A GIANT FERN - Thyrsopteris elegans
In 1830 the intrepid Italian naturalist Carlo Bertero collected this remarkable fern from a small group of islands some 300 miles off the coast of Chile known as the Juan Fernández Islands.
This is not the first fern painting I did from flora of Chile. I have also illustrated Blechnum chilensis (2012), Lophosoria quadripinnata (2014) and Blechnum arcuatum (2015) for the book project ‘Woods and Forests of Chile’. Lophosoria quadripinnata was another giant fern and actually illustration of it that opened a gate for this recently completed illustration - Thyrsopteris elegans.
Since 2014, the year I completed the L. quadripinnata, David and Sally Rae wanted to commission a big fern illustration as L. quadripinnata. Illustrating in such big scales is a serious commitment, so I wasn’t ready back then. But in January, 2020 when I was in Edinburgh, we have discussed it again and I said yes for another illustration that completed perhaps about in seven months.
After we visited the glasshouses at RBGE, we have chosen this species to illustrate and even it has a beautiful story of its own. Martin Gardner who was the head of the ‘Woods and Forests of Chile’ book project, an expert on flora of Chile, actually an expert on many other plant things, wrote to me the story of this species, the one exactly I was going to illustrate.
In 1830 the intrepid Italian naturalist Carlo Bertero collected this remarkable fern from a small group of islands some 300 miles off the coast of Chile known as the Juan Fernández Islands. The islands are famous for their plant life, especially the ferns many of which, including Thyrsopteris elegans, grow nowhere else in the world. These islands are also famous because of the novel ‘Robinson Crusoe’ written by Danial Defoe in 1719 which was inspired by the experiences of the Scot, Alexander Selkirk who became marooned on one of the islands. Subsequently this island was named after Selkirk and today the archipelago is referred to as the Robinson Crusoe Islands. Seventy percent of the plant species growing on these islands are endemic, but in common with many island floras, they are under great threat due to the dominance of introduced species. Thyrsopteris elegans was introduced to cultivation in the mid-1800s through Glasgow Botanic Garden, who gifted plants to RBG Edinburgh in the 1970s. The plant growing in Edinburgh’s Fern House is one of the tallest in cultivation - the knowledge gained by propagating and cultivating this plant will hopefully help the conservation of this species in the remarkable but fragile Robinson Crusoe islands.
I have started to work on this species in my usual place at the top floor of RBGE Herbarium and preparing the studies took about 2-3 weeks to complete. In such short amount of time, I have managed to get enough information about everything I wanted to include in the composition, and a rough idea of the composition which was the most challenging part of this illustration that I wasn’t so aware back then. But I was pretty sure that no matter what this was going to take a very long time.
Once I am back to my studio, I was ready to dive into this illustration. But I couldn’t dive into it that fast, because just to decide the final composition took about weeks. It was too complex to be sure that is the final composition. In fact, even when I said that is it, I wasn’t so sure how it will look after it is completed. But I had to stop some point dealing with the composition and decide.
After it is decided, the rest of the months just passed by painting slowly but very carefully. In the end, I have just managed to completed it on time right before my solo exhibition started and actually it is currently in the exhibition in the time I am writing this blog. So, I was super happy to exhibit this artwork before I hand it over to David and Sally Rae.
I have prepared some little videos of the exhibition and one of them was about this fantastic species. You can see it here in this page or in youtube.