Davidia involucrata (handkerchief tree)2015
Native to China, the handkerchief tree was once considered to be the Holy Grail of exotic flora, and seeds were first sent to England by the legendary botanist Ernest Wilson in 1901. As a child I would visit Kenwood with my grandmother, who always ensured that we stopped to look at the wonderful handkerchief tree. My grandmother’s standard Christmas present was handkerchiefs and I have a large collection of hers. The piece for The Plant Project exhibition combines my childhood memories of the handkerchief tree with my grandmother’s handkerchiefs. The blue of the cyanotype (a photographic process brought to prominence by the Victorian photographer Anna Atkins) reminds me of the bluebell, the bulbs of which were crushed to provide a starch for the ruffs of Elizabethan collars and sleeves and in fact was used as a starch substitute until Victorian times. Bluebells are important early flowers for butterflies that feed on the nectar.