Franklinia Today Part 1: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail 60

William Bartram describes his encounter with Franklinia alatmaha, growing in the wilds of Georgia along the Altamaha River in the late 1700’s.

*

Thus, when William Bartram came through Georgia 250 years ago, the Franklinia alatmaha grew on the banks of the Altamaha River.

At the same time, collecting exotic plants was all the rage in Europe, a fad that William’s father, John Bartram made a livelihood from. Shipment of these exotics around the world eventually brought an oomycyte, or water mold, phytophthora cinnamomi to the Southeastern United States. P. cinnamomi may have originated in Southeast Asia, but after colonizing agricultural sites degraded by cotton, it naturalized in Southeastern forests, killing susceptible species. Infrequently mentioned in articles online, one of those susceptible trees is Franklinia alatmaha, which while extinct in the wild, still survives. But where?

Franklinia on my porch

Franklinia on my porch

Well right here in Colbert, GA on my front porch! And up in Clayton, GA and Highlands, NC for a few others. Yet all these came from a single source, Bartram’s Garden in Philadelphia.

Thus does this source in Bartram’s Garden have enough genetic diversity to grow a cultivar that can resist the deadly seductions of phytophthora?

Franklinia in Bartram's Garden, Philadelphia, PA

Franklinia in Bartram’s Garden, Philadelphia, PA

That’s what PhD. student, Heather Gladfelter is figuring out for her thesis. She has two powerful tools at her disposal. In laymen’s terms they are cloning and genetic engineering. In scientific terms, cloning is somatic embryogenesis, and genetic engineering is transformation.  On Tuesday November 17, 2015 Heather generously walked me through the greenhouse and labs, explaining the processes in great detail.

Heather has decided not to use transformation to modify the genetics of the Franklin Tree to resist phythophthora, as she wishes to preserve the species. However she refers to somatic embryogenesis as her Holy Grail. The process is complex, but perhaps not as difficult as other processes, because the embryo grows into an entire plant, with leaves and roots. Heather can get leaves to grow from cells in the plant, but getting the leaves to convert to a plant with roots proves difficult, depending on the species, and it adds a step to the process.

 

Leaflets in Lab

Leaflets in Lab

As I wandered through the outdoor greenhouse with the Franklinias showing their fall colors, to the enclosed greenhouse with powerful LED lights, to the lab with petri  dishes and microscopes, I wondered why Heather didn’t start at the beginning, but as I sit to write this, I realize its a chicken and egg issue, and why not start with the whole plant?

Without the plant, somatic embryogenesis would not be possible. There would be no starting point. The Franklin Tree, all grown up, blossoming, attracting bees, ants, flies, even butterflies to its sweet nectar, pollinates. Did it pollinate itself? Perhaps. Or perhaps those insects carried some other Franklin tree’s pollen to the blossom. In any case, the following year, instead of bearing blossoms, the Franklin Tree bears fruit.

The fruit holds the key to somatic embryogenesis. But when to harvest? Ripe in August, for the right stage of development, the fruit must be harvested early. But how early? That’s what Heather hopes to determine  in the 2016 harvest.

Immature Franklinia fruits

Immature Franklinia fruits

She knows what to look for. An invisible plant embryo. If she cuts open the seed in the unripe fruit, puts it under a microscope, and sees an embryo, then all bets are off. However, if she cuts open the seed, puts it under the microscope, and does not see an embryo, then she knows one of 2 things has occurred. Either the seed didn’t get fertilized, and thus didn’t form a plant embryo, or the fruit was harvested at just the right stage of development for somatic embryogenesis, or perhaps I should say non-development. Because the embryo Heather looks for has yet to go down a developmental pathway. Thus she can use growth regulators on tissue culture to direct its development.

Microscope in Lab

Microscope in Lab

Hoping to harvest the not-yet-visible embryonic cells, Heather plates them on media that contains an herbicide, 24D, which at very low levels works as a growth regulator. Each cell grows a callous, like a scab, from the insult. These callouses are then placed in a liquid bath of low level 24D. Gently shaken in the dark for days, tiny specks become visible in the bath. These are proembroygenic masses, or PEM’s.

PEM's

PEM’s

These masses are place on a nylon filter, and the 24D washed off. No additional growth regulators are needed from this point forward. The PEMs, left in darkness, becomes an embryo.

PEM's on nylon

PEM’s on nylon

The embryos are harvested and plated in rows on nutrient media. Next, the embryos sit in a cold, dark place, called stratification, simulating Winter, before they are brought out of the cold to germinate. Germination, length of time in cold, or whether placed in the cold, all vary with species and thus the process has to be tweaked each time a new species enters the mix.

Plated embryos

Plated embryos

Not all embryos are created equal however. Some germinate, growing new leaves, but never convert to a plant by growing roots. Some shrivel up and die. And some thrive like the chestnut below, which proceeded to become a plant in a covered greenhouse, with LED lights. Will the Franklinia ever survive placement in the phytophthora cinnamomi infested soil of the Southeast?

Franklinias in Greenhouse

Chestnut in Greenhouse

That remains to be seen…

Many thanks to Heather Gladfelter who led me on a tour of the greenhouses and labs and explained the science to me. Any mistakes wholly mine.

*Opening stanza from “The Slacks” by Trip Shakespeare.

 

 

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Ephemeral: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail 59

Take a moment to listen to my reading of William Bartram’s Travels describing “mountain vegetable beauties….”*

 

Red bottlebrush buckeye forming seeds: Beth's Travels on the Bartram Trail Series

Red bottlebrush buckeye forming seeds: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail Series

Change

The only constant is change. As I write this, the last of summer lies heavy on the land. The little plants that spring up in the early warmth of the year have completely vanished, and the larger plants, such as red bottlebrush buckeye, are developing fruits to bear seed in the fall or spring of the coming year.

Hiawassee Waterfall: Beth's Travels on the Bartram Trail

Hiawassee Waterfall: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail

My body grows stronger too, a recent summer hike to a waterfall and back was much easier this Summer than an earlier hike this Spring. Perhaps the dip in the cool refreshing waters had something to do with it.

Many Fleeting Beauties

Thanks to the generosity of my folks, Jimmy and Joy Thompson, my friend Tina and I were able to spend a May weekend exploring the wildflowers of the Highlands Plateau. As part of Wildflower Whimsy and led by a couple of botanists, we hiked down a mountain trail to a waterfall cascading into a river, stopping to ogle the amazing spring ephemerals every step of the way. I saw many fleeting beauties:

Jack in the Pulpit: Wildflower Whimsy Hike by Beth Thompson

Jack in the Pulpit: Wildflower Whimsy Hike by Beth Thompson

Native Violet: Wildflower Whimsy Hike. Photo by Beth Thompson

Native Violet: Wildflower Whimsy Hike. Photo by Beth Thompson

Foam Flower: Wildflower Whimsy Hike. Photo by Beth Thompson

Foam Flower: Wildflower Whimsy Hike. Photo by Beth Thompson

4 Varieties of Trillium: Wildflower Whimsy Hike. Photo by Beth Thompson

4 Varieties of Trillium: Wildflower Whimsy Hike. Photo by Beth Thompson

The Climb

Then came the climb back out. I got majorly frustrated with my slow pace until I remembered, less than a year previously I had been on crutches with a broken toe.

Tattered Butterfly: Hummingbird Walk. Photo by Beth Thompson

Tattered Butterfly: Hummingbird Walk. Photo by Beth Thompson

I remembered eschewing the crutches to climb down to a pontoon boat the summer previously in Highlands, the better to see waterfalls cascading into the lake.  The fact I could do the Wildflower Whimsy hike at all was a testament to the amazing healing powers of the body. That in July 2016 I could hike to a waterfall and swim beneath it truly a miracle of healing.

Magenta Trilluim: Original Photo for Possible Perception below.

Magenta Trilluim: Original Photo for Possible Perception below.

I am approaching another birthday, growing older, perhaps wiser in some ways, more foolish in others. I dream of a macro lens, the better to photograph next year’s spring ephemerals. I dream too of finding a path towards greater self-support in my art. But mostly, I am asking questions. Learning and growing and wondering: what could I do differently next time? How do I calculate the value of this experience? Of that one?

Trillium Possible Perception: by Beth Thompson

Trillium Possible Perception: by Beth Thompson

 

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Bottlebrush Buckeye: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail 58

Take a moment to listen to William Bartram’s description of where the Bottlebrush Buckeye grows, which he named Fothergilla after his benefactor, Fothergill.

ThompsonLaurelRhododendronBuds32

Laurel Rhododendron Buds: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail Series

Running Parallel…

If the bank I rose upon was marriage, and the person I married ran parallel to my coast, then we have reached a vast plain, whereupon we can go our separate ways, no longer constricted by the landscape of the honeymoon, stars in our eyes.

Magnolia Grandiflora: Beth's Travels on the Bartram Trail Series

Magnolia Grandiflora: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail Series

Bruising Pollinators…

My heart feels bruised liked the Magnolia Grandiflora blossoms must feel beneath a pollinating beetle’s feet. My marriage, begun only a scant year ago, feels fleeting like these Azalea blossoms in Spring, beautiful, oh so beautiful while it lasted.

Wild Pink Azalea: Beth's Travels on the Bartram Trail Series

Wild Pink Azalea: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail Series

Wandering through the sand hills…

May I find a soft bed of long-leaf pine needles to lay down my bruised heart….

Long-leaf Pine Forest: Beth's Travels on the Bartram Trail Series

Long-leaf Pine Forest: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail Series

Quercus, varieties…

I wanted to be strong and steady like this oak,  he wanted to be strong and steady too.

Quercus: Beth's Travels on the Bartram Trail Series

Quercus: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail Series

The Bottlebrush Buckeye…

Instead our hearts are battering one against the other, bleeding out against the sky like these Fothergilla blossoms….

Fothergilla Blossom: Beth's Travels on the Bartram Trail Series

Fothergilla Blossom: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail Series

A Prayer…

May our hearts’ pain be transformed into greater beauty, as I was able to transform the image above into the Possible Perception of Bottlebrush Buckeye below…

Bottlebrush Buckeye: Possible Perception Series by Beth Thompson

Bottlebrush Buckeye: Possible Perception Series by Beth Thompson

 

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Bartram’s Snakes: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail 57

While William tasted of the rattlesnake he killed, he did not swallow it….

Indigo Coils

Indigo Coils by Beth Thompson

It’s now illegal to kill snakes in Georgia, with the exception of snakes found near highly inhabited areas AND poisonous. Most are not poisonous. Only the copperhead and rattlesnake are poisonous and in the southern portions of Georgia the moccasin can also be found. That leaves a variety of non-poisonous snakes to be left alone.

Snake Gate by Beth Thompson

Snake Gate by Beth Thompson

Such as my gate-snake, a grey rat snake. He showed up one afternoon while I was working on the artwork for this post. I went out in the afternoon, and was walking back into the house when I saw him, just before I opened the gate. My first response was to scream. My second was to go the the front door, deposit my purchases, and grab my camera.

Grey Rat Snake on Fence Post by Beth Thompson

Grey Rat Snake on Fence Post by Beth Thompson

I could tell by his round pupil he wasn’t poisonous, unlike the vertical pupil of this copperhead at Chehaw Zoo in Albany….

Copperhead at Chehaw Zoo, Albany GA by Beth Thompson

Copperhead at Chehaw Zoo, Albany GA by Beth Thompson

I confused the copperhead with this nonpoisonous water snake when I was out photographing at the State Botanical Gardens of Georgia. He is “wound round” with a brown stripe…

Creek Snake at Botanical Gardens, Athens GA, by Beth Thompson

Creek Snake at Botanical Gardens, Athens GA, by Beth Thompson

So what happens if you kill your friendly, household rat snake? Well, you just might get rats, or their country cousins, field mice, in your home. So if you see a rat snake hanging about your habitat, you may be better off both legally and otherwise to let your gate-snake be.

Grey Rat Snake Tongue by Beth Thompson

Grey Rat Snake Tongue by Beth Thompson

Bartram’s remarks on snakes have had a far reach. I found mention that he influenced Coleridge once again in the poem Rime of the Ancient Mariner:

Beyond the shadow of the ship,
I watched the water-snakes:
They moved in tracks of shining white,
And when they reared, the elfish light
Fell off in hoary flakes.

Within the shadow of the ship
I watched their rich attire:
Blue, glossy green, and velvet black,
They coiled and swam; and every track
Was a flash of golden fire.

~Samuel T. Coleridge

Indigo Snake by Beth Thompson

Indigo Snake by Beth Thompson

I for one, am a child of the ’80’s and the song I like to think might just have been inspired by Bartram’ Travels and then Samuel Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner is The Cure’s hit, Wrong Number. Although it is said to be inspired by 80’s fashions…

Bartram’s Snakes are definitely described as lime green, and the corn snake qualifies as tangerine.

Corn Snake Coils by Beth Thompson

Corn Snake Coils by Beth Thompson

I spent a morning driving in to Bear Hollow, the rescue zoo at Memorial Park in Athens Georgia. There Jennifer Kvapil, Program Specialist, kindly opened up the enclosure of Georgia’s most rare and endangered snake, the Indigo Snake. Seeing another Indigo Snake in the reflection on the big mirror that was the glass in my lens, she maneuvered to strike.

The Indigo Snake prepares to strike by Beth Thompson

The Indigo Snake Prepares to Strike by Beth Thompson

Another inhabitant of the long-leaf pine forests and dependent on the gopher tortoise burrows, the Indigo Snake is a top predator I learned from Jenny. They even devour rattlesnakes. The Indigo at Bear Hollow was born in captivity, and wasn’t raised to live in the wild.

Striking Indigo Snake: Possible Perception Series by Beth Thompson

Striking Indigo Snake: Possible Perception Series by Beth Thompson

If you wish to support the conservation of reptiles and amphibians such as the gopher tortoise and indigo snake, click here for the Orianne Society, headquartered in Georgia.

Lead-in for Bartram’s Snakes Recording from The Slacks by Trip Shakespeare.

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Cane-break: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail 56

“I see climate change as the great, deep moral question of our time.”
~Starhawk

“The idea behind a kaleidoscope is that it is a structure that’s filled with broken bits and pieces, and somehow if you can look through them, you still see something beautiful.  And I feel we are all that way a little bit.”
~Sara Bareilles

“Activism tells you, Art shows you”
~Wing Young Huie, Forward to A Choice of Weapons by Gordon Parks

Take a moment to listen to William Bartram on Cane-breaks….

 

Bamboo: Beth's Travels on the Bartram Trail: by Beth Thompson

Bamboo: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail: by Beth Thompson

Responsibility to Reflect…

As an artist I feel, as Nina Simone expressed, that I have a responsibility to reflect the times. Our times, as Starhawk put so eloquently, are defined by climate change. How much more can we humans modify the earth to our own selfish ends without damaging the very climate that allows us to exist on the earth?

What have we lost?

For a peek at what we have lost along the way in the Southeastern United States one only has to sit down with Travels by William Bartram. Perhaps not even that, perhaps we have only to read an excerpt from his work here and there.  I compare and contrast my modern world, my modern thinking, my modern challenges, to those confronted by William Bartram 250 years ago on my blog, using my creative tools, the camera, the pen, and the computer.

Arundo gigantea

For example, photographing bamboo in the Mobile delta that was “as thick as a man’s arm” perhaps was not quite enough. The canes which Bartram wrote about weren’t bamboo, they were native to the Southeast and I have never seen them. Illustrating his post then posed a special challenge, and I chose an invasive species from another continent to do so.

Bamboo: Possible Perception 6046 by Beth Thompson

Bamboo: Possible Perception 6046 by Beth Thompson

The Design Question…

Yet with each post on my Bartram series I have chosen to go beyond simple words and photographs. I have created a Possible Perception out of a picture. Why? Is it a problem of design, not of photography? Or do I design photographs already by choosing what to photograph, when to open the shutter, where the focus falls, and what depth of field to use?

Bishop Park Pool House: by Beth Thompson

Bishop Park Pool House: by Beth Thompson

A broken bit of the whole…

Thus the whole of my work is a design problem. For me, the final kaleidoscopic piece at the end of each post is the crowning joy of the work. Its a broken piece of the the environment I originally photographed.  Perhaps there was a person nearby, whose figure and face I chose not to include when I took my pictures. Perhaps there was a city rising about me when I chose to narrow my focus to a single blossoming tree in a park. The photographs I bring home are already broken bit of the whole.

A single viewpoint chosen…

River Cane in Cherokee, NC: Beth's Travels on the Bartram Trail: by Beth Thompson

River Cane in Cherokee, NC: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail: by Beth Thompson

A single image is chosen by me, a single viewpoint of the entirety of a photoshoot, a photoshoot that is itself merely a broken part of the whole. Then I cut a triangle from the image, making design choices as I do so, what to include, what to leave out.

River Cane Triangle: by Beth Thompson

River Cane Triangle: by Beth Thompson

An imaginary line between photography and art…

I take this single broken representation of the whole of the environment I experienced, and using repetition I mirror the triangle about itself. I encounter the design questions along the way, ending with the question of when and where to crop the final image. So are my Possible Perceptions photography, or do they cross an imaginary line between photography and art?

River Cane: Possible Perception Series by Beth Thompson

River Cane: Possible Perception Series by Beth Thompson

Reassembling the past?

In my Travels on the Bartram Trail, the very geography of the ecological systems Bartram observed have been broken up, disjointed, and now are only found in out-of-the-way, forgotten places, if at all. These places too have been forever altered by human activity. Thus my response to the landscapes I inhabit: I break apart one of my photographs and reassemble it.  We may never be able to reassemble the Southeastern landscape as William Bartram perceived it, but perhaps neither would we want to. But we can take what’s left and let the broken bits become part of a greater whole, which, as Sara Bareilles points out, when the light shines through, it’s beautiful.

Winter Magnolia at Oconee Forest by Beth Thompson

Winter Magnolia at Oconee Forest by Beth Thompson

Designing mindfully…

Returning to the question of climate change, is our challenge as humanity not to design mindfully, consciously, our environment so that the Earth that gives us life is allowed to breath Herself? The very thing that has brought the climate change question to the forefront is our human activity on the face of the planet. So therefore is it not our duty and obligation to conserve the environment, the trees and ocean algae that put our oxygen into the air, the diversity of crops that put food on our tables, the exotic plants and everyday herbs that provide us with cures to disease?   Climate changes beckon us to yet another design question, how to design the environment to sustain both human life and wildlife.

Winter Magnolia: Possible Perception Series by Beth Thompson

Winter Magnolia: Possible Perception Series by Beth Thompson

A big Thank You to portfolio reviewer & photographer Mike Smith for prompting me to look into the question of design in my work.

And a shout-out Thank You to the Do Good Fund for a month of great exhibits, lectures, and discussions, right  here in Athens GA.

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