Thursday, June 18, 2015

Collecting "Picturesque Woods"

The October, 1949 (2:10) issue of the Bulletin of the Wood Collector's Society was a wealth of interesting articles as shown in the last two posts. Here is a third article in the same issue that shows how rich the fountain of good wood collecting stories was in those early years of the society.

Comment by Fellow Wood Collector
Bernard G. Hildebrand

Mr. Mautz in his recent article published heretofore as part of this Bulletin, concluded his remarks with a fascinating discussion of the possibilities of collecting various unique pieces of a single species. He stressed variations of color, structure and grain and virtually suggested every wood collector should engage to some extent in collecting all available and different types of wood appearing in one or more species.

As I read his article he could have gone even further and suggested (possibly he also had this in mind) the collecting of what might be called "Picturesque Woods," or specimens made out of solid pieces which, with or without using imagination, and sometimes by the simple device of inclusion of some sapwood as well as heartwood, actually are multicolor pictures, usually of natural character. To some degree such woods resemble marquetry.

This fourth approach insofar as I know appears to be possible on a very high level only in the case of certain extremely colorful or variegated forms of woods and burls such as for instance are found in several members of the Dalbergia genus. In any event, the search for woods of this last unusual type appears to be more successful when "exploring" tropical woods. This kind of wood collecting has unlimited possibilities and furnishes a great deal of entertainment, in addition, of course, to hard work in cutting up, planing or sanding numerous pieces of wood. It also causes an element of dissatisfaction because some woods, often colorful and bright when freshly cut, lost their color and lustre to some degree thereafter, and especially when exposed to much light and very dry air.

During the past year (the project is still underway) I have been carrying on a "hunt" of this special nature using the single, generally beautiful species of Dalbergia nigra, or Brazilian rosewood, of which the writer is very fond. This wood when freshly cut (some of my pieces are not well-seasoned) flat or on the quarter or in other peculiar ways includes sometimes or in streaks or small areas all colors of the rainbow. The darker and stable colors such as black, brown, purple and red usually, however, predominate. The more delicate jewel-like and pleasant light but rare colors are pink, blue, green, orange and yellow, sometimes in various combinations. By keeping the pieces in the dark, much of this bright color can be substantially preserved for some months and sometimes longer. The pleasure one gets from this cutting right on the ground, so to speak, is beyond description and so different from viewing samples which often are old and definitely faded.

So far I have cut about 250 pieces of Dalbergia nigra samples out of boards and scrap pieces from dozens of logs and have finished in standard size about half of them. The pieces vary considerably as to structure, weight, grain and color. Identification is made quite certain by comparison of various pieces with each other and by checking of various typical samples by the Forest Products Laboratory. As to surplus pieces, the writer will be glad to exchange them for other species of the Dalbergia family.

From the foregoing pieces I have so far obtained about 25 most beautiful pieces which can be said to qualify as wood pictures. In each there are usually special grain formations with several colors which are delightful to see. These picture woods suggest often, and quite obviously, mountains, seashore and sunset scenes, etc., the outlines of the pictures generally being composed of the more stable colors already mentioned.

By using some imagination one could label some of these pieces as "Sunset," "Mountain Lake," "Cliffs," "Alpine Fir," "Storm Clouds," "Mountain Peak," "Contour Planning," " Dante's Inferno," etc. These specimens are considered by the writer as treasures and the most interesting woods in his collection.

I would appreciate hearing from any members of the Society who have or are carrying on specialized projects of this nature and would be glad to know what woods were used and the results. I would also be happy to have advice or suggestions as to the preservation of delicate colors in woods. Moreover, if any member of the Society ever comes to or near Brooklyn, New York, and wishes to see these picturesque woods above discussed, I shall be glad to exhibit them.


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Wooden Rose

Another interesting pair of articles from the October, 1949 issue 2:10.

The Wooden Rose

Dactylanthus taylori Hook f. A very distinct monotypic genus, not closely allied to any other, confined to New Zealand.

A root parasite. Rhizome usually subterranean, perennial, hard and woody, rounded or amorphous, often irregularly lobed, surface rough with small tubercles or warts. Flowering stems or peduncles annual, numerous, crowded, clavate, clothed throughout with imbricate ovate or oblong brownish scales, the upper of which are larger and more closely spaced, slender, erect, cylindrical or slightly fusiform. Flowers very minute, densely packed, monoecious. Male flowers: Perianth wanting or of two minute subulate processes. Stamens 1 or 2; filaments very short, anthers didymous, 2-celled. Female flowers: Perianth adnate to the ovary; limb of 2 or 3 erect subulate segments. Ovary stipitate, ovoid-oblong, 1-celled; style long, filiform; stigma terminal; ovule solitary, apparently pendulous. Fruit minute, crustaceous.

From the above technical description of the New Zealand representative of the family Balanophoraceae few would realize that this unusual and rare plant is the cause of the famous "Wooden Rose" of New Zealand. This parasite attaches itself to the roots of trees, usually members of the Beech family. As the growth gradually surrounds the root the wood is distorted and formed into a beautiful wooden rose, completely hidden and surrounded by a shapeless mass of parasitic growth.

George L. Miller, Member #9, has collected some of these rare roses in his native New Zealand and has graciously submitted the following account of his collecting trip.

Collecting the Wooden Rose
By Geo. L. Miller

Dactylanthus taylori Hook f. is the name of a rare parasitic plant which grows on the roots of certain trees on the North Island of New Zealand and nowhere else in the world. This strange plant is becoming extremely rare, owing to the destruction of our virgin forests.

Suppose I ask that you all accompany me on this little outing, one of many made in the interest of our chosen hobby. After a hurried breakfast we finished loading our equipment aboard a small trailer. Heading due south for ninety miles we picked up a photographer friend and then continued another fifty miles before branching off for the tree and fern clad high country. This we traversed carefully as the road had given way to rough bush logging tracks.

We had the good fortune to contact a native bush worker, a Maori. This man was a great surprise and proved to be a valuable guide. Speaking his language we quickly made friends and he agreed to help us in our search.

On entering the dense brush we spread out fanlike, keeping within hailing distance of each other. After about an hour we heard a call from the Maori and converging on him found that he had located a bunch of growths, exposed some ten inches above the forest floor. We proceeded to dig up the whole growth. The rhizome was firmly attached to the host tree, in this case a Lancewood, Pseudopanax crassifolium var. unifolium T. Kirk, of the Aralia family.

After severing it with an axe all surplus dirt was removed and it was now ready for transport to the trailer, no light task as the weight was considerable. Some weighed more than 100 pounds, but others smaller and more easily handled were selected.

Back home with our specimens, the next step took several days. First each rhizome must be boiled for four hours, then scraped to remove the blood-red flesh of the Dactylanthus proper. Then and only then is the wooden rose revealed. Sometimes the work is in vain, as the rose may be decayed or distorted. But sometimes the labor is rewarded with a perfect rose flower in wood, delicately shaped and with beautiful fine lines on each petal.

From questioning my friend, the Maori, I learned that his ancestors employed these flowers in certain ancient rituals, the nature of which is a mystery. They had to make their fire with rubbing sticks, heating stones and then steaming the Dactylanthus until the rose could be removed.

In closing, I wish to mention that it was written with the wish that other members of our Society would find time to write of some of their collecting trips which would be interesting to all of us who collect wood.


[2015 Addendum]: From Wikipedia - Dactylanthus taylorii, commonly known as wood rose or Hades flower, is a fully parasitic plant that grows on the roots of certain trees in New Zealand. The host tree responds to the presence of Dactylanthus by forming a burl-like structure that resembles a fluted wooden rose (hence the common name). Māori names for wood rose are pua o te reinga or pua reinga ("flower of the underworld") and waewae atua, "feet of gods". It is monotypic to the Dactylanthus genus. One of its most common host trees is pate or seven-finger (Schefflera digitata).

Here's an original article on Dactylanthus taylorii from the 1895 edition of the Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New Zealand.

And here's a Threatened Species Recovery Plan on Dactylanthus taylorii authored and published by the New Zealand Department of Conservation in 2005.