Passion Flower - A little history

Passion Flower
Passion Flower - Passiflora alata
Passiflora alata

Prized by the Cherokee, abundant and lush, the passion flower is known not only for its beauty but its medicinal properties as well.  On vines reaching more than 30-feet high, the passion flower is believed to be named for its resemblance to the crown of thorns worn by Jesus. As if not enough, the passion flower was used in earlier days to cure anxiety and hysteria. 

An excerpt from Charles Moore's poem "Where the passion flower grows"

"Lay down on your pillow and turn the lights down low let me take you to the garden where the passion flower grows. Close your eyes and enter dreams as love's emotion sets the scene and flitters through the garden where the passion flower grows"

Passion Flower (Passiflora alata) illustration  from Charting Nature's Vintage Flower Collection
  • Robert Donahue

Orchid Fever Through the Ages

Legend has it orchid fever found it’s way through the jungles and across the ocean to Victorian England in 1818 when William John Swainson sent back a box of plants he’d collected in Rio de Janeiro.  He used orchids as packing material.  The orchids he used had not flowered and he believed them to be simply parasitic plants.  Upon arrival in London, it flowered, astonishing everyone who viewed it with its unusual shape and color.  Legend has it that’s how it all began. Victorian England was ripe for orchid fever to take hold.  It was a notoriously quirky time where it was popular for people to collect exotic and unique oddities.  Orchids met both of these criteria.  They were strange and held such an usual beauty.  They also came from exotic and dangerous locations and often didn’t survive the trip back.  Incidentally, neither did their hunters. It wasn’t unusual for a group of orchid hunters to travel to an exotic location like the Philippines or South America in search of their prized flowers and for maybe one of the original hunters to return.  Wild animal attacks, kidnapping, cannibalism, poisonous snake bites, and being sabotaged by fellow orchid hunters were all common fates.  Many who set out disappeared and were never seen or heard from again.

Norman McDonald wrote in his book The Orchid Hunters published in 1939, “When a man falls in love with orchids, he’ll do anything to possess the one he wants.  It’s like chasing a green eyed woman or taking cocaine, it’s a sort of madness.”

The orchid hunting craze began to wane in the early 1900’s when they began to be propagated.  With more domestic varieties readily available, the demand for hunting orchids overseas in geographically volatile locations shrunk. 

Today, however, Americans spend more money on orchids than on any other houseplant.  There are currently over 25,000 species of orchids that have been collected and orchid cultivation has become a multibillion dollar industry.  Despite their availability, orchid hunters continue to travel to dangerous locations and brave the violence and the elements in search of new and more exotic orchids.

According to Susan Orlean, author of The Orchid Thief, “Orchid hunting hasn’t really changed over the last 200 years and orchid hunters haven’t really changed.  You have to be brave; you have to be somewhat foolish.”

Tom Hart Dyke, a young orchid hunter, was captured and held hostage by guerrillas for nine months in Columbia while hunting for orchids.  Shortly after he was released, he made plans to travel to New Guinea to find new species of orchids. 

Hart Dyke told reporters, “I know that it’s got its political problems.  I know there’s a lot of guerrilla activity there.  I know that the terrain is terrible and the diseases are rife, but that’s why it’s such a good place to go.”


  • Robert Donahue


Crimson Flowered Peony - Paenoia monticola

You can find the outrageously beautiful peony in bloom in many home gardens, but if you happen to be into the World of Warcraft you’ll find it in the Jade Forest.

The peony is the traditional floral symbol of China and known as the “king of flowers.” Just in case you forgot your ancient Greek history, it was Paian who healed Hades, god of the underworld, with peony roots. Long live the peony. 

Crimson Flowered Peony - Paenoia monticola illustration from Charting Nature's Vintage Flower Collection

  • Robert Donahue

Prints in the Press: Our fish images in Yankee Magazine

Yankee Magazine is one of the oldest magazines in the United States and one of the few (of its size) that is still independent and family owned. Celeberating all things New England, Yankee is always a great read. Charting Nature's fish images appear in the upcoming issue in a quiz to test how "New Englandy" the readers are. Take a closer look at our line of fish prints by B. Guild Gillespie

  • Robert Donahue

The Black Basses

Freshwater Bass Identification Poster

What’s in a name? A lot if you look under the surface. The American moniker "bass" is a corruption of the German epithet "barsch," meaning perch-like. Well, our North American bass are indeed perch-like, but the 16 fishes on our chart hold little in common besides their name.

You can be certain that after the American Revolution our young country wanted little to do with England. And that included the American academe. But just as France helped us overcome British tyranny, so too did France’s naturalists help us understand our natural world--and that included the black basses. Count Lacépède who authored Histoire Naturelle des Poissons in 1800, was the first to pay any attention to the basses. This early description of the life history of fishes included a description of the largemouth bass as a new species. Lacépède relied on drawings and a narrative of what the fish looked like sent to him from a colleague in South Carolina.

He saw his first real black bass specimen, a mounted smallmouth, in 1802. Unfortunately, the soft dorsal fin of the mounted specimen was torn, giving the appearance of two distinct soft dorsals. He named it Micropterus dolomieu. Micropterus, Latin meaning small fin, referred to the small part of the fin torn away. It’s a misnomer that has stood nearly 200 years and now designates all the black basses. Dolomieu comes in honor of Lacépède’s friend, a geologist and disciple of Izzak Walton. And unbeknownst to Lacépède and Dolomieu, smallmouth bass thrive in streams underlain with dolomitic limestone.

Another native Frenchman, Constantine Rafinesque, an eccentric professor living and teaching in Kentucky is credited with recognizing the spotted bass in 1819. But this rightful recognition would not come but a century later. Like Rafinesque, the spotted bass suffered a recognition crisis. Because of its dark lateral band it resembles the largemouth bass. And to confound the problem, they live in waters similar to what smallmouths prefer. For these reasons, scientists--excepting Rafinesque, of course--and anglers long thought the spotted bass to be a hybrid of its two cousins.

Part of the reason scientists failed to accept the spotted bass as a distinct species is that Dr. James A. Henshall, a Cincinnati physician, insisted in his 1881 Book of the Black Bass, that there were only two black basses. Yet Dr. Henshall struggled with fish identification himself. Of the preserved spotted bass specimens that we know he collected from the Ohio River, some he labeled largemouth, others smallmouth. His notebooks show he dithered back and forth on the proper identification of many spotted bass specimens.

Scientists, Dr. Henshall included, mistakenly believed the specimen Rafinesque used to describe the species was actually a smallmouth bass. Spotted bass remained obscure until 1927, when Michigan ichthyologist, Dr. Carl Hubbs proved to his peers that the spotted bass was indeed a distinct species.

Originally, Dr. Hubbs named it the Kentucky bass, believing that the new species was limited to waters of that state. Our chart shows the two known subspecies of spotted bass, the northern and Alabama forms.

Today there are seven distinct species of black bass. And our chart has America’s newest sport fish, the shoal bass. This seventh black bass just became known to science late last year--200 years after the largemouth was described. This will probably be the last sport fish species to get a scientific name in North America.

The shoal bass is not necessarily a new discovery. Dr. Hubbs suspected the shoal bass as something different in the late 1930s. Turns out he was right. The shoal bass for years was thought to be a form of redeye bass, a form unique to the Mobile, Apalachicola, and Chattahoochee drainages in Alabama and Georgia.

Habitat requirements of the shoal bass differs from its close cousins by having an absolute requirement for swift-flowing water, or shoals. And therein lies part of a conservation problem. Impounded waters and channelized river sections are hard on this species because they have destroyed shoals. Only seldom do shoal bass occur in flat water. They eat a lot of crayfish and other animals that live in the fast, rocky waters. Without fast water they cannot survive. Their affinity for fast water cannot be over stated.

The Rock Basses Like the black basses, the rock bass and Roanoke bass belong to the sunfish family. They dwell in the clear, rocky-bottom streams throughout the South and Midwest. Pooled up streams are essential to the rock basses. Undercut banks and big boulders are their favorite haunts--places that provide shade where they rely on their large eye to take in lots of light in these shady spots Solitary fish use these dark hiding places to waylay unsuspecting insects, darters, and crawfish. While these species are not major sport fishes, they are important to the angler.

The Sea Basses These fishes need not be confused with the black basses, a wholly freshwater family. The sea basses do, however, have three representatives that naturally occur in freshwater: white perch, white bass, and yellow bass. All members of the sea bass group have a separate spiny and soft dorsal fin. The dorsal fin in the black basses is one continuous fin.

The white perch originally lived in estuaries and streams down the Atlantic seaboard from Nova Scotia through South Carolina. Navigation canals opened the way for them to invade the Great Lakes by the 1940s. Schools of white perch, numbering in the hundreds and even the thousands, leave the lakes and estuaries in spring, ascending rivers and inlet streams to reproduce. If it were not for its brassy coating, the yellow bass could easily be mistaken for a white bass. This schooling fish makes its home in the open, slow-flowing waters of big rivers and oxbow lakes in the Mississippi River basin. It prefers vegetated waters with a firm bottom of sand or rubble and avoids altogether fast-flowing water. Navigation locks and dams may improved the status of yellow bass--they may be more common today than ever before.

Striped bass is the marquee fish among the sea basses. This schooling fish roams over the rocky shores of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Between 1879 and 1882, 435 stripers, sent by specialized rail cars from New Jersey, were stocked into California waters. These introductions into the Pacific have been successful. Stripers have been considered a game fish in California since 1935. Their value as a game fish is easily understood knowing they grow to five feet and 60 pounds. As table fare they can’t be beat.

The chart used in this factoid, Freshwater Bass of North America, can be purchased by Clicking Here

Craig Springer, Outdoor Writer Post Office Box 535 Edgewood, N. Mex. 87015

  • Robert Donahue

The Devil’s Bolete Mushroom

The Devil’s Bolete Mushroom

The devil woke up one morning and found a lump of clay in his stocking. Actually, it was just a Boletus satanas - a squat and bold-colored mushroom that smells putrid and can make you really sick if you don’t know how to cook it. The devil’s mushroom can be found throughout the lower woodlands of the continental United States.

  • Robert Donahue