Monday, September 30, 2013

Of Beatrix Potter, Breadfruit and the Bong Tree

File:Edward Lear The Owl and the Pussy Cat 2.jpg
Edward Lear's Piggy Wig driving a bargain for the ring

Prequels are nothing new.  In 1930 Beatrix wrote a prequel to Edward Lear's "The Owl and the Pussy Cat" telling the story of how Piggy Wig (or as she called him, "Little Pig Robinson") made it to that distant island that was "a year and a day" away. 
In The Tale of Little Pig Robinson, Potter reminds us that the island refuge has a Bong tree, as well as a bread-fruit tree.  In her illustration of LPR rowing up to the island, the bread-fruit tree is at the far right in the front, growing "iced cakes and muffins ready baked.  The Bong tree is at the center in the background, towering over everything else.

Half an
hour's rowing brought him to the beach of a large and fertile island.
As you can see, the her breadfruit tree is entirely fanciful, a departure for Beatrix Potter as she was a stickler for getting the science right.  (For more on this, read Linda Lear's Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature.)  Actual breadfruit, Artocarpus altilis, is a member of the mulberry family that grows in the Southeast Asia and Oceania.  Collecting it was the objective of H.M.S. Bounty, of Mutiny on the Bounty fame. 

Potter's "bong tree" is botanically correct.  It is an illustration of a mature Norfolk Island Pine, Arucaria heterophylla.  While not a true pine, it is endemic to Norfolk Island, a chunk of land in the Pacific not far (in Pacific Ocean terms) from Australia and New Zealand.  Endemic means (I had to look it up to be sure) that when Captain James Cook first spotted on his 1774 voyage, it only grew on Norfolk Island.  Since then it has been cultivated worldwide in warm coastal areas.  Beatrix may have seen one at the Royal Botanic Kew, or more likely she drew it based on the illustration in a book or magazine.  

Immature Norfolk Island Pines in New Zealand (Wikicommons)

No comments:

Post a Comment