Monday, December 04, 2006


click photo to enlarge
The teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) is a locally common plant in the UK. A tall, handsome biennial, with a prickly hollow stem, it can grow up to five or six feet high. In July and August the large purple flower heads are highly visible, but not as prominent as in the autumn and winter, when the dried, prickly heads have turned brown.

The name teasel derives from the Anglo-Saxon "taesl", meaning to pluck or pull. And this is a clue to the former use of this interesting plant. The dried flower heads were, for centuries, employed in the "teasing" of cloth. That is to say, the prickly hooks raised the nap of the fabric (particularly wool) by being drawn over the material. The heads were fixed in bundles on a "teasel gig" and the operative would use this to brush the surface. When, during the C18 and C19, mills became mechanised, teasel heads were fixed to the machinery and continued to do their essential work. Metal combs took their place in the C20. However, many insisted that the natural hooks of the teasel did the job better, because if they snagged they broke off, rather than ripping the material as was often the case with the new combs. Today it is only small scale craftspeople who continue to tease their material with Dipsacus fullonum.

I took my photograph in a nature reserve, a place where teasels are encouraged to thrive because of the food the heads offer wild birds, finches in particular, through the winter. In a dry, flat area of land next to a shallow lake, hundreds of heads were swaying in the wind. Against the light, the radiating, velcro-like hooks, gave each head a halo. I selected a diagonal composition of heads and stalks and used a long zoom lens at 200mm (35mm equivalent) to isolate them from the surroundings. The camera was set to 100 ISO, Aperture Priority (f7.1 at 1/250 sec) with -1.0EV.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen