Sunday, January 10, 2010

Snowy teasel

click photo to enlarge
The plant known as teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) has one of the most attractive seed heads that manages to retain its shape and interest for most of the winter months. I've photographed them before, here, and blogged about how the needle-like bracts were formerly used to "tease" i.e. pluck or raise, the nap or pile of cloth to give a soft finish. In fact, the variety known as Fuller's or Cultivated Teasel (Dipsacus sativus) was the plant favoured for this purpose.

Since I wrote that piece I've read more about this interesting plant that is commonly found along the edges of Lincolnshire's water-courses. The first part of its Latin name means a little cup for holding water. This derives from the cone-shaped depression at the base of its leaves where rain and dew collects. Long ago it was called the "Venus Basin", and girls would dip their finger in the water gathered there and dab it on their warts, wrinkles and freckles hoping that it would remove these blemishes. Others believed water from the teasel was a remedy for poor eyesight. In the days when teasel growing for the textile industry took place bee keepers would place their hives amongst them to benefit from the distinctive honey that its pollen produced. In such fields the teasel pickers would harvest about 200,000 heads per acre, distinguishing between the biggest "King Teasel" that grew at the top of the main stalk, and the smaller "Queens" found on secondary stalks. The introduction of metal combs has confined the use of teasels for napping to the craft industries, and today we know them mainly as distinctive and attractive wild plants growing in uncultivated margins.

I took this photograph of a "King Teasel" as I enjoyed a snowy walk down a track between fields of wheat and vegetables. The dead seed heads of teasel and yarrow seemed to make up the majority of the tall stalks, and all of them had been plastered with snow by the driving wind. The January midday sun was producing the odd bead of water as it melted the ice. I took this shot with a long lens to throw the snowy background well out of focus, thereby emphasising the detail of the seed head.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 150mm (300mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/800
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On