Friday, January 24, 2014

Fall(ing) Leaves II: Menispermum canadense (Moonseed Vine)

The first time I saw this plant in my friend Trish Hacker-Hennig's nursery, I was just enchanted with how the beautifully-shaped shallowly-lobed leaves cascaded over one another to create a lovely green curtain. I learned about this plant - a little-known native vine - Menispermum canadense, or Moonseed vine - and met it for the first time at her native plant nursery in Ortonville, Michigan. I'm always asking Trish about new plants I could include in my garden; when I saw this vine, I knew I had to see if I could grow it and exactly where it would go in my garden - on a sunflower-themed trellis near my rain garden. I added it to my garden in 2012 and, by 2013, it was more than living up to my expectations.

This is a perennial woody vine that tops out around 18-19 feet. It can  travel via stolons, colonizing other parts of your garden, but has not done so obnoxiously in my yard. Unlike grape, it does not have tendrils but clings by winding around supports; the vine has been able to "reach" from the trellis on which I trained it across short distances to wind itself around other nearby structures. I have not yet seen any flowers on my specimen, but that could be because it hasn't matured enough to make the investment in fruit and flowers. The plant's common name comes from its crescent-moon-shaped seeds. All parts of the plant are toxic to humans. I need to do more research but I'm wondering if, like Parthenocissus quinquefolia (Virginia Creeper), it is toxic to mammals but edible for birds. (I suspect there is something that can eat the fruit to aid in seed dispersal but I haven't been able to find any information on that as yet.)

The most interesting thing to me about the leaves is how the stem actually attaches to the mid-green leaf's underside at a point slightly inside the leaf margin. The main veins radiate out from that point. The prominent veins translate well to this medium, making a distinct impression in the clay. The lobed form is quite popular - I believe because it is reminiscent of most maple leaves.

When I first started observing the plant, I immediately associated it with a glaze with which I had just started experimenting - Arctic Blue, from Amaco's Potters Choice series. Like the Indigo Float glaze from the same series, Arctic Blue has a lot of green in it, although it is much lighter than Indigo Float. I immediately thought to pair it with my proprietary Mason Stain mixture - 50% Titanium Stain and 50% Green-Ivy Stain - for a recipe I refer to as "Spring Green". This stain really works well with the green undertones in the glaze.

I have been able to reuse these leaves to a certain extent but it is best to pick them fresh; they can be then be rehydrated for multiple use.

The Process
Once I've harvested the leaves, the first step is to roll out a slab of clay that's about 1/4" thick. I follow my usual procedure of rolling out the slab, pulling back the canvas to loosen the clay, folding the canvas back and flipping over the slab and canvas, pulling back the other side of the canvas to begin working on the clay. I use the flat edge of a metal kidney to "scrape away" the canvas texture (if you don't do this, you will not get as clear an impression of the leaf's veins, which can be critical with species with more subtle texture). I finish removing the texture by running the rolling pin over the slab. Now I'm ready to place the leaves for the next step.

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