North­land

Seed­pods are trea­sure troves and time trav­ellers. They sus­tain the seeds inside them. They en­case our fu­ture food, flow­ers and forests.

NZ Gardener - - Contents -

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.

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