Finding paintings in Upperthorpe

Finding Paintings in Upperthorpe
   On 11th April 2012, I had a wander through Upperthorpe in order to find some source material for a forthcoming exhibition. I was looking for some found paintings. That is, accidents in paint that turn my head. I’ve been collecting them for years, along with stuff that looks like sculpture. (See http://foundpaintingsandsculptures.blogspot.co.uk/ for more examples).
   As I started it became apparent the Upperthorpe doesn’t have much in the way of this stuff. There are bins with hand-painted house numbers on them, but little else. I did notice that some brick walls looked like they’d been cleaned recently. They sometimes have a tell-tale scrubbed section in their centre, indicative of a graffiti clean-up team. I walked all the way up Upperthorpe to wear it touches on Walkey (and enjoyed a bagel and coffee at the New York Deli on Commonside), before heading back downhill on Springvale Road.
   It was a beautiful morning (though hail would pummel the place later on), but aside from some blossom, nothing much to photograph. I walked all the way down to the Tesco’s on Infirmary Road and then cut up through the nearby housing estate and woods (with seemingly abandoned skate bowl and five-a-side pen). It was here that I did find some stuff. On one of the green picnic tables someone had scribbled a circle in white paint and some trees nearby have pink spots sprayed onto their trunks. I’m assuming this is a death sentence of sorts. One tree had some thick pink paste on its trunk. On the housing estate I had seen the rendered wall equivalent of the scrubbed brick. Graffiti on these walls is painted over with neat, modernist, rectangles and two of these were painted on an end wall, either side of a rust stained outlet for an extractor. Perhaps accidental marks are more acceptable than deliberate ones.
   I turned uphill on Fox Road and ended up back at the small parade of shops. Just before that some has amended a reflective chevron sign, probably in order to make it more dramatic in the dark. Perhaps the black was fading and no new sign as forthcoming. The image has the touch of Jasper Johns or Jim Dine, which I like.
   Time was passing and I need to get back to the city centre, so I started back towards the blocks of flats. On Martin Street (or it could have been Oxford Street), I saw that someone had sprayed a radial design on the top of a bin. Erosion or something more deliberate had knocked it back, but it was still recognizable as a sympathetic piece of work. Just as I was leaving the district with only a few pictures, I noticed that – yes – someone had dropped a tin of white paint at the foot of one of the blocks. There’s always an accidental Jackson Pollock.

Upperthorpe Perimeter Round Walk #3 (Eddy Dreadnought)

Upperthorpe Perimeter Round Walk

Section 3   Club Mill to the Buddhist Centre

 Walk downhill on Parkwood Road, then round a wide corner. Here the boundary becomes anarchic and runs streetless straight downhill to the river Don and dives in. It wades downstream to drag itself out at the next bridge like an escaped prisoner, trying to conceal its tracks. The best you can do, confined as you are by high steel palisade security fencing on every side, is to continue down to Hoyland Road on the right, then right down Sandbed Road, past the vanished Hillfoot School, to join the surprisingly unenclosed riverside Club Mill Road.

This sedate descent is through more industrial estate land and business parkage, with occasional second hand car lots and sandwich bars. It all looks ersatz, insubstantial and nomadic, as though it could be packed away and removed in a day like a circus.

Walk left beside the river. There is a weir and a mill goit feeding the site of Club Mill, buried beneath a subsequent works, which is now itself being demolished. In 1795 various sick clubs and friendly societies clubbed together to build a watermill to provide wholesome and inexpensive flour. Before laying the first stone there was a parade through the town with banners and a band. Within a few years the scheme failed.

Towards the end of the road is a recycling plant, with conical heaps of debris. An overhead conveyor belt dribbles a few lumps into the Don. Joining Neepsend Lane once more, pass by the landmark Farfield Inn. To cars passing on Penistone Road it looks in business, sheltering under the gasometer, but it was closed after being flooded in 2007.

Walk across Hillfoot Bridge. We decide that this transpontine part of Upperthorpe we are just leaving is much more interesting than the frozen and populous left bank. Maybe we were intoxicated by gas fumes, but Neepsend is more engaging, a place in flux, deterritorialising and reterritorialising in a constant loop, a smooth space.

Cross Penistone Road, then climb up the steps to Wood Street. Here is a vast half-cylinder building, like a Soviet swimming pool, simply labeled ‘Mecca’.

A central part of a pilgrimage to Mecca is to pass round the granite cube of the Kaaba seven times anticlockwise. Circumambulation happens constantly, except during prayer times when birds and small angels are said to take over.

Over Infirmary Road is a boarded-up crater overflowing with buddleia plants. This is the only unhealed socket of the massive Kelvin flats, built in 1967, demolished in 1995 before the trams came back, and brutalist architecture became worth saving. It made a canyon of this thoroughfare, which now blinks in unaccustomed light.

Look up and glide along the streets in the sky- Edith Walk, Kelvin Walk, Portland Walk and Woolen Walk. Watch out for apports of diseased concrete which materialize and float down soft as polystyrene.

Go uphill on Whitehouse Lane for a moment, then left up Fox Road. On the left is Pennsylvania Green Space, a strip of reclaimed parkland with fruit trees, even mulberry bushes to go round on this cold and frosty morning.

Continue uphill, zigzag up Sherde Road, then straight up Daniel Hill Street. This begins the final long steep climb of this section, taking you onto Fulton Road through Birkendale, along its frontier with Walkley. It is a property ladder. At the bottom low rise social housing, further up Victorian artisan terraces with original features, then younger terraced houses with small front gardens, interesting pubs but triple locked cars, then larger semis, internal viewing recommended, then some detached properties painted in period colours, up and up to new Yorkshire stone clad executive-style homes and flats. Sheltered among these last in an old hilltop church is the Buddhist Centre.

To avoid pressure sores during prolonged meditation on Buddhist retreat it is common to have periods of the Zen-derived walking meditation or kinhin. Participants walk clockwise in a circle, alternating painfully slow steps with periods of loping round.

I could only giggle attempting this, a sign foretelling later problems:  Who wants to be enlightened?  Who believes in reincarnation?  Who can worship devotionally? Time to get off the Noble Path.

After the long ascent of Fulton Road, burst out into the crescent Matlock Road, then left onto the crest of Heavygate Road, which then falls downhill to Howard Road. Go across to Sydney Road, then coast downhill.  Imagine a time-lapse film of all the buzzing delivery vans, builders vans and skip lorries pollinating these houses.

The boundary seems to be tiring, and it starts to weave about. But suddenly it charges acrobatically through gardens and even houses like a chased action hero.  You have two choices- either to rush after it and risk prosecution, or like the more sensible detective in a buddy movie, circle round the back alleys to pick it up as it re-emerges.

But really there is no drama here, dogs bark in kitchens, pigeons doze on chimneys. The best advice would be to improvise the remaining few blocks of the walk using the looming Upperthorpe flats as your target.

You should now be back at the starting point of Albion Street, at the end of this virtuous and at times vicious circle.

 Eddy Dreadnought, 2012

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

Sunday walks #2

Sunday 19th February

 

Many things to write of in the aftermath of a lovely Sunday, but I think that the feeling of surprise comes at the top of my agenda.  Surprise at what’s there, what we’re missing and what could be. Had a very strange feeling when I went to look back on the route that we took, tried to drop the little man in on Google maps in order to see if I’m finding the right location, and to discover that there is ‘no data available’.  Instead, all that there is, is unlabelled, uncoloured mass.  No roads, no paths, no pictures.  And yet the sights we saw!

Sights that were characterised by confusion.  What is this place? An industrial wasteland that is history-rich, foreboding pylons towering over ivy tombstones, motorcyclists tearing through.  As far from the Information Commons as imaginable.  And descending into real-world really-known Sheffield, Hillsborough College star-trek piercing spikes and casino plants with a car-park too big.  Graffiti: ‘YOU BET WE DIE’.  Animal rights over the dogs at Owlerton?  A morbid reminder reflecting graveyard poetry?  The drain on community of gambling, and these money-making cold-houses?  KFC drive through.  Drive-thru.

So to start at the beginning, we rambled in through Kelham Island’s beautiful derelict waterway woven flat-lands.  Something to savour in a city of hills!  Bricked in doorways and broken windows, eerie sunlight and old oil-lamps, beautifully simple lettering and works of all kinds, bridges and bricks, one wall with the other three missing, three walls with the one missing, cobbled streets, chimneys, large-scale machinery.  So easy to romanticise!  ‘GLOBE WORKS’ reminds me of Sheffield’s influence worldwide.  This was the centre, where it all began.  And now the abandoned steelworks are adjacent to abandoned apartments.  Luxury apartments that appeared too late for the housing boom and so exist almost as empty as their neighbours.  Yet they were never full.  Round the back of such shiny, new, urban renovation schematisation we walk over weeds and rubbish dumps, weave between heaps of rubble.  As if it’s a bomb site, vast areas are reduced to these heaps, among which tin cans are oxidised, vodka bottles are emptied.  Tyres, bin bags, strange greenery, wire fencing, and occasional warning signs are found.

I don’t know how many times it is acceptable to use the word ‘abandoned’ in one piece of writing, but I’m pretty sure that I could push the boundaries here.  Buildings at all stages of delapidisation, in the depths of the process of decay.   We walk along this sludge mud-track and see but one truck driven by but one man, clearly a little confused.  A Sunday football friendly takes place somewhere unseeable, and again I hear – “what is this place?”  We find ourselves in the most uneven terrains of ups and downs and diagonals, irreducible to straight lines.  There are no straight lines in nature.  A cemetery crowded and fertile, mystified in filtered light, recent burials with only thirty years to their name are found, yet no sign of even a trace of a fresh bouquet.  Further up the hill, across an (abandoned?) railway track, a field of sorts, and a view.  Beyond the crooked fluid entanglement of gravestones and ivy lies grey stone and clarity.   Electricity in the making, the hearable static crackles.  Iron, concrete, brick.  Sturdy, imposing, fixed.

And so we come to the question – what to do?  With what we’ve seen, with what has sparked, with what there is to see or spark.

Tanya Hart, 2012

Upperthorpe Perimeter Round Walk #2

Section 2   Pennsylvania to Parkwood Karting

Walk expectantly down Albert Terrace Road to cross Infirmary Road.  Left here, and then detour right down Gilpin Street where the boundary casts a block of burned out sandwich shops out of Upperthorpe. Right takes us back to Albert Terrace Road, past blue industrial units born again as evangelical churches. They are also sublet as student exam halls.

A multinational white dove flies in through a skylight as the students sit their business exams, with an olive branch in its mouth. This corporate holy spirit flies in clockwise circles around the ceiling. The invigilators convulse on the floor and speak in tongues. All the students score 95%, but fail.

Carefully cross the arterial Penistone Road, then walk east to find Rutland Street on the left. Pass the first of many industrial estates, ignoring the DIY superstore opposite, which changes hands over and over.

Just before Rutland Bridge is a beautiful old steel works building, recycled as offices, and hence currently deserted. It has fine broad windows over the river, and the repeated logo of a Samuel Osborn’s works, white hands grasping for lily-white hearts.  Cross the Don, which is squeezed here by reeds and willows.  If this is the stenosis, the infarct must be the downstream industrial and gastro-pub heritage area to the right.

As you reach Neepsend Lane, this is probably the outer edge of the red light district, marginalized from the city centre into ever more deserted industrial spots. At this time of day it’s difficult to tell. But what is evident as you go left along the Lane is that there are remnants of working industry scattered around here, some of them metallic.

Pass the derelict frontage of the old Stones Brewery, up to the corner of Bardwell Road, which bears its Soviet-style office building.  Conscientious vandals have smashed every deco window on the stair landing, right up to the top floor.

Veer right up Bardwell Road, past the indoor skateboarding  room, where my son went before he grew too tall. Pass commissioned, and therefore neutered, graffiti murals. Here we first notice a pervading smell of gas, bad enough to stop my companion smoking.

Follow a dreadlocked man up to the railway bridge (MAC/124).

The boundary of Upperthorpe goes along the railway line, presenting an access problem. One solution might be to adjourn and traverse this section by train, but only one train now uses this line, daily taking steel between Stocksbridge and Rotherham.  We decide to follow the outer edge off the boundary just beyond the line, but outside Upperthorpe.

To take this option, go under the bridge, turn left off the road that continues up the bumpy hill to the ski village, on to Wallace Road. This street was the lowermost part of the former Parkwood Springs Estate, built originally by the railway company that owned this once busy line, for its engine drivers, and other employees. It was demolished in 1978 to make way for a council landfill site.

After a short while the road disappears into a travellers’ camp, caravans blocking any progress along to the next two bridges. Fearing guard dogs, my companion having been bitten the previous week in the Mayfield Valley, we retrace our steps clockwise now, back down to Neepsend Lane. Where Wallace Road becomes the muddy entrance to the camp is where George Orwell stayed with a family while visiting Sheffield in the 1930s, and he described the area in his classic The Road to Wigan Pier.

In retreating we are too scared of the ‘other’ on the hill. But also reversing our circumnavigation, even temporarily, is like going against the grain, from counterclockwise to clockwise. But then an anticlockwise cog will drive a connecting neighbour clockwise, which would then pass on its motion to further cogs anticlockwise, onwards and outwards reversing direction each time, in successive and multiplying revolutions and counter-revolutions, a sort of neutralising machine.

Going west further along Neepsend Lane we pass feverish earth moving. Fences decked with toxic warning signs can’t conceal the bulldozers and diggers moving hardcore and steaming soil, and the gas smell reaches a crescendo. They are demolishing the site of Orwell’s gas works. A vast site, it even contained a power station with cooling towers at one time. To follow us go right, up Parkwood Road. Juggernauts rumble up here with topsoil, followed, like a pilot fish, by a little street scrubbing wagon trying in vain to mop up the mud.

Halfway up, climb a flight of steps which leads to a footbridge back over the railway. This is the site of Neepsend Station, closed in 1940. Part of its rocky cutting was carved into the shape of a fairy castle, but this has now vanished. Take the footpath beyond the bridge up the hill, but then branch off to the left, along a path over the scrubby hillside. This should emerge at bridge MAC/126, and you have reached the farthest point of Upperthorpe. Just over the bridge, rejoin Parkwood Road before it leads up the hill to the landfill site. Here is the clockwise go-kart circuit, lined with tyres.

Eddy Dreadnought, 2012

Upperthorpe Perimeter Round Walk: Introduction

Upperthorpe Perimeter Round Walk (2 hours)

Introduction

The exact boundary of Upperthorpe, and of the ‘Upperthorpe Project’, had begun to concern me. Although boundaries are arbitrary, limiting, even harmful as in partition, discussions and postings had taken an elastic view of its shape, and gone round and round in circles.

What better then than to act out this circularity, and thereby have to follow a fixed version of its circumference?

This walk then, uses the invisible boundary of the Council defined ‘Neighbourhood’ of Upperthorpe.

For a map of the Upperthorpe boundary, click here.

So this Upperthorpe also includes a lot of Philadelphia, Birkendale, and over the quietly flowing Don, Neepsend, where nobody seems to live. And inexplicable rectangular street-shaped retreats and annexations.

The map above reveals two images, the distant pseudopodia of Neepsend shaped like a diving fish, the proximal part a straight edged cubist camel.  And indeed they do have very different characters.

It doesn’t include Wardsend Cemetery, Hillsborough, the city morgue on Watery Street, the Barracks, or the Old Royal Infirmary. Not that Upperthorpe has been spared traumatic death. Air-raid victims, down by the river drownings in the Great Sheffield flood; and a recent tragedy right beneath its eyes.

For no particular reason the route is anticlockwise, keeping Upperthorpe always on the left. Circumambulation can be ritualistic, classically in  biblical Jericho, circled six times in silence, with a final circuit of shouting and the blowing of rams-horns, the birth of free jazz. But no ill will is intended in this walk, no education, and no patronization, just voyeurism.

The walk was tested with a companion on the last day of January 2012, mid-morning in cold weather. At other times of day, in other seasons, it could have been very different. We took no cameras, sound recording equipment, notebooks, or sketch-books. We had a street map and a passing interest. And a vague artistic notion.

This guide is entirely subjective and full of inaccuracy.

Eddy Dreadnought   2012

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

urban fauna (2)

Sheffield, 2012. Ph. ACJ

There’s a special (and free) edition of Antennae, issue 8, vol. 2 (Winter 2008), entitled Pretty Ugly which

predominantly addresses the concept of ‘Pretty Ugly’ as a matter of proximity and distance between us and animals combined with a focus on the overpowering physicality that animals posses: too distant to be understood, within reach of our mouths, or far too close for comfort.

This issue of Antennae opens with a relatively light and ‘not so disturbing’ piece by artist and curator Silvia B, whose obsession for objects made of animals brings her to question the difference between humans and animals; wondering if it only is a thin layer of civilization that may account for the conviction – shared by most people – that we can turn all species into knickknacks, except our own.

Giovanni Aloi, introduction to Pretty Ugly

Please note that this edition of Antennae contains explicit imagery.

occursus is delighted to announce that one of the contributors to this volume – Rob McKay (University of Sheffield) – will be taking part in the Upperthorpe project, looking specifically at urban fauna and the relationships we share with animals.

project reflections #20

Sycamore

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 #14

Fireweed

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