Lately, I have sharing my modest knowledge as an amateur botanist with artists from the Plastic Club in a series called “on plants” which takes place via Zoom off and on. Carla Stine, one of the participants who creates beautiful botanical illustrations, had a strange looking object that fit in the palm of her hand that looked like a porcupine. My guess is that it was the fruiting structure to something, but what?? I suggested she send me photos so I could ask the real botanist at work what it might be. So I toddle into work the next day and put my water cup on the shelf I always put it on, and there, three measly inches from where I place my cup is, guess what??? The EXACT same porcupine object!!! In the millions and millions of plants out there, what are the chances that this object would be right under my nose? Now in my own defense, the same shelf contains several objects, many more picturesque than the one in question. Upon picking it up (ouch!) I could see underneath that there was some nut like fruit.
So a short time after this odd discovery, here comes the botanist, who identified this object as a chestnut. He then proceeded to go gather some mounted specimens, including one where the nut was open. A few things to point out on the specimen below: next to the open nut (the female fruit) is a structure that looks like a string of pearls which are the male flowers. In the image under the specimen is its label. Note that there has been a name change, something that happens more often than you would think, sometimes because of mis-identification, other times because the plant has been put into a new genus, sub-species, or some other category based on new knowledge gained.
The reason I love botany is it gives me, as an artist, a visual way to solve puzzles. Why would a chestnut have such a covering? I am thinking as a means of survival. Porcupine like needles are certainly a way to discourage predators from eating up your potential offspring. So concludes our fireside chat today on botany.