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 #2

Of late I have been busying myself with the beginnings of a photo essay that I am to create as part of an interdisciplinary project on an area of Sheffield called Upperthorpe. The project is being run by a group called occursus and as I am from the area, I’m terribly excited to be involved and to apply what I have learned since I lived there to it. It is my hope that I can create my most comprehensive and effective essay thus far.

Joshua Holt

Joshua’s webpage can be found here.

Ph. Joshua Holt, 2011
Ph. Joshua Holt, 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