04 March 2011

It's March

lily time. Amaryllis belladonna. Always on time. Exquisite, but a little creepy. Softly pink and sweetly fragrant cannot mask the subtle bitterness that warns of toxic alkaloids.

The scent evokes an old perfume in a dusty recess of my childhood memories. Feminine, but with a dark, slightly jarring undertone. I think it was a scent my grandmother wore for evening occasions in the 1970's. Something that smelt of Europe in the 40's, a relict from a grander life. But I'm not really sure, and don't have the words to resurrect it properly.

I think I first became aware of the strange Amaryllis scent while sketching this preliminary drawing for a second year botany course way back in 1990. How can you help but fall in love with a scientific discipline that never loses sight of the beauty of its subjects? Yes, there are complex mathematical models in ecology, strict laboratory protocols, deep phylogenies and genetic mysteries in systematics, and desperately serious statistics in all sub-disciplines, but very few botanists ever lose their wonder for these organisms that eat light. I thought I wanted to be a zoologist until the eccentric charms of plants and their admirers won me over. It does help to live in the region with the richest non-tropical flora in the world.

On a lighter note, this cutie has no scent at all, and could not be menacing if it tried (although, like all Amaryllids, it's probably fairly toxic). You'd never guess that delicate little Brunsvigia striata is as tough as hell, pushing a flower bud out of the hard, dry soil of the northern Cape after the first winter rains. But once you have visited the home range from Ceres to the Bokkeveld, it's no suprise that they survive by taking life slowly. This specimen, grown from seed I collected on the lower slopes of the Gifberg near Vanrhynsdorp about 15 years ago, only flowered for the first time last year.


  1. I missed this post at the time. Beautiful. Love the sketch, too.

  2. Thank you - praise is always appreciated!