Out of the Woods: Celebrating Trees in Public Gardens
The Third New York Botanical Garden Triennial


Shaving Brush Tree Bloom

Pseudobombax ellipticum
Naples Botanical Garden, Naples, Florida

I happened to be on the Gulf of Mexico in Florida one spring and made it a point to drive to the Naples Botanical Garden. It was a terrific surprise for me because many times when I travel in the USA or in a foreign country I am disappointed at the lack of care in local botanical gardens. However Naples Botanical Garden in Florida was so well organized and cared for it was a treat!

I spent some time exploring and, near the end of my visit, I spied this tree at the edge of an open, wet area. From a distance the tree was dramatically stark with dark, bare branches and bright, hot pink blossoms. The hot pink stamens were gorgeous and striking but really, for me, the curled back sepals made the blossoms twice as intriguing. The sepals appeared to be almost woody and I was surprised when I touched them; they felt a bit “rubbery”. The way they curled back created soft shadows of color.

The tension between the stark, bare tree and these striking blossoms and the tension between the explosion of delicate, pink stamens and the solid sculptural sepals create a lot of drama but it is only in retrospect that I can describe them this way. When I first spied the tree I just felt excited and attracted and after really looking at the tree and blossoms knew I wanted to paint it and the challenge would be worth it. It’s really an emotional attraction when you find the “right” subject; almost like love at first sight.

This tree is native to Central America and the flowers can be found decorating churches and homes. The tree flowers on bare branches for about a week in winter. The buds pop open at night and they each bloom one day, with other buds popping each night for about a week. 

I love the challenge of painting trees; finding a way to express visual excitement from a huge subject. Some of the trees I have painted are: a Mahogany Tree giant seedpod in Panama at the Soberania National Park, an Orchid Tree in Mexico, a Papaya Tree at the U.S. Botanic Garden Conservatory, and a Oaxacan Pine I saw  at the Strybing Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. Each of these trees offered a different, exciting aspect or expression that I was lucky to find in bloom.  In the search, sometimes you are lucky and sometimes you are not.

  • © 2015 Julie Messenger
    Shaving Brush Tree Bloom
    Pseudobombax ellipticum
    Watercolor on paper