Cynthia Fan & Hayden Malan

London | Cape Town | Amsterdam

27. In praise of less-beautiful images, snaps of passing encounters with majestic trees. Sugar Maples, Acer saccharum, the ones that live in Canada too).

This tree responds to Cynthia’s Cornus/Dogwood tree as the bright red fruit contrast with the blanket of green leaves in the second photo.

Though more than the red of the fruit, the red of the autumn leaves reminds me of fynbos colours and leaves that like to burn (I’m thinking of Leucadendrons). Further, they remind me of the hot mounds when the fallen collectively decompose. Surely a steaming decomposition is akin to a hot and dry breakdown.

What does this mean when considering Celaspino’s botanical theory that at the tips of all new shoots lies a tree’s brain? And that year by year the brain hardens and gives itself over to the rest of the universe, before a new(ish) old brain surfaces again. ‘Life death life’ cycle if you’re a Clarissa Pinkola Estés fan.
Also, I recently spent some time with a maaaassive Pterocarya and wondered how the farthest widest bottomest outermost leaves and branches knew to not grow/extend any lower. They knew to not grow further down and essentially know their height relative to the height of the trunk/base at all times. Something like this definitely supports Celaspino’s sensitive theory

25. The Gleditsia triacanthos is known for having absolutely massive thorns, giving the tree its common name which roughly translates (in Dutch at least) to Christ’s false wreath. Considered ‘false’ because this tree, which is originally North American, was probably not used in Christ’s crucifixion (the details of that famous crucifixion are obviously not worth discussing here).

They’re common street trees and their low thorns are very quickly cut to prevent scrapping. The one down the road from me is too tall and I hadn’t even noticed the thorns. There is a new variant that has no thorns, a bit like seedless grapes… far less fun and also historically inaccurate.

I tried to take some of the fallen pods and make a ‘moment’ with them… but they weren’t having it. What came of it, however, was a love for how the abandoned deciduous leaves of the Gleditsia were welcomed by the leaves of a fellow deciduous tree (oak? I don’t know, one new tree at a time)

This is a response to Cynthia in that it is also a street-side tree with seed pods (see last picture)

Cynthia’s Momordica charantia plagued me a bit in their neatly packaged ‘ready to be bought’ pile. I spent the next few weeks looking for equally exceptional (oxymoronic and all) fruit/vegetables in grocery stores.

Though that’s not quite the point of all of this. If the job here was already done the ‘ready to be bought pile’ would perhaps be advertising the cooling powers of the bitter melon or its #1ranking in ability to expel heat (from the body?) (ranking from Cynthia’s post, and while we need to do some fact-checking it’s true until proven otherwise)

Anyway, here is a response: a Rubus ideaeus which I’m pretty sure is a raspberry. The wild version tastes the same but is denser and has a stronger flavour (obvs).
A familiar grocery store food, ‘Ready to be picked’

Botanical image reference from Herbari Virtual:

This is a Dracaena draco dump of sorts - because they’re so magical and hard for our small human brains to comprehend. I also grew up with a few around my parents’ house so I’m slightly too attached to them.

Is it because of the name that it seems like they’ve been on the planet for a few million years? (Affirming answers only)

1. Editing background colours is possible but anxiety inducing. Though Cynthia loves the disco vibes which makes the process seem way more appealing.
This plant lasted in that form for about 2 weeks, as I contemplated how to adapt a normal botanical structure thing into a Pear_ed post… with no such luck.
2. Trying to get resin out of the tree. The scan of the resin is also in this dump somewhere. Does anybody know how to extract resin from this tree? I felt bad for the rushed way that I did it (see night shot).
3. Apparently the resin makes a great red dye (see notes below)
4. This is/was my neighbour’ street growing up, and my parents have two that are more than 3 metres tall. Truly majestic.
More captions in no particular order: a funny etching of a dragon in one of the fruit - I think. And a detail of the base of the leaf which is apparently evidence of the red dying characteristic inherent in the tree.

Now for some notes gathered from the internet:

Voyagers to the Canary Islands in the 15th century obtained dragon's blood as dried garnet-red drops from Dracaena draco, a tree native to the Canary Islands and Morocco. The resin is exuded from its wounded trunk or branches.

The Dragon tree and Dragon tree fruit (containing dragon?) Rare Book Collection, Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, DC
An old Dracaena draco with a gash in its stem releasing its “dragon’s blood” resin and a door in its trunk.
This substance “hath an astringent faculty and is with good successe in the overmuch flowing of the courses, in fluxes, dysenteries, spitting of blood, fasting loose teeth.”
The current use of these substances in luxury skincare reminds us that modern science cannot be so easily disentangled from historical narrative.

This is a shoutout to architects that like landscape architects… even though I’m beginning to feel that our contemporary theme of hyper specialisation is just hyper bogus.
I work at @tk_l_a - a LA firm that loves @ccnia_architects , and vice versa (see recent post of the Hope Youth Centre by @david_malan_images for evidence of this). Our offices even share the same building! Shoutout to @thakirah_ , @razaaq21, @onnalennaletebejane and @uchiha_keagan from the architecture office.

The last two Pear_ed photos from my side have been taken in this shared office space, a building ever-renovated by members of CCNIA and TKLA. The courtyard in the final photograph was a room cut of the building by CCNIA, and the design is by TKLA (there’s a fun subsurface drain detail that we drew to protect the foundations of the existing building from water erosion. A planting plan is in there too (we planted the Nandina of course - ‘Ndx10’ if you can spot it)).

Below is a quote about the featured plant, Nandina domestica, by Tarna Klitzner of TKLA:
“You’ve heard the story, right? Have I told you? You plant it outside your front door. On your way out in the morning you tell it your bad dreams and it removes the ill, the bad omens.
I can’t find the reference online. But I read that someone and I love it, so I believe it.”

Lastly, in conversing with Cynthia, this plant is also called heavenly/sacred bamboo, originally from Japan, China and India (according to

(At this rate it feels like Cynthia and I are writing a book 😅)

This photo and the corresponding plant responds to @_cynthiafan‘s Equisetum cutting and how boldly orthogonal it was shown. There’s something about straight lines that really excites our minds.
This plant, Cyperus papyrus, is even straighter! Somebody from SANBI described it as a stately aquatic member of the sedge family…
Stately because it’s straightly?

I chose this plant because like the Equisetum it also feels like a water loving plant. I know the Cyperus is but Cynthia will have to tell us for sure.
Perhaps you need to be tall and skinny to withstand water flows in all directions.

But then what does stateliness have to do with water currents? Merriam-Webster says stately is ‘impressive in size or proportions’… so I guess water could be stately too.
Another tangent is that nation states love tall and skinny palm trees 🤷‍♂️

Very lastly, shoutout to the botanists like Cynthia who put together those beautiful species classification diagrams. Cynthia can link you to her website to show you a beautiful circular one if you’ve read this far and are interested

The top and then bottom of a Echinopsis pachanoi / San Pedro cactus. It responds to the skunk cabbage / Lysichiton in that it has similar tapering cylindrical column - is there a name for this shape?
Cacti hey. Cynthia, what do you think of them?

About the plant, Jeremy Bigwood and Peter Stafford note in Psychedelics encyclopedia (1992) that the plant has been used for healing and religious divination in the Andes Mountains region for over 3,000 years. I wonder if Jeremy of Peter dabbled.

(This one was photographed in @ad_beee ‘s beautiful garden)

Oh, I forgot to mention that this is a response to the Akebia quinata posted by @_cynthiafan because Wikipedia said that Akebi originally comes from akeru meaning ‘to open’ as the fruit splits open when ripe. Which is a far more cohesive text than the original description…
1 and a 2: the fruit and the popped pod(!)
It lived hanging from my office desk for a week, drying while I wondered why I’d taken it and what I would do with the sporing fruit.
3: Back from a long weekend and the super spreader had exploded across the desk (admittedly ruffled for effect, later stuffed into a plastic bag for disposal (other methods preferred?))
(2)/out to those who know it’s called an Araujia sericifera
4: Shout out to @josiegoda (now at  @studio_fish_and_potish) who did the design and construction for the swale in the foreground (then unestablished). The swale looks beautiful now! The “cruel vine/moth plant/white bladderflower” was picked from the fence in the background

A shoutout to both (link in bio, obviously) and Podranea ricasoliana. We’ll quote lots of SANBI because they’re great and it’s possible:
- Podranea ricasoliana is a vigorous, woody, rambling, evergreen climber without tendrils.
- According to the Red List of South African Plants, Podranea ricasoliana is assessed as Vulnerable (VU). It is a highly localized endemic found in a restricted habitat that is not protected. Although locally common its habitat is at risk of degradation by subsistence farming, wood harvesting, invasive alien plants and fires.
- The name Podranea is an anagram of Pandorea, a closely related Australian genus, in which Podranea was first classified. Pandora means all-gifted. She was the first woman of Greek mythology and was given the box that contained all man's ills. When she opened it, they all flew out.
- Instagram will cut it short before I do!

Images in this post:
1. Living with a Podranea shrine for a while, collected from a specimen in Green Point
2. Climbing up to a trellis at a private high school in Newlands
3. A beautiful bug (what’s its name, btw?) that came in with the branch and is unfortunately having to find a way out of the flat (big shoutout)
4. Same goes for the ant (equally big shoutout but probably an easier task ahead)
5. Climber support designed by the (in bold) Landscape Architecture office that I work at + see SANBI note about ‘vigorous, woody’

Another plant that clings by tendrils, a Passiflora edulis/Granadilla!
And oh what wonderful flowers it produces.
With excited chats from @_cynthiafan about other Passifloras

From our next plant, Carissa bispinosa or Num-num bush, my grandmother Valda @valdabarratt makes the most delicious jelly (picture 2 reads “Valda’s Num-num jelly”). It is made from the bright red seasonal berries of the plant.

The Spanish Dagger resting on a South African bin.
The Dagger’s flowers can be eaten raw or cooked (currently in a vase, may eventually be sautéd)
It is also called a Yucca aloifolia

Clivia miniata seed

28.  The main picture of today’s post is a beautiful pink ear of corn that is one of the many varieties grown at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. CSHL is a scientific institute on Long Island that has conducted maize research for over 100 years. I am currently here doing an art residency, looking through the archives of Barbara McClintock’s astounding body of research and I will write an annoyingly long post about that at some point but for now…

From our last post, Cesalpino’s theory about where a plant’s brain lies and Hayden’s thoughts about how a plant knows its own height sent me down a rabbit hole that I had started digging a few months ago. It began with an amazing article titled ‘Bent into shape: The rules of tree form’ which outlined a lot of key things that are known today about the genetic mechanisms regulating how plants adapt their growth form in response to their environment. The article really sets itself up to be an absolute rabbit maze for me but I’ll try stick to my favourite bit - the LAZY gene.

The presence of a LAZY gene was first hypothesised in maize plants which grew along the ground and this was published in 1931. In case you’re wondering, the main reason why this trait was studied is because a sprawling crop is less agriculturally desirable. In 2007, a research group screened 30 000 rice mutants to finally find the actual gene that was responsible for this trait - LAZY1. What they learnt was that this sprawling phenotype in ‘lazy’ maize plants happened because a malfunction in the LAZY1 gene caused the plant’s ability to perceive gravity to glitch (which normally happens through the pooling of the plant hormone, auxin and a network of transport proteins). Similarly, this has been seen in plum and apple trees which end up with branches growing towards the soil when their LAZY genes are mutated.

The literature on how plants respond to various types of environmental stimuli is overwhelming and vast but I think this at least actually answers Hayden’s question?!

26. Today, shortly after a brief Pear_ed catch-up call, I came across a dogwood tree. The fallen fruits on the ground in slide 3 reminded me of Hayden’s post and the timing of it felt serendipitous, so you’re getting two posts in one day.

Dogwoods (Cornus sp.) are one of my favourite trees and the ones that I’ve been lucky enough to come across (slide 4 to 10) should be enough to convince you why.

Oddly enough, when I googled the origin of its common name, I came across its mention in folklore (not the Bible specifically) - the cross on which Jesus was crucified was said to have been made from a dogwood tree. And so God decided from that day that it would never grow large enough to be used to make a cross. There’s also some description about the four corners resembling a cross with the pink tips representing blood on the crown of thorns? But that feels like a bit of a stretch to me.

24. A whole month and a half later, here’s a very different road-side plant. This is from Cassia fistula (I think?) which grows around the corner from my parents in KZN and has pods that are about 30cm in length.

This reptilian-looking bitter melon (Momordica charantia) felt like an appropriate response to Hayden’s dragon tree 🦎🐉 (+ a tiny cucumber that I grew, gotta keep it in the Cucurbitaceae family, right?)

Having grown up knowing the Chinese variety as ‘苦瓜’ and always being told about its cooling powers in Traditional Chinese Medicine at dinner, I did a Google scholar search to see if any metabolomic research backed this up. Turns out the majority of studies have focused on its traditional use in South East Asia as treatment for diabetes. Although the results seem fairly inconclusive, their metabolite profiles appear to be very complex and interesting.

Inspired by Dishoom’s okra fries, I tried to batter one in cornflour and some spices but sadly the bitterness was too much for me. Anyone have other ways they like to prepare bitter melon? 🥒

I’m also really looking forward to seeing the bright red insides of ripe fruits one day 🩸

Disclaimer for Hayden - no barbaric skewers this time! ⚔️

On charming (and now not so charming) anecdotes about plants: while Hayden talked about how Nandina kindly removes omens and ills from our bad dreams, the origin of the nasturtium’s name is a lot more grim. Today I learnt that one of my favourite plants was unfortunately named ‘Tropaeolum’ because it reminded a man of bloody helmets and shields that were hanged as a trophy after a battle.

If we’re really leaning into the goriness of it all then I guess I’ll throw nasturtium ‘Bloody Mary’ into this anecdote. I used it in an arrangement last year (slide 3) without enough recognition for the trickles of blood down its petals.

Joining these pieces of young bamboo made me think of how taken aback @haydenbmalan was during the first @pear__ed experiment when I (maybe forcefully) stuck part of a cucumber onto a gourd that he had sliced up. I love bamboo (see WhatsApp messages with my sister as evidence) and Wikipedia tells me that certain species can grow 91cm in 24 hours (that’s 1mm every 90 seconds).

An odd exchange between a Meconopsis and an Equisetum.

One of my favourite arrangements in the Ohara Ikebana School curriculum is the hanamai. When it was first taught to me in 2017, I understood that it was an arrangement which captured a conversation or an interaction between plants. So during the class (slide 2), I facilitated a meeting between a Calla lily and (coincidentally) @haydenbmalan’s favourite plant, Metalasia. Since then I’ve looked up the notes online and ‘hanamai’ actually translates to ‘flowers dancing’, whoops. But I still like think of it as an exchange.

The two columns of the San Pedro cactus from our previous post looked to me like they were having a good conversation. So when I was allowed to pick the first Meconopsis of the season at RBGE, I decided it would have a chat with the Equisetum growing right by it. Unfortunately they look quite awkward but I guess some conversations just are?

The spadix of a skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus) and a Wikipedia summary:
1. It produces a bizarre scent.
2. All parts of the plant can cause death if consumed in large quantities (the leaves are apparently quite spicy/peppery).
3. It was introduced to the UK in 1901 as an ornamental plant (always interested by this use of the word ‘introduced’).
4. As of 2016, it has been classified as an invasive species.
5. It’s particularly known as the Western skunk cabbage, which I’ve now learnt is not as cool as the Eastern skunk cabbage (last slide). Eastern skunk cabbages are thermogenic plants that can create temperatures of up to 15–35°C above air temperature (through cyanide-resistant cellular respiration) in order to melt its way through frozen ground.

Spending (more) time with organic matter, with a lot of plant serendipity and sentimentality.

I came across an Akebia quinata vine yesterday evening on the way out and decided it was the perfect response to @haydenbmalan’s Podranea post. A. quinata, or the chocolate vine, is one of the first plants that I remember learning the family name of (told to me by an amazing botanist friend, Pakkapol) - Lardizabalaceae.

Described by Gardener’s World as ‘an unusual climber’ and the RHS as ‘a vigorous twining semi-every green shrub’, I originally thought I’d snap a quick photo of it this morning and post it here.

Instead, it has been an interaction over 15 hours which I will now summarise in 8 photos:

1. Evidence of the 35 minutes I spent this morning in Cam and Anna’s kitchen trying to do the beautiful vine justice
2. Immediately after snipping, on the way home, 3 hours after the first encounter
3. In bed googling about Akebia, the Wikipedia page is fascinating - the fruits are eaten in Japan and my favourite reference is the ‘unreliable medical source?’
4-6. General awe
7. Noticing the fleshy appearance of its petals and the resemblance to my wrinkly hands
8. Coming back to @haydenbmalan’s original wording from @pear__ed’s first ever Google docs brainstorm

No tendrils but still clingy, a Lonicera vine.

I’ve always seen this cucurbit growing on the side of the N1 and yesterday we happened to pull over next to some just outside the Piketberg.

@campbellfleming IDed it as Citrullus amarus, the jam melon.

Today in edible plants: roadside chicory (Cichorium intybus) whose leaves and flowers are good in salads and roots are roasted and ground to make Ricoffy.

(Decided against pulling it out to see the roots but they’re great via Google Image)

Seed pods (Canna & Acer?) in Mooi River

Pitaya/dragon fruit, with their dots inside