Monday, June 26, 2023

Images that Cling


Lois and I walked down the forest path, talking of families, family roots, aging and migration. I am focusing my current cyanotype production on native plants, but the delicate leaves of bedstraw caught my eye. There is some debate over whether the Gallium growing here is native, so I decided to pick some to press for a cyanotype. I’ve never researched this plant, so the two things I knew about it were that it sticks to clothing like Velcro and it was once used to stuff mattresses. Some plants have learned to cling to us. They long to come on our journeys. Their longing has grown them features that grip to mobile mammals: hairs, burrs, stems that wrap around our ankles and hold one for dear life. They are the needy weedy plants that nomads spread with their restless footsteps.


 The small white flowers are pollinated by small bees, flies and beetles and are described as “insignificant”. But that’s giant humans talking about small things. They are not insignificant to the plant or the insects that pollinate them. For humans, it’s the roots that make this plant really interesting. Gallium species are in the coffee and madder family. The seeds can be roasted to make a coffee-like beverage and the roots can be used to curdle milk and make a red dye. Sheperds made sieves of the plant to pour milk through. Like many weedy plants, it has a history of medicinal uses. The leaves contain vitamin C and reportedly help support the lymphatic system, so making a tea might be a good idea as long as you don’t drink too much of it because it has a laxative effect. It is edible as a cooked plant when young, but the idea of eating it makes me feel like gagging as I imagine the leaves stuck in my throat. This species, Galium aparine, is one of the hairiest of the three species in BC.

The bed straw clung to my fingers as I place it on the prepared watercolour paper to expose it to the morning sun. Nearby bumble bees gathered pollen and nectar in the tiny (not insignicant) flowers of the oceanspray backlit by the sun to the west. I exposed the plant on the paper to daylight for fifteen minutes, and then washed off the chemicals in a plastic tub. My developed cyanotype of bedstraw is on the mantel piece now, with its leaves spread and a spray of tiny white flowers on thin stems. Bedstraw plants have clung to me many times on my journeys looking for bees and now it finally has garnered my interest. Plants have a way of getting our attention when we need them most. What is this plant trying to tell me?  What is its significance?

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