Sunday, 28 December 2014

Swainsona formosa -- Sturt's Desert Pea

"Swainsona formosa -- Sturt's Desert Pea", drawing by Sarah "Sallie" Thayer, 2014

Swainsona formosa (commonly known as Sturt's Desert Pea) is an Australian plant famous for its distinctive blood-red flowers, each with a bulbous purplish-black centre, or "boss" as it’s called. It is one of Australia's best known wildflowers. It is native to the arid regions of central and north-western Australia, and its range extends into all of the mainland Australian states with the exception of Victoria. A member of the family Fabaceae (legumes), it is most closely related to the New Zealand genera Clianthus (Kakabeak).

Speaking of this New Zealand plant, some months ago I did a drawing of "Kakabeak" (see drawing at right) and it was this
"Clianthus puniceus -- Kakabeak", drawing
by Sarah "Sallie" Thayer, 2014
drawing that I used on my Christmas cards this year. In fact, one of the people to whom I sent a card came to Canada from Australia. She wrote back to tell me that when she first looked at the card, she thought I had used a drawing of Sturt's Desert Pea, but, upon closer examination, she realized that my drawing was of Sturt's cousin, Kakabeak. She enclosed a photo of Sturt's Desert Pea so that I could see the similarities for myself. Immediately, upon seeing this photo, I knew that I wanted to do a drawing of Kakabeak's Australian cousin -- and, so, here it is. 

Of course, they really are two very different plants although they both belong to the same family -- Fabaceae or Leguminosae, commonly known as the legume, pea, or bean family. Swainsona formosa (once known as Clianthus formosus) grows close to the ground on "runners" in arid soil. Most forms of the plant are low-growing; however, in certain regions of north-western Australia varieties growing as tall as 2 metres have been observed. Clianthus puniceus on the other hand, grows into a large shrub and is found growing near the edge of forest lands or on the banks of lakes and rivers. 

Specimens of Sturt's desert pea were first collected by William Dampier who recorded his first sighting in 1699. The taxonomy of Sturt's Desert Pea has been changed on a number of occasions. It was initially placed, in the 18th century, in the genus Clianthus and became widely known as Clianthus formosus (formosus is Latin for "beautiful"). However it was later reclassified under the genus Swainsona (named after English botanist Isaac Swainson) as Swainsona formosa, the name by which it is officially known today. The common name honours Charles Sturt, who recorded seeing large quantities of the flowers while exploring central Australia in 1844. 

Sturt's Desert Pea is not endangered, but it is illegal to collect specimens of the plant from Crown land without a permit. The plants must not be collected from private land without the written consent of the land owner. The iconic status of Sturt's Desert Pea in Australia, and particularly in South Australia, has ensured its use as a popular subject in artwork and photography, as well as a decorative motif and in a range of commercial uses. Sturt's Desert Pea has also made many appearances in prose and verse as well as featuring in some aboriginal legends. 

Here is a typical example of an aboriginal legend about the origin of this striking plant:

An Australian aboriginal tribal group was camped in the outback. A young woman in the tribe watched as her man walked away into the distance – he was going hunting. Time passed but her man did not return. The tribal group finally decided that their present location was no longer suitable and so they decided to move on. The young woman, however, refused to leave and insisted on staying behind to wait for her man to return. Pleading with her to no avail, the rest of the group finally made the decision to move on without her. As they left, they glanced back frequently and could see the woman sitting there in her red blanket. As the distance between them increased, all they could see was the red of the blanket and the black of her hair until finally they could no longer see her at all. Time passed but the woman and her man never caught up with their tribal family. A long time later, the group returned to this campsite. There was no sign of the woman or of her man. Instead they found a beautiful red flower with a black spot and it was growing in the exact spot where they had last seen the woman sitting. This was the origin, so we are told, of the flower that would come to be known as Strut’s Desert Pea.

I enjoyed drawing this unusual plant with its stunning flowers. I did take certain liberties with my drawing, however. As you will notice, not only do I show the plant in its normal bud and flower stage, but I also included the "pea pods" it produces at the end of the flowering season. As I have said before, artists and poets do tend to take liberties with the facts!

Portions of the above were taken from various Internet sources. ST



Braden is just old enough now to begin to grasp something of the concept of Santa Claus (St. Nicholas). Ronàn, on the other hand, hasn't a clue -- after all he is not quite two months old yet! 

At any rate, it is obvious that they both enjoyed themselves (see photos 1 and 4 below). I also included two more photos of Ronàn sleeping, including one showing his expressive hands. Soon I think I shall do a photo essay on the "Hands of Ronàn"!

Ronàn on Christmas morning

In the days prior to Christmas, while Ronàn was napping, big brother, Braden, decided that Ronàn needed company during his nap-time -- this is the reason for a large 
portion of Braden's dinosaur collection, as well as his stuffed monkey, 
 being placed next to the sleeping Ronàn!

Ronàn sleeping peacefully. Once again, note those expressive hands.

Christmas morning finds Braden stopping for a candy cane snack after opening his many gifts from Santa (note heavily laden table in background!).



drawing by 
Sarah "Sallie" Thayer 

Well, I think Suki had a very nice Christmas. She got lots of attention from various visitors (she particularly likes guests who scratch her under the chin), I gave her extras of her favourite food and she had lots of ribbons and tissue paper to play with. 

Fortunately, no one wasted their money buying her any new toys at the pet shop. She already has a huge basket full of toys and much prefers ribbons and tissue paper anyway. She did receive several bags of cat treats which I am saving for the first week of January when, I have been told, it will once again be safe for her to crunch down on her back teeth. 

As well, several of my family and friends who telephoned over Christmas asked after Suki and, on one occasion, I was even able to get her to give a meow in response! I did not tell the caller that she was actually meowing because it was her lunch time -- rather I let them believe that Suki really did know how to talk on the phone.

You may be wondering why I am talking about this so openly on my blog posting since now the person will know that Suki was only hungry. No fear, the person I am referring to is a family member and most of them never get around to reading my blog postings anyway! Funny thing about family: no matter how clever other folks think I am, to most of my immediate family I will always be silly Sallie who likes to doodle. 

Anyway, Suki and I had a very pleasant Christmas Day together -- she even allowed me to sleep in until almost 6 a.m. I'm not sure why this happened -- must have been an oversight on her part -- however, it did make me feel as though I had received a special Christmas gift from Suki. Maybe she really does understand more than I normally give her credit for! 

As for myself, I continue to spend my time trying to manage the pain. It was a bit more difficult to do so this past week, of course, with the various visits I had scheduled -- however, it was worth it to see folks who are so dear to me. It was particularly wonderful to finally get to meet Ronàn -- he is such a beautiful boy -- and to see how much Braden has grown since I last saw him during the summer. 

I had a good visit with the boys' parents as well -- although with a baby and toddler both present, it was sometimes rather difficult to keep track of the conversation. However, it was all worth the effort (in spite of the additional medication required on my part) to see the boys and their parents as well as the other visitors I had over the holidays. Thankfully, I have had these last few days to quietly recover.



"Holy Family -- Sweet Tenderness", by the hand of Sarah "Sallie" Thayer, 2014 Revision

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, He took him into his arms and blessed God, saying: “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted —and you yourself a sword will pierce— so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”    
Luke 2:25-35

Every night, all over the world, priests, men and women religious and devout laypeople repeat the above words (Luke 2:29-32) in their own language as they pray the Office known as Night Prayer or Compline. This passage of Scripture, known for centuries as the Nunc dimittis (also known as the Canticle of Simeon), is taken from the first words of these verses in Latin – the language in which this Canticle was prayed from the early days of the Latin Church until the changes following Vatican II -- over 1,900 years. 

The words of this passage, like any words, can be read quickly without really grasping what is being said. They only became meaningful to me when some years ago, I meditated at length on the situation in which these words were spoken: Simeon, we are told, was a devout Jewish man who had been promised (by and angel?) that he would not die before he had seen the Messiah -- the promised one of Israel. 

Even though the years passed, one after another after another, Simeon still waited, believing what he had been told was really going to happen. Then, finally, when he was an old man, Mary, Joseph and their baby came into the Temple. Faithful Simeon recognized the child as the Messiah and declared it out loud for all to hear. Most of those around him, other than the prophetess, Anna, must have thought him a crazy, old fool. Yet, he rejoiced even though he knew from whatever he had been told that now, having seen the Messiah, he would die. 

All he asked, after being granted the gift of seeing the Promised One, was that he might now die in peace. If I had been in his place, would seeing this baby have been enough for me? Knowing myself as I do, I doubt it. I would have wanted proof and I would not have been happy about having to die before I knew what was going to happen next. Why the difference between myself and Simeon ... 

Simeon had such a deep and trusting faith that he was at peace in believing that he had seen and held the child who who was the Promised One. He did not need to understand or stay around to see what happened next. 

May we all know the peace that can only come from a trusting faith -- that peace which brings with it a joyful acceptance of whatever life gives us -- no matter how difficult it may seem at the time. 

"Now, Lord, let your servant go in peace...." 


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