Before I took pictures for a living I spent 15 years working at Ventnor Botanic Garden as a gardener. l still have a great attachment to the garden, after that amount of time tending a place you develop a sense of "ownership", maybe it's the feline in me as I've probably pee'd behind most of it's shrubs and tree's...
I could talk for a long time about my time in the garden and it's continued evolution, maybe I will at a later date (reeling them in with mounting excitement...)
A consequence of that ongoing relationship is that I visit the site fairly regularly (a 10 minute walk) and shoot the plants that interest me in a way that reflects the way I see/relate to them. There's a whole other post about plant photography and it's appreciation or lack of by the photography media at the moment. Seems I'm making a future post list.
Chris Kidd, the curator asked me to come in and document the growing of the lilies this year, particularly the early stages showing the germination and juvenile leaf forms of which there are three. It has a strange evolutionary history but I'll leave that to someone who knows what they're talking about later...
The shot above was a little trickier than it appears. A lot of photography jobs become problem solving exercises and this was no exception. The plants are growing in pots in a heated black holding tank in a greenhouse. Water in a black container reflects whatever is above it very well, in this case me and the roof of the greenhouse. To negate that we put a roll of black paper over the tank and eventually me too, we tried just putting the lens through a hole in the paper but the paper being so close to the subject killed any ambient light and made focus impossible.
The next issue was light. ambient light was low so I knew I'd have use flash but flashing the surface of the water would cause more reflection and specular high light problems plus for aesthetics and to see the two submerged leaves I wanted them lit from underneath. After a bit of hunting about I found an empty pringles tube which with a bit of tape I fashioned into an upside down periscope "snoot". The tube was just the right width to squeeze over the end of my speedlight. Fixing that to a tripod I could then submerge the end of the tube and direct the light from under the surface. The tube wasn't quite long enough and the end of the flash, at least once went under the surface of the water. Not good. But to Canon's credit the flash was not effected.
So... about my good friend Chris Kidd, generally a man of few words (apart from all the lyrics to Frank Zappa's "Dangerous Kitchen"), a man who lead the first strike out of Kew Gardens, was held a "hand grenade point" in the jungles of Cameroon and more poignantly for this article held, and maybe still does(?) the Guiness World Record for growing the biggest leaf on the giant water lilly Victoria amazonica.
"The three leaf shapes give an insight into evolution in the same way as juvenile animals grow from a primitive form into their familiar form during their life time. The Victoria spp. leaf begins with sub-aquatic leaves, first lanceolate, then sagittate, finally floating and becoming increasingly peltate. This gives an insight that the Nymphaeales evolved from sub aquatic plants with lanceolate leaves, through sagittate leaves to floating peltate leaves.
In the mid 1990s I studied the genetics of Victoria spp with Dr Peter Brandham, Head of Cytogentics at RBG Kew. We confirmed earlier chromosome counts undertaken in the 1920s by Haage & Schmidt for V. cruziana (2n=24) and V. amazonica (2n=20) and V. “Longwood Hybrid” (2n=22). We also found counts for the F2 progeny ranging from 2n=20, 2n=21, 2n=22, 2n=23 and 2n=24. We discovered that some the chromosomes of V. amazonica are in fact made up of chromosomes of V. cruziana that have in some way joined onto each other to make longer arms, reducing the chromosome count by four. This is proved by studying the longer chromosome pairs in V. amazonica, they are twice the length they should be, and have two centromeres instead of one (if you don’t look closely enough they look like secondary constrictions). At meiosis the species produce gametes enabling a viable hybrid, however the F2 generation is sterile; it has to be, it can only be.
In order to produce a self fertile and on-breeding hybrid from the two Victoria species I undertook some work to double the chromosome count of V. “Longwood Hybrid” from 2n=22 to 2n=44. Clearly this would potentially lead to a plant producing viable gametes; though the benefits of polyploidy are not guaranteed and would have needed to be assessed. The limited availability of seed with which to experiment with was frustrating but led to a single seedling which survived the treatment with the mutagen colchicine. Its appearance was markedly different to other seedlings, substantially larger tissue was clearly visible, but growth rate was very slow. Sadly this seedling was neglected during a holiday by a diploma student and died.
This work was never published, but casts doubt over recent Victoria breeding work undertaken in the USA where not only have viable F2 generations been claimed, but also back-crosses which are simply not possible.
More work is required to get to the bottom of this; I have a few theories which may explain the anomalies above.
In 1996 (I think) I grew a V. “Longwood Hybrid” at RBG Kew which was accepted by the Guinness Book of Records as the largest ever grown, it was 8’9” or thereabouts. The same year I hybridised the two species at Kew, first time it had been recorded in the UK. They used the seed for a number of years."