Seeds: You Have Never Looked At Them This Way

Categories: Nature

I photographed a larkspur seed (above) with 150 frames. It is the size of the period at the end of this sentence. When the final image was rendered, I went "wow". It had jellyfish-like fins. I have searched but have never found out why. The more I journey, the more I find things that are still unknown.

Robert Llewellyn's studio (Photo: Robert Llewellyn/Timber Press)

Were there any particular seedheads, pods or fruits that were a challenge to document?

I wanted to photograph the osage orange seed pod in the early spring when it had long stigmas, like light green hair, all over it. I climbed the tree, cut one, and brought it back to the studio to put on the light table. The "hair" had completely wilted in a few minutes. So I guessed that the osage orange, with its milky sap, must be "pressurized", and lost pressure when I cut the stem. I went back with a blow torch, climbed the tree, cut another one and immediately burned the end of the stem. It stayed un-wilted for an hour for its photograph (below).


When it's young, the osage orange seed is almost entirely covered in stringy stigmas. (Photo: Robert Llewellyn/Timber Press)

Of all the specimens you photographed, which ones did you find most fascinating? Most beautiful?

The most fascinating has to be the castor bean (below). I was working in my studio one day and heard a loud pop, following by brown seeds ricocheting around the room. The pod had fired three seeds 30 feet.

I photographed the seed and noticed a yellow glob on the end. I researched it and found that the seed is picked up by ants and taken underground where the young ants feed on the high-fat glob. The glob is not internally connected to the seed, which is actually highly poisonous. The remaining seed is "disposed of" in the ants underground refuse pile, thus "planting" the seed for the castor bean. What a plan.


Don't eat these. Castor beans contain ricin, an highly toxic poison that can kill if ingested. (Photo: Robert Llewellyn/Timber Press)

My favorite to photograph was the devil's claw (below). It has two giant extremely sharp (talking drawing blood here) claws that are designed to catch on large animals and be transported distances and then finally trampled, releasing four seeds. This pod was a beautiful piece of sculpture no matter which way you looked at it.


Devil's Claw seed (Photo: Robert Llewellyn/Timber Press)

What's next for you? Is there another 'Seeing ...' book in the works?

Yes — "Seeing the Forest." So I [will be] out of the studio and into the woods. I have tried photographing animals on my light table but they hop off or fly away. So I am photographing in the forest, and yet again visiting another planet. (Also one where many things are trying to bite me or sting me or poison me.) The book is about who lives there and how they are interdependent. My favorites so far are ring snakes, turkey vultures and old-growth trees. Lots of "wow" moments.


The shell-like calyces of the Chinese Lanterns house round, marble-size seeds. (Photo: Robert Llewellyn/Timber Press)

Photos are from "Seeing Seeds: A Journey into the World of Seedheads, Pods, and Fruit," Copyright 2015 by Robert Llewellyn and Teri Dunn Chace. Published by Timber Press, Portland, Oregon. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

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