Seedpods are treasure troves and time travellers. They sustain the seeds inside them. They encase our future food, flowers and forests.
Wendy Laurenson on seedpod art
As a gardener and as an artist, I’m fascinated by seedpods. Their structures can be simple or complex. They can be delicate or robust, or outrageously audacious. But always they seem to echo some energetic pattern, as if the life-force itself has been moulded into sculptural form.
One of the biggest and boldest seedpods is that of the queen palm.
Syagrus romanzoffiana’s pods are borne in her leafy canopy atop a massive ringed trunk. They begin life as green spears, then fatten into brown casements up to 2m long. The pressure of the seeds ripening inside eventually splits the casement lengthwise. These huge, deeply incised hooded pods cascade to the ground – an empty shell with their fertile seed still suspended on the trunk.
Some gardeners see the fallen pods as simply mess on the ground, but I see them as sculptures – textured, curvaceous, woody vessels perfect as a free standing artwork or for adorning a table or a wall.
The Butia capitata palm pod is similar to the queen palm’s, but it is more refined and its unfurling process is more visible because it is squat in growth habit. The pods start as slender, green, torpedoshaped tubes, then split under the internal pressure of the ripe seeds which erupt from the seedpod on their own stem. If I’m lucky enough to find it first, I carefully trim it, dry it and then paint it in rich colours that accentuate its primal form.
Pandorea jasminoides seedpods are truly a Pandora’s box.
I was introduced to it when a customer at the garden centre I work in brought a plant to the counter, complete with seedpod. I took the pod home simply because of its pleasing shape, left it on a table and didn’t give it another thought until one hot afternoon, the pod split open and spilled a mass of paper-winged seeds from its woody case. But the real intrigue came later when I cleared away the papery seed content: the pod had its own internal spacer, a thin wood-sliver tongue was hinged at the stalk end and formed a free floating divider.
In nature (as in good design), form follows function, so I wonder if the solidity of the spacer enables enough pressure to be exerted in each half chamber to really pop that pod on seed dispersal day.
Jacaranda flowers mature into green seedpods.
They ripen into two brown discs clamped together from the stem hinge. As the kissing discs open to release their seed, each edge curls slightly in its newfound freedom.
To me, they are asking to be made into jewellery, with ready-made markings inside each of the disc-pod halves – plus they are really robust.
Cassia leptophylla is relatively hardy to frost and drought, and is semi-deciduous here.
It originates from Brazil, and is commonly called the gold medallion tree because of its brilliant golden yellow flowers.
The fresh pods are so tough that I had to use a chisel to open them. Inside is a row of neat compartments, each with their own seed inhabitant, so when the pods are dry they rattle like a gentle percussion instrument.
Paulownia tomentosa is a fastgrowing tree with giant leaves and a mass of lilac flowers in spring.
Because of the rate of growth here, Paulownia trees don’t produce the dense timber that they do in their Chinese homeland, but a new value for them is unfolding: the wood is lightweight but proportionally strong so it is becoming sought-after for making surfboards and kayaks, and I notice my canvas painting frames are made from Paulownia.
Strelitzia nicolai likes lots of room to strut her stuff.
This cousin of the familiar bird of paradise ( Strelitzia reginae) has a huge blue and white flowerhead which is sometimes perched too high to see from the ground, but it’s a stunner.
Gradually this flowerhead transforms into what looks like a messy mass of brown fibre hanging against the plant’s stem. This brown mass matures into sculptural clusters of woody florets. You have to cut the brown surface clothing away to see it, but it’s worth the wait.
One seedpod makes me smile every time I look at it. So I leave the last word to the tiny well-dressed seedhead of Papaver
orientale. The funky twist on its thin stem sets the tone, holding its head high with attitude. And its crowning glory is the peaked ridged hat that it wears whenever it goes outside (which is always).
Seeds are a sacred metaphor for life and renewal in many cultures. To have seed is to have the key to life. So it makes sense that the seedpod vessels that nurture and deliver this precious cargo have a beauty, strength and an intrigue designed for their entrusted time-travelling task.
Cassia leptophylla seedpods.
Queen palm seedpod.