen in the soil, providing an ideal environment for stinging nettles.

Paul Evans, February 2012

project reflections #24


It is night and snow has fallen – blanketing all signs of vegetation in a thick meringue covering that, in a way that is somehow disturbing, reflects the lurid acid yellow of the street lights. Sticks of black shrubs and the naked boughs of plane trees stand out in sharp, angular contrast – Upperthorpe is transformed. All is quiet.

Trudging wearily through the winding ankle-deep paths that criss-cross the disused factory lots, wastelands and brownfield sites, it is hard to imagine that hot day when we followed these self-same lines of passage, punctuated with the sunny yellow flower heads of various nodding ragworts and groundsels … and, in the autumn, the downy, grey, globed heads of seed that earns the genus the name of Senecio – or old man.

The ragworts are asters – and, like the dandelion, they would seem to offer a particular challenge to taxonomists. For one species alone, Oxford ragwort (Senecio squalidus), there are over 21 scientific synonyms and, in addition, the misapplied name of Senecio nebrodensis. A North American species Packera aurea (formerly Senecio aureus), commonly known as Golden Ragwort, has two synonyms and is also commonly known as Life Root, Squaw Weed, Golden Sececio, ragwort, uncum root, waw weed, uncum, false valerian, cough weed, female regulator, cocash weed, ragweed, staggerwort, and St. James wort.

There is, I believe, a much contested myth concerning the number of words for snow in the Eskimo-Aleut languages. Perhaps this discredited idea could be given up, instead, to the English (and Latin) for ragworts?

Senecio is a genus of the daisy family (Asteraceae) that includes ragworts and groundsels. The flower heads are normally rayed, completely yellow, and the heads are borne in branched clusters. Senecio is one of the largest genera of flowering plants and despite the separation of many species into other genera it still contains over 1250 species of varied form, including leaf, stem and tuber succulents, annuals, perennials, aquatics, climbers, shrubs and small trees. Some species produce natural biocides to deter or even kill animals that would eat them.

Oxford ragwort (Senecio squalidus) was first introduced into Britain via Francisco Cupani and William Sherard in the years of their visit 1700, 1701 and 1702 from Sicily – where it lives as a native on volcanic ash – to the Duchess of Beaufort’s garden at Badminton. Later a transfer of the genetic material to the Oxford Botanic Garden by the “Horti Praefectus” (the title still given to the head gardener at the Oxford Botanic Garden), Jacob Bobart the Younger, before his death in 1719. This is also the same year that Bobart retired as Horti Praefectus and perhaps a good indication of when this species of ragwort and other invasive species might have “escaped” and started to make their home in the greater British Isles. The Sicilian ragwort escaped into the wild and grew in the stonework of the colleges (there is a specific mention in the historical literature of the Bodleian library) and many of the stone walls around the city of Oxford. This gave the plant its common name, “Oxford Ragwort”.

Carolus Linnaeus first described Senecio squalidus in 1753, although there is a dispute as to whether the material came from the Botanic Garden or from walls in the city; the taxonomy for this species is further complicated by the existence of species with a similar morphology in continental Europe. James Edward Smith officially identified the escaped Oxford ragwort with its formal name Senecio squalidus in 1800.

During the Industrial Revolution, Oxford became connected to the railway system and the plant gained a new habitat in the railway lines clinker beds, gradually spreading via the railway to other parts of the country. The process was accelerated by the movement of the trains and the limestone ballast that provides a well-drained medium – an adequate replica of the lava soils of its native home in Sicily.

The vortex of air following the express train carries the fruits in its wake. I have seen them enter a railway-carriage window near Oxford and remain suspended in the air in the compartment until they found an exit at Tilehurst.

George Druce 1927

During the 20th century it continued to spread along railway lines and found a liking for waste places and bombed sites after World War II – which have a lot in common with the volcanic regions of Senecio squalidus’  home terrain.

Paul Evans, February 2012

Thinking about (beyond?) social practice art… and interrogating our methodologies

An interesting article published in e-flux by Gregory Sholette (and recommended by Paul Evans): ‘After OWS: Social Practice Art, Abstraction, and the Limits of the Social’ 

One quote in particular stands out and we’d like to bring this to the Reading Loop table for discussion over the coming weeks:

Embracing [Jane] Bennett’s material vibrancy within social practice means recognizing not only the role of extra-human technologies and abstract concepts like democracy, but also the corporeal presence of “nature,” not in some sugary, universal form, but as a negation that radically confronts human culture with alterity. This line of thinking might, for instance, nudge a project focused on the interaction of human and natural ecologies within a downtown waterfront or inner-city park—to cite a couple of examples I am familiar with—into a reflection about what the river might demand from society, as opposed to what it offers city residents.


project reflections #22

Taraxacum officinale

Escaping in memory from the season’s harsh, chill winds, I cast my mind back to the dandelion days of last spring, summer and early autumn. From March until October the vivid, cadmium yellow flowers of Taraxacum officinale, or common dandelion – and their superceding, globular silver seed-heads – are found to be distributed widely and in abundance across the gently dipping shoulders of the Don river valley. 

We have thus observed the dandelion – that most cosmopolitan of weeds – on many patches of wasteland and also, in naughty proliferation, across the cultivated lawns and pastures of Netherthorpe, Upperthorpe, Shalesmoor, Neepsend and Wardsend.

The dandelion is such a common plant that it is all to easy to become blind to its two extraordinarily complex stages of fruit and flower … but it is equal in its mystery to any other of the botanical organisms that we have encountered on our journeys around these parts. Not least, it would appear to confound the efforts of taxonomists to define its species with any precision – which is perhaps no surprise when one gives due consideration to this humble plant’s very singular ability to propagate in such numbers and to spread it’s progeny so widely and with such abandon through the action of the wind. 

Taraxacum officinale, the common dandelion (often simply called “dandelion”), is a herbaceous perennial plant of the family Asteraceae (Compositae). It can be found growing in temperate regions of the world, in lawns, on roadsides, on disturbed banks, on the shores of water ways, and other areas with moist soils. Taraxacum officinale is considered a weed species, especially in lawns and along roadsides; but it is sometimes used as a medicinal and in food preparation. As a nearly cosmopolitan weed, the common dandelion is best known for its bright yellow flower heads that turn into round balls of silver tufted fruits that blow away on the wind.

The dandelion grows from generally unbranched taproots and produces one to more than ten stems that are typically 5 to 40 cm tall but sometimes up to 70 cm tall. The stems can be tinted purplish, are upright or lax, and produce flower heads that are held as tall or taller than the foliage. The foliage is upright growing or horizontally orientated, with leaves that are unwinged or having narrowly winged petioles. The stems can be glabrous or are sparsely covered with short hairs. The 5–45 cm long and 1–10 cm wide leaves are oblanceolate, oblong, or obovate in shape with the bases gradually narrowing to the petiole  The leaf margins are typically shallowly lobed to deeply lobed and often lacerate or toothed with sharp or dull teeth and the leaves are all basal; each flowering stem lacks bracts and has one single flower head.

The yellow flower heads lack receptacle bracts and all the flowers, which are called florets, are ligulate and bisexual. The calyculi (the cup like bracts that hold the florets) are composed of 12 to 18 segments: each segment is reflexed and sometimes glaucous. The lanceolate shaped bractlets are in 2 series with the apices acuminate in shape. The 14 to 25 mm wide involucres are green to dark green or brownish green with the tips dark gray or purplish. The florets number 40 to over 100 per head, having corollas that are yellow or orange-yellow in color. The fruits, which are called cypselae, range in color from olive-green or olive-brown to straw-colored to grayish, they are oblanceoloid in shape and 2 to 3 mm long with slender beaks. The fruits have 4 to 12 ribs that have sharp edges. The fruits are mostly produced by apomixis (a form of asexual reproduction through the seeds). It blooms from March until October.

The silky pappi, which form the parachutes, are white to silver-white in color and around 6 mm wide. Dandelion plants have milky sap that has been used as a mosquito repellent; the milk has also been used to treat warts, as a folk remedy.

Taraxacum officinale is a common colonizer after fires, both from wind blown seeds and seed germination from the seed bank. The seeds remain viable in the seed bank for many years, with one study showing germination after nine years. This species is a somewhat prolific seed producer, with 54 to 172 seeds produced per head, and a single plant can produce more than 5,000 seeds a year. It is estimated that more than 97,000,000 seeds/hectare could be produced yearly by a dense stand of dandelions. When released, the seeds can be spread by the wind up to several hundred meters from their source, the seeds are also a common contaminate in crop and forage seeds.

The dandelion has historically had many English common names including: blowball, lion’s-tooth, cankerwort, milk-witch, yellow-gowan, Irish daisy, monks-head, priest’s-crown and puff-ball; other common names include: faceclock, pee-a-bed, wet-a-bed, canker-wort, and swine’s snout

Carl Linnaeus named the species Leondonton Taraxacum in 1753. The genus name Taraxacum, might be from the Arabic word “Tharakhchakon“,or from the Greek “Tarraxos“. The common name “dandelion,” comes from the French phrase “dent de lion” which means “lion’s tooth”, in reference to the jagged shaped foliage. The taxonomy of the genus Taraxacum is complicated by apomictic and polyploid lineages, and the taxonomy and nomenclatural situation of Taraxacum officinale is not yet fully resolved. This situation has been further complicated in the past by the recognition of numerous species, subspecies and microspecies. E.g. Rothmaler’s flora of Germany recognizes roughly 70 microspecies.

While the dandelion is considered a weed by most gardeners and lawn owners, the plant has several culinary uses. The specific name officinalis refers to its value as a medicinal herb, and is derived from the word opificina, later officina, meaning a workshop or pharmacy. Dandelion flowers can be used to make dandelion wine; and it has also been used in a saison ale called Pissenlit (literally “wet the bed” in French) which is made in Belgium. The greens are used in salads, the roots have been used to make a coffee-like drink and the plant was used by Native Americans as a food and medicine. Ground roasted dandelion root can be used as a coffee substitute. In Silesia, and other parts of Poland, dandelion flowers are used to make a honey substitute, to which lemon is added (so-called May-honey). This “honey” is believed to have a medicinal value, in particular against liver problems.

Dandelion root is a registered drug in Canada, sold principally as a diuretic. A leaf decoction can be drunk to “purify the blood”, for the treatment of anemia, jaundice, and also for nervousness. A hepatoprotective effect of chemicals extracted from dandelion root has been reported. Drunk before meals, dandelion root coffee is claimed to stimulate digestive functions and function as a liver tonic.

Paul Evans, 22 January 2012

project reflections #20


In order to escape the violent winds that blew in these parts throughout early January, I took to rambling through the scattered woodlands along the banks of the river Don. Here I found many large sycamore maples or Acer pseudoplatanus  – a magnificent tree that will sometimes grow to a height of over a hundred feet.

I have observed that, in wet ground at the base of these sycamores, the rocking movement of the tree in high winds – transmitted from the upper branches down through the solid trunk – results in oscillatory movements within pools formed from groundwater. This fluid moves up and down with the back and forth movement, resulting in the water rising up and withdrawing – almost like breath – and often expelling the liquified soil to create cavities amongst the roots. These cavities are, I am led to understand, known as oscillants …

Acer pseudoplatanus, the sycamore maple, is a species of maple native to central Europe and southwestern Asia, from France it is naturally distributed eastwards towards the Ukraine, and south to northern Spain, northern Turkey, and the Caucasus. It is not related to other trees called sycamore or plane tree in the Platanus genus. Its apparent similarity to the species of that genus led to its being named pseudoplatanus, using the prefix pseudo- (from the Ancient Greek for “false”). Other common names for the tree include false plane-tree, great maple, Scottish maple, mock-plane, sycamore or Celtic maple.

It is a large deciduous tree that reaches 20–35 m tall at maturity, with a broad, domed crown. On young trees, the bark is smooth and grey but becomes rougher with age and breaks up in scales, exposing the pale-brown-to-pinkish inner bark. The leaves are opposite, large, 10–25 cm long and broad with a 5–15 cm petiole, with a leathery texture, palmately veined with thick veins protruding on the underside surface, with five lobes with toothed edges, and dark green in colour with a whitish underside. The leaves are often marked with black spots or patches which are caused by the fungus Rhytisma acerinum. The monoecious yellow-green flowers are produced in spring on 10–20 cm pendulous racemes, with 20–50 flowers on each stalk. The 5–10 mm diameter seeds are paired in samaras, each seed with a 20–40 mm long wing to catch the wind and rotate when they fall; this helps them to spread further from the parent tree. The seeds are mature in autumn about 6 months after pollination.

The name “sycamore” originally belongs to the fig species Ficus sycomorus, which is native to southwest Asia (this is the sycamore or sycomore referred to in the Bible). The name was later applied to this species by reason of the superficial similarity in leaf shape.

The sycamore is cultivated and widely naturalised north of its native range in northern Europe, and it now occurs throughout the British Isles, having been introduced in the 17th century. It is considered to be an environmental weed in environmentally sensitive locations.

The wood is a medium weight hardwood, weighing 630 kg per cubic metre. It is traditionally used in making the backs, necks and scrolls of violins. The flowers produce abundant nectar, which makes a fragrant, delicately flavoured and pale-coloured honey.

Paul Evans, 8 January 2012

project reflections #19

Briar and Bracken

On the clearest day in December I visited the long-abandoned burial grounds of Wardsend. These range across a hillside that faces roughly south west, somewhat towards the setting winter sun as it falls below the occupations on the valley ridge of Upperthorpe. About the many forgotten memorials, each delicately graven with the names of the dead, I observed an abundance of the growth-fronds of common bracken Pteridium aquilinum – now brown, friable and themselves long dead after the summer blaze of green – and also many dormant briars or brambles of the blackberry Rubus fruticosus

 Part I: Briar or Bramble?

Briar or brier is a common name for a number of unrelated thicket-forming thorny plants, including species in the Rubus genera. Rubus is a large genus of flowering plants in the rose family, Rosaceae. Blackberries  are a common, widely distributed member of the genus. Blackberries, as well as various other Rubus species with mounding or rambling growth habits, are often called brambles. The genus Rubus is believed to have existed since at least 23.7 to 36.6 million years ago.

Most of the Rubus briars have woody stems with prickles like roses; spines, bristles, and gland-tipped hairs are also common in the genus. The Rubus fruit is an aggregate of small units known as drupelets. In blackberries the flower receptacle is elongate and part of the ripe fruit, making the blackberry an aggregate-accessory fruit.

The generic name means blackberry in Latin and is derived from the word ruber, meaning “red”.

The  word bramble comes from Germanic bram-bezi, whence also German Brombeere , Dutch Braam and French framboise. In popular UK usage the term primarily refers to the blackberry bush; in Scotland and the north of England it refers to both the blackberry bush and its fruits.

The scientific study of brambles is known as batology.

Bramble bushes have a distinctive growth form. They send up long, arching canes that do not flower or set fruit until the second year of growth. Many types of brambles bear edible fruit, and many have recurved thorns that dig into clothing and flesh when the victim tries to pull away from them. Some types also have hair-like thorns. Brambles usually have trifoliate or palmately-compound leaves.

One cup of blackberries contains approximately 0.029 mg of thiamine (vitamin B1).

Part II: Bracken

Pteridium aquilinum (Bracken or Common Bracken) is one of several species of large, coarse ferns of the genus Pteridium.

Ferns (Pteridophyta) are vascular plants that have alternating generations: large plants that produce spores and small plants that produce sex cells (eggs and sperm). Brackens are in the family Dennstaedtiaceae, which are noted for their large, highly divided leaves. Brackens are cosmopolitan, being found on all continents except Antarctica and in all environments except deserts. The genus probably has the widest distribution of any fern genus in the world. In the past, the genus was commonly treated as having only one species, Pteridium aquilinum, but the recent trend is to subdivide it into about ten species.

The word bracken is of Old Norse origin, related to the Swedish word bräken, meaning fern.

Evolutionarily, bracken may be considered to be one of the most successful ferns. It is also one of the oldest, with fossil records stretching back over 55 million years. The plant sends up large, triangular fronds from a wide-creeping underground rootstock, and may form dense thickets. This rootstock may travel a metre or more underground between fronds. The fronds may grow up to 2.5 m (8 ft) long – or longer with support, but typically are in the range of 0.6–2 m (2–6 feet) high. In cold environments bracken is winter-deciduous, requires well-drained soil, and is generally found growing on the sides of hills. The spores used in reproduction are produced on the underside edges of the leaf in structures called sori. The linear pattern of these sori is different from other ferns which are circular and located towards the centre. Dead bracken provides a warm microclimate for development of the immature stages.

Pteridium aquilinum is the most common species. It has caused such a problem of invading pastureland that at one time the British government instigated an eradication programme. Special filters have been used on some British water supplies to filter out the bracken spores.

Bracken fronds contain a variety of poisons: ptaquiloside or PTQ, pterosins and some metabolites. The plant is carcinogenic to animals such as mice, rats, horses and cattle when ingested, although they will usually avoid eating it unless nothing else is available. The spores have also been implicated as a carcinogen; Danish scientist Lars Holm Rasmussen released a study in 2004 showing that the carcinogenic compound in bracken, ptaquiloside or PTQ, can leach from the plant into the water supply, which may explain an increase in the incidence of gastric and oesophageal cancers in bracken-rich areas.

Uncooked bracken also contains the enzyme thiaminase which destroys thiamine (vitamin B1).

Paul Evans, 5 January 2012

project reflections #14


The branches come out of the ground in great numbers, growing, to the height of sixe foote, garnished with brave flowers of great beautie, consisting of fower leaves a piece, of an orient purple colour. The cod is long … and full of downie matter, which flieth away with the winde when the cod is opened.

John Gerard, The Herball, 1597

Rosebay Willowherb, or Fireweed as it is know in North America, is both abundant and widely distributed throughout the Upperthorpe and Netherthorpe edgelands.

It has, to my mind, the great distinction of two quite separate yet equally spectacular stages in its reproductive cycle. The first occurs with the flowering of the vivid magenta spears – often seen waving in stark chromatic contrast against the blue of the summer sky. The second stage occurs at the end of the ripening within the seed pods of the delicate and silk-like seeds – on the warmest days the rising air currents will be alive with these delightful, dancing, graceful strands as they make their escape …

Epilobium angustifolium, commonly known as Fireweed, or Rosebay Willowherb, is a perennial herbaceous plant in the willowherb family Onagraceae. It is native throughout the temperate Northern Hemisphere, including large parts of the boreal forests. The species name angustifolium is a portmanteau of the Latin words angusti meaning ‘narrow’, and folium meaning ‘leaf’.

Rosebay Willowherb is often abundant in wet calcareous to slightly acidic soils in open fields, pastures, and particularly burned-over lands; the name Fireweed derives from the species’ abundance as a coloniser on burnt sites after forest fires. Its tendency to quickly colonise open areas with little competition makes it a clear example of a pioneer species. These plants grow and flower as long as there is open space and plenty of light; as trees and brush grow larger the plants die out, but the seeds remain viable in the soil seed bank for many years – and when a new conflagration or other disturbance occurs that opens up the ground to light again the seeds germinate. Some areas with heavy seed counts in the soil can, after fire, be covered with pure dense stands of this species and when in flower the landscape is turned into fields of colour.

In Britain the plant was considered a rare species in the 18th century, and one confined to a few locations with damp, gravelly soils. It was sometimes mis-identified as Great Hairy Willowherb in contemporary floras. The plant’s rise from local rarity to widespread weed seems to have occurred at the same time as the expansion of the railway network, and the associated soil disturbance.

Rosebay Willowherb became locally known as bombweed due to its rapid colonisation of bomb craters in the Second World War.

The reddish stems of this herbaceous perennial are usually simple, erect, smooth, 0.5–2.5 m (1½–8 feet) high with scattered alternate leaves. The leaves are entire, lanceolate, and pinnately veined. The radially symmetrical flowers have four magenta to pink petals, 2 to 3 cm in diameter. The styles have four stigmas, which occur in symmetrical terminal racemes. The leaves of fireweed are unique in that the leaf veins are circular and do not terminate on the edges of the leaf but form circular loops and join together inside the outer leaf margins. This feature makes the plants very easy to identify in all stages of growth. When fireweed first emerges in early spring, it can closely resemble several highly toxic members of the lily family. However, it is easily identified by its unique leaf vein structure.

The reddish-brown linear seed capsule splits from the apex. It bears many minute brown seeds, about 300 to 400 per capsule and 80,000 per plant. The seeds have silky hairs to aid wind dispersal and are very easily spread by the wind. Once established, the plants also spread extensively by underground roots, an individual plant eventually forming a large patch.

The young shoots were often collected in the spring by Native American people and mixed with other greens for eating. They are best when young and tender: as the plant matures the leaves become tough and somewhat bitter. The southeast Native Americans use the stems in this stage. They are peeled and consumed raw. The root can be roasted after scraping off the outside, but often tastes bitter. To mitigate this, the root is collected before the plant flowers and the brown thread in the middle removed. The Dena’ina add fireweed to their dogs’ food.

Fireweed is also a medicine of the Upper Inlet Dena’ina, who treat pus-filled boils or cuts by placing a piece of the raw stem on the afflicted area. This is said to draw the pus out of the cut or boil and prevents a cut with pus in it from healing over too quickly.

Fireweed is the floral emblem of Yukon.

Paul Evans, 3 January 2012

Project reflections #5

Heavenly Trumpets

 On many of the fences, collapsed walls and other signs of enclosure and habitation around Netherthorpe and Upperthorpe we have found thriving colonies of Calystegia sepium – known commonly as Larger Bindweed, Hedge Bindweed, Rutland beauty, Bugle Vine, or Heavenly Trumpets.

 I am reminded of a friend of mine who had been led to believe that bindweed, being a species of Convolvulus, might contain some of the ergoline alkaloids* that have led to the use of these species as ingredients in psychedelic drugs (e.g. ololiuhqui). He once ate a very large quantity of the dried seeds in the hope of achieving some form of psychotropic effect – but achieved nothing through this experiment other than a dreadful gripe in his stomach.

Calystegia sepium (formerly Convolvulus sepium) is a species of bindweed, with a subcosmopolitan distribution throughout the temperate Northern Hemisphere. It is a herbaceous perennial that twines around other plants, in a counter-clockwise direction, to a height of up to 2-4 m (sometimes, but rarely  to a height of 5 m). The leaves are simple, arranged spirally, pointed at the tip and arrowhead shaped, 5-10 cm long and 3-7 cm broad. The flowers are produced from late spring to the end of summer. In the bud, they are covered by large bracts which remain and continue to cover the sepals. The open flowers are trumpet-shaped, 3-7 cm in diameter, white, or pale pink with white stripes. After flowering the fruit develops as an almost spherical capsule, 1 cm in diameter containing two to four large, black seeds that are shaped like quartered oranges. The seeds disperse and thrive in fields, borders, roadsides and open woods. Its aggressive self-seeding (seeds can remain viable as long as 30 years) and the success of its creeping roots (they can be as long as 3-4 m) cause it to be a persistent weed and have led to its classification as a noxious weed.

*The presence of ergolines in some species of this family of plants is due to infection by fungi related to the ergot fungi of the genus Claviceps.

Paul Evans, December 15 2011

Project reflections #4

Donkey Rhubarb 

Of late, I have had cause to make several journeys from Shalesmoor into Neepsend, each time crossing the river Don. On the banks of this river I have observed large stands of donkey rhubarb – otherwise known as Japanese knotweed.

Having learned of the medicinal benefits of this strange and pungent plant, I have now begun to gather a small amount each time that I pass by – to consume with my evening meal as an aid to digestion.

Japanese knotweed Fallopia japonica is a large, herbaceous perennial plant, native to eastern Asia in Japan, China and Korea. In North America and Europe the species is very successful and has been classified as an invasive species in several countries.

A member of the family Polygonaceae, Japanese knotweed has hollow stems with distinct raised nodes that give it the appearance of bamboo, though it is not closely related. While stems may reach a maximum height of 3–4 m during each growing season, it is typical to see much smaller plants in places where they sprout through cracks in the pavement or are repeatedly cut down. The leaves are broad oval with a truncated base, 7–14 cm long and 5–12 cm broad, with an entire margin. The flowers are small, cream or white, produced in erect racemes 6–15 cm long in late summer and early autumn.

Other English names for Japanese knotweed include: Hancock’s curse, elephant ears, pea shooters, donkey rhubarb (although it is not a rhubarb), sally rhubarb, fleeceflower, Himalayan fleece vine, monkeyweed, Japanese bamboo (although it is not a bamboo), American bamboo, and Mexican bamboo. There are also regional names, and it is sometimes confused with sorrel.

In Japanese, the name is itadori 虎杖, イタドリ

Japanese knotweed is a concentrated source of emodin, used as a nutritional supplement to regulate bowel motility.The roots of Japanese knotweed are used in traditional Chinese and Japanese herbal medicines as a natural laxative. Some caution should be exercised when consuming this plant because, similarly to rhubarb, it contains oxalic acid; which may aggravate conditions such as rheumatism, arthritis, gout, kidney stones or hyperacidity.

Paul Evans, 13 December 2011

Project reflections #3

Coquelicot blanc

We first explored Netherthorpe on a Sunday in late July 2011. The weather on that day was most torrid and the sky a deep, metallic cyan. Because we were much affected ourselves by the oppressive heat,  we became very concerned by the suffering of a heavily furred, tethered guard dog. A bear-like creature that was most unkempt and which had been given no water to drink. It was deeply saddening to listen its fierce yet forlorn barking. We wondered what it had been stationed to defend in this place – and what might be of such high value to merit such torment for the poor animal.

It was here that I first saw the white poppy. No doubt a hybrid or mutant form of the field poppy or corn poppy Papaver rhoeas. Its thin, papery leaves seemingly bleached by the summer sun. A single flag-like bloom so light that it danced along with its coquelicot brethren in a barely perceptible current of cool air that ran across the ground.

Poppies have long been used as a symbol of both sleep, peace and death: sleep because of the opium extracted from them, and death because of the common blood-red color of the red poppy in particular. There is a name for this color: coquelicot – from the French – that has been used in English since 1795; a bright cadmium or perhaps vermilion red with an orange tint. It was perhaps helped into English usage by Claude Monet’s painting Les Coquelicots (1873). In Greek and Roman myths, poppies were used as offerings to the dead and sometimes used as emblems on tombstones, symbolising eternal sleep. This symbolism is evoked in the children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, in which a magical poppy field threatens to make the protagonists sleep forever. A second interpretation of poppies in Classical mythology is that the bright scarlet colour signifies a promise of resurrection after death.

Papaver rhoeas is also the poppy of wartime remembrance. A common weed in Europe that favours disturbed ground, it is found in many locations; including Flanders, the setting of the famous poem In Flanders Fields, created in the form of a French rondeau on 3rd May 1915 by the Canadian surgeon and soldier John MacCrae:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow / Between the crosses, row on row,
/  That mark our place; and in the sky
/  The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago /
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
 /  Loved and were loved, and now we lie, /  In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw / The torch; be yours to hold it high. /  If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow / In Flanders fields.

Critic Paul Fussel claimed to find sharp distinctions between the pastoral, sacrificial tone of the poem’s first nine lines and the ‘recruiting-poster rhetoric’ of the poem’s third stanza. Fussell said the poem would have, at that time of its appearance, served to denigrate any negotiated peace which would end the war. In this context, Fussel called these lines ‘a propaganda argument,’ saying ‘words like vicious and stupid would not seem to go too far.’

In Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, artificial poppies are worn to commemorate those who died in war. This form of commemoration is associated with Remembrance Day, which falls on November 11. The white poppy is an artificial flower used as a symbol of peace and worn as an alternative, or complement to, the red.

In 1986 Margaret Thatcher expressed her ‘deep distaste’ for the symbol.

Paul Evans, 13 December 2011

Project reflections #1

On our second visit to Neepsend I was much impressed by the change in the seasons. Not only by the marked contrast in the weather – so fiercely hot on our first excursion into this terrain and now so cold and with much sleety rain – but also by the presence of so many faded flower heads of Buddleja. On our last visit these vivid purple blooms were alive with butterflies. Now, with the season for progeneration long over, they hang drooping, spent and rotten.

Buddleja, often misspelled Buddleia but commonly known as the Butterfly Bush, is a genus of flowering plants. The generic name, bestowed by Linnaeus, honours the Reverend Adam Buddle (1662–1715), a botanist and rector from Essex who could never have actually seen a plant of the genus, which originates from the warmer climes of the New World and from Africa and Asia. Adam Buddle was an expert on bryophytes (mosses and other damp dwelling plants), he also wrote a new English flora, unpublished on his death, that sits within the library of the Sloane museum in London.

The most popular cultivated species is Buddleja davidii from central China; it takes its second name from the French naturalist Père Armand David (1826-1900), the Lazarist missionary priest, zoologist and botanist who was the first westerner to record the existence of the giant panda. Buddleja davidii is a great coloniser of dry open ground. It often self-sows on waste ground or old masonry. It is frequently seen on derelict factory sites and, in the aftermath of the Second World War, was often found on urban bomb sites. This earned it the popular nickname of ‘the bombsite plant’ among people of the war-time generation.

It is listed as an invasive species in many areas of the United Kingdom.

Paul Evans, December 4 2011

Animality – some ideas

If you’d like to contribute a piece that responds to the Animality theme in the forthcoming occursus books, you may find the following useful…

“The question of the living and of the living animal … will always have been the most important and decisive question.” (Jaques Derrida, ‘The Animal That Therefore I Am’)

We are asking for contemporary responses to the question of ‘the living and the living animal’ and how this might impact upon our current, anthropocentric, world view.

What is the nature of the human/animal distinction? Is this distinction actually still valid?

Bearing in mind the diversity of species, how does this singular term ‘Animal’ function as an overall category? What do we mean when we use the word ‘Animal’?

Donna Haraway has written of human nature as an interspecies relationship, operating on many interconnected levels. We tend to see other ‘creatures’ as figures within a plexus of complex natural ecologies but ourselves as somehow outside of these networks. Is this a valid perspective?

For further info on this section, please contact Paul Evans (

More thoughts on Reading Loop, 1/6/2011 (public art)

Ars Impudicus

1) Is that Art for the public? Or Art of the public?

I don’t really have a problem with the idea of art as having a function; it’s only very recently in our history that we have had the opportunity to test what would happen if art was uncoupled from purpose (others might disagree). Matthew Collings reminds us that all art is contemporary because all art is perceived in the present … which means that most of the art that we see (fine art as well as commercial art) has (or has had) a purpose.

Prior to the statement of certain theoretical positions the relation between art and function was considerably more clear; art had, amongst others, educative, spiritual or status driven purposes. The function of art was to improve minds, save souls or confer kudos on the owner. The function of art is also culturally (and institutionally) determined – in the former Soviet Union and Maoist China the above distinction between art ‘for’ the public and art ‘of’ the public would have perhaps been irrelevant (others might disagree).

Art for the public still carries the baggage of oppression, the taint of the ruling classes (with or without connotations of wealthy patronage) is in its genome; though now, beyond the hegemony of brokerage and curation, we finally have the ‘democracy’ of the on-line public vote.

The brief for a public art commission (usually determined by a worthy committee) will usually read along these lines:

We want a work of art that reflects the rich cultural history of so and so regeneration area.

Ideally we would like a mural or some benches please … preferably by somebody who has done this sort of thing before …

… for some reason rust would appear to be the patina of choice.

2) Matters of space with regard to public art remain conventional: public art tends to manifest itself in spaces reserved for common usage (common ground) such as parks, plazas, recreation areas, schools. Cyberspace, perhaps, offers a real (or not-so-real) alternative.

Which brings us to the subject of perception. In answer to E.D. I would argue that the manner in which an artwork is perceived is not merely limited by the imagination of viewer, but is also dependent on a wide range of demographic factors that ultimately depends on faith – faith in art and, in many cases, in a spiritual sense of ‘faith’.

But, personally, I like it best when art ‘for’ the public becomes art ‘of’ the public ‘by’ the public.

Remember the incident when the Angel of North was dressed in a replica of Alan Shearer’s shirt by Newcastle United fans? Alan Shearer ‘became’ the Angel of the North. The monument (monument to what exactly – hope?) takes on a new vernacular. By being clothed in the local colours it also becomes ‘loved’.

By way of contrast there is the example of Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s ‘Turbulence’, a series of glowing balls floating in the River Teifi in Cardigan. On the river bank there is a series of horns into which passers by can speak. At certain times of the tide these words are later repeated back by loudspeakers within the balls. At the public presentation of the visuals for the project the balls intoned solemn lines from Dylan Thomas’ poetry.

Local youths, however, had great fun shouting obscenities into the speaker-horns. The obscenities then lay in wait like tide controlled time bombs, to be released at unsuspecting passers by.

3. Fungi

My favourite fungus is the Stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus) I once saw a particularly fine example in the car park near to the Ladybower cycle hire. This was at a weekend, the place was heaving with families. No one seemed to notice the impudent fungus in their midst. Perhaps this might suggest a way forward?

Paul Evans

Notes from Reading Loop 18/05/11

Why Look at Animals? (or Spaces for Species)

‘The question of the animal should be seen as one of the central questions in critical discourse’ (Matthew Calarco, Zoographies: The Question of the Animal from Heidegger to Derrida).

Animal Studies (I should point out that the term ‘Animal Studies’ still has no proper definition, but it seems to function reasonably well as a working title for this area of contemporary thought) is typically relegated by Anglo-American philosophers into a sub-specialisation within the field of environmental ethics. Seeing as applied ethics is often seen as a minor field within philosophy (perhaps as something of a distraction from more serious pursuits such as metaphysics and epistemology) it is thus fair to say that this area of thought is marginalised.

However, some of the concepts and frameworks within continental philosophy can make a unique contribution to Animal Studies – Calarco uses ideas in ‘Zoographies’ that are taken from Heidegger to Derrida via Levinas and Agamben – although he still points out that these ideas arise from a largely anthropocentric context.

This marginalisation of Animal Studies as a field of thought is not helped by the radical stance expressed by certain members of the animal rights movement. Animal rights is seen by many in the left as a marginal branch of identity politics – perhaps even a luxury of the bourgeois activist – a view that is perhaps supported by some of the politically retrogressive strategies of such groups.

The more I’ve looked into Animal Studies in an effort to contextualise some of the elements within my own creative practice, the more I’ve discovered a complex ecology of thought. It’s a ramified web of ideas that in some ways resembles the network of interfragilities that we see in life itself. So, in response to Berger’s question, ‘Why Look at Animals?’ I would like to propose three more questions to help create an introductory area of focus:

1) The question of ‘Animality’ – what is the ‘being’ of animals?

2) What is the nature of the human/animal distinction?

3) Can human nature be seen as an interspecies relationship?

Question 1) The question of animalism, the being of animals …

We can ask wether there actually is a shared essence – a ‘creatureliness’ – that  binds all animals together? Can the wide variety (we could say vast variety) of beings referred to as ‘animal’ be reduced to an essentialism – a simple (or even relatively complex) set of shared characteristics. I would suggest not.

This ontological question also relates to a range of topics from the biological sciences surrounding the nature of species and the structure of taxonomies. It also has strong implications for any philosophical discourse that uses this essentialist mode of referring to ‘the animal’.

'Chaos and Theory', Paul Evans & Humanstudio, multiple projection, SIA Gallery Sheffield 2010, photo by Dan Sumption

Question 2) The animal/human distinction …

Is there a radical discontinuity between the animal and the human? This ontotheological dichotomy has effectively been undermined by darwinism in favour of a gradualist continuum – very much supported by recent work in genomics (the ancestral studies or ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ of our DNA).

There is a similar displacement in the humanities – where the traditional marks of being human (articulate speech, knowledge of death, consciousness etc.) have been shown to exist in a similar form amongst nonhuman animals

Calarco is arguing that the human animal distinction ‘can no longer and ought no longer be maintained.’

The big question arising from this position is how thought might proceed without the assurance of these traditional conceptions of animality and the human-animal distinction. Calarco states that any genuine encounter with what we call ‘animals’ will only occur within the space of this surrender. We need to clear a space for the ‘event’ of what we call animals. Hence the original title for this seminar – space (or spaces) for species.

Question 3) Inter-species relationships …

In ‘When Species Meet’ Donna Haraway asks this question: ‘What happens if we take seriously the idea of human nature as an inter-species relationship – at all levels?’

We have come to accept the idea of other species existing within an arena of complex inter-species relationships but for some reason we seem to hold back from fully including the human animal in this arrangement. Haraway’s writings address this problem through an extraordinary range, scope and breadth of cultural and scientific reference points, but often return to the example of a specific (or inter-specific) focus: her personal relationship with her dog Ms Cayenne Pepper (see also ‘The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People and Significant Otherness’).

The question of the animal thus becomes a question of ‘the animal who faces me’ – an interruption deriving from the singular animal. An animal whom I face and by whom I am faced and who calls my mode of existence into question.

Paul Evans, 18.5.11