26 November 2009

Made from plants

I was greeted by a plethora of rustling packages on Thursday morning.  ‘Homework’ the previous week had been to bring something to school that was made from part or parts of a plant; preferably something that no-one else would have though to bring.  Something unusual perhaps.  And goodness; did we have a great selection of things!

Let’s start with Liv.  Her fancy wooden salt and pepper mills were carved from the stem of two different trees.  And by the looks of it, engineered by a French motor manufacturer!


While we are on the topic of stems, Camille’s basket was woven from the stem of another type of plant.  Probably bamboo, though we weren’t quite sure.


Leonor had thought of something quite different, but which was also made from the stem of a plant.  A dollar bill! 


As for her other offering, I think you had better promise not to tell what it was she brought to show us.  I don’t want to give you the wrong idea about what we get up to in the classroom!


None of your cheapo cigars either; this was the finest Cuban!  Needless to say, her father was quite clear that it should be returned intact that same day!  But not before Leonor had explained that cigars are made from the dried leaves of the tobacco plant, which are carefully rolled around and around.


Utsav had some incense sticks; sweetly scented, he told us, with orchid flowers.


Sebastian and Shinnosuke had both brought things made from cotton.  There was some confusion about exactly what part of the cotton plant gives us cotton, but Shinnosuke felt it was something to do with the flower bud.  A bit of research clarified things for us and we now know that cotton is made from the fluffy ‘stuff’ round the seeds.


Shinnosuke had also brought one of these to show us.


A rubber band.  Who can remember where rubber comes from I wonder.

See this bag?


Well, having been told by Sean that it was made of string (that in turn could have been made by twisting together fibres extracted from cotton plants or even coconut palms) he then delved inside, and pulled out this…..


which had been made from strips of the stem of a kind of grass, coiled round and around and around.  And this…..


which was rather similar to Camille’s duck basket in the way it had been made.  And this…..


a wooden frame containing examples of Swiss herbs, all of which are used either in medicine or some form of cooking.  This…..


repellent citronella extracted from a lemon-scented grass-like plant, and which is loathed by pesky mosquitoes.  This…..


‘plastic’ bag that had been made from potato starch.  And, perhaps most interestingly, this…..


chewing gum; flavoured with the leaves of the spearmint plant, but the gum itself extracted, as I later learned, from the stem of the peelu tree. 

However, I left this until last. 


Brought in by Alex, this teeny tiny glass bottle, stoppered to help keep in the enticing scent of Penhaligon’s (no less!) English Fern eau de toilette.  Which part of the fern, I pondered aloud, do you think they squished to get the perfume.

‘The flowers’, was the unanimous response.  Which led me to this.  Ferns are unusual plants, in that they do not have flowers.  This of course (as Sean quickly realised) means that they do not have seeds.  They produce spores instead.  Remember those little dots?  Well, a closer look (under the microscope) at some little dots that we found earlier, lurking on the underside of a fern leaf in a dark damp place in the school garden…..


showed us in more detail the spore cases and the too-small-to-see-with-the-naked-eye spores themselves.


Which begs the question; how on earth do they at Penhaligon’s, make a scent from English Fern if it has no sweet-smelling flowers to squish?  Opinion amongst us was that they probably squish the leaves.  After all, squished mint leaves and squished rosemary leaves (as we remembered) smell delicious.  Why not squished fern leaves?

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