Southeastern Massachusetts—local • native—plants & wildlife

2015 Julius I. Brown Award

by Kay Kopper
 
"Plants provide the foundations for life by capturing the energy of the sun and converting it into biomass for the rest of us to eat, and native plants promote the biodiversity necessary for balanced ecosystems."
grownativema.org/whatarenativeplants
 
It was an honor to be at the American Society of Botanical Artists' 22nd Annual Meeting and Conference and to have the opportunity to share my experiences of the past year as I explored the Pine Barrens in order to document native plants and wildlife of Southeastern Massachusetts.  My goal is to exhibit this artwork to raise awareness of the natural environment right outside our door and that this environment is being threatened by development and habitat destruction and it needs our protection.
 
I have lived in Massachusetts most of my life except for a brief five years when I lived in Southwestern Pennsylvania along Buffalo Creek — very close to nature in an old stone house with a wood burning cookstove, a pump on the porch and an outhouse.  During this time after having just graduated from Massachusetts College of Art, I worked in a variety of media: pencil, pen and ink, oils and batik and occasionally watercolors.
 
We moved back to MA in 1983 and settled into a 200+ year-old cape in Pembroke. The outhouse came down a number of years back but we still heat with wood and fortunately have up-to-date appliances.
 
I have witnessed many changes over the years, especially to the environment, but there are still open spaces that are home to many natives. I can run through my back woods and on to visit a number of old cranberry bogs and see joe-pye weed, broadleaf cattails, cranberries, and wintergreen among many other native species and even a few pitch pines that have survived the development.
The smells, colors and sounds of fall are all around us now. It is my favorite time of year. And at this time last year it became even more special once I learned that I had received the Julius I. Brown award. I immediately set to work learning about the Pine Barrens and their uniqueness in our world.
 
I contacted Sharl Heller, president of Southeastern Massachusetts Pine Barrens Alliance (SEMPBA). We met at the Hauthaway Nature Center (SEMPBA headquarters) on Long Pond Road in Plymouth, MA.
 
I presented my grant proposal with images of natives I have painted and told of my plans to depict and exhibit plants from the Pine Barrens especially the pitch pine and scrub oak; the two dominant plants. The members are committed to keeping the Pine Barrens safe.

— building partnerships to better protect, enhance and celebrate the globally rare Southeastern Massachusetts Atlantic Coastal Pine Barrens Ecoregion.
 
I attended a number of meetings and participated in events to help educate and raise awareness and concern. I designed a brochure and note cards to help with fundraising for the many programs held at Hauthaway Nature Center.
 
In May, I worked along with Denise Stowell doing face/body painting for the young attendees at the 2016 Pine Fest held at College Pond. All learning activities, entertainment and demonstrations at Pine Fest engage both children and adults in explorations into:
  • Local Culture: How people past and present depend on, interact with and understand the land;
  • Local Ecology: What makes SE Mass so special;
  • Sustainable Recreation and Healthy Living: protecting ecosystems while we take care of our human needs.

 

It was a day of fun and playful environmental celebration of the Greater Pine Barrens of Southeastern Massachusetts.1
 
Myles Standish State Forest (MSSF) in southeastern Massachusetts lies at the heart of the second largest unbroken tract of globally rare pitch-pine barrens habitat remaining in the world. Spanning over 12,000 acres, MSSF is the second largest publicly held land in the Commonwealth. 2 I hiked through and explored many areas, took photographs and gathered samples of some late fall branches and then set to work. My first piece depicts a Pitch Pine area with some local visitors: a NE cottontail and white-tailed deer.
 
During another visit to Hauthaway Nature Center I learned about SEMPBA's rescue and nursery for the Cecropia Moth (Hyalophora cecropia). Sharl gave me a cocoon on a Black  Cherry branch (Prunus serotina), New England's largest native cherry tree. This was fascinating, since I have read Kim Todd's book Chrysalis about Maria Sibylla Merian and I greatly admire her life and works.  And in a chapter in David Attenborough's book, Amazing Rare Things, Maria ...
... repeatedly describes looking for insects and caterpillars in the wild, transporting them back to her garden, feeding them on leaves, drawing them, waiting for them to form cocoons and observing their transformations."
 
I now had the opportunity to do the same — to depict the life cycle of the cecropia— North America's largest moth. The cocoon is attached to a black cherry tree branch and will stay in this stage from late summer through the winter until late May, early June of the following year.

This past Spring I was able to visit and witness the moth emerge from its cocoon. The cecropia does not live long — just 2 weeks or so. It is born without a mouth or digestive tract with its sole purpose in life to mate and lay eggs.  The caterpillar goes through a number of stages of development. This all can be viewed online but to see it up close in action is amazing.
 
I was able to bring a specimen home in a cage that I made. The caterpillar feeds on a variety of leaves — mine enjoyed crawling around and nibbling on black cherry leaves. Since the cecropia has many predators it is not a threat to the tree but it is threatened. The caterpillar moves very slowly and would sit still for long stretches making it a very good model. Then on August 11th it became very restless, gathered a few leaves and began to spin and spin its cocoon. After a few days the transformation to cocoon stage was complete and now the wait begins all over again — I hope it makes it through the winter.
 
As soon as I finished my cecropia/black cherry piece I moved on to finish my scrub oak, quercus ilicifolia (also known as bear oak) with braken fern, Pteridium  aquilinum ssp. latiusculum.  During the winter months I had worked on the curled brown leaves and then added a spring branch and finally the green leaves of summer.

Pitch Pine, Pinus rigida is a defining plant of the pine barrens. This tree along with the scrub oak has adapted to life in an environment that is harsh with sandy soils poor in nutrients and prone to drought. These conditions make the area prone to fires and these plants have adapted and continue to thrive. On the 46th Earth Day the Pitch Pine was named the Town Tree of Plymouth, MA. The proclamation extols the virtues of the Pitch Pine.3
 
The South Shore Natural Science Center in Norwell, MA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the public about the natural and cultural environments of the South Shore. It is located on 30 acres surrounded by 200 acres of town conservation/recreation land consisting of meadows, woodland, and a pond. 4 It is a museum and education center with ongoing activities for all ages to participate in and enjoy.
 
After much preparation, I have hung an exhibit including 30 painting and drawings of SE MA native plants and animals at the Science Center. I have included some line art drawings to portray how a piece begins—from a simple but detailed pencil drawing.  The exhibit will run from October 10–November 22, 2016 with an opening on Friday, October 21.
 
Plans are in the works for an exhibit in the Spring of 2017 to held at the brand new Community Conservation Hall at the Wildlands Trust headquarters in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The Wildlands Trust is committed to protecting as much of the natural world in Southeastern Massachusetts as possible and it is located just down the road from Myles Standish State Forest.5 We plan to conduct trail walks at Myles Standish to explore and find plants I have depicted in their native habitats. And we will get together to plan other activities to be held during the exhibit.  I will continue to explore and draw and paint to add new works to my collection and share with others what I have learned. I hope my art encourages others to stop a moment, to look at the beauty that is right beside us and to experience the wonder of how incredible the natural environment in which we live is — to see the extraordinary in the ordinary.
 
References
1   http://www.sempba.org
2   http://www.friendsmssf.com/pinebarreninformation.html
3   Frank Mand, fmand@wickedlocal.com
4   http://southshorenaturalsciencecenter.org
5   http://wildlandstrust.org