On a walk this autumn I came across a stand of trees in my neighbourhood that I hadn't really noticed before. I'm still not the greatest at identifying deciduous trees that aren't indigenous to this region, so seeing the random trees people have planted around their properties sometimes gets me puzzled.
This type of tree in particular had red 5-pointed flowers and blue/black middles that look like blueberries. I picked one of the centre fruit bits and crushed it against the side of a basket I was carrying. (I often carry a basket- not a purse or bag) and the fruit produced a bright teal colour. I left it there for a month or so to see if the colour would change when exposed to sun/rain- and the colour didn't budge!
There are 6 or 7 trees where I found the first, so I harvested from each- I took 6-10 fruit bits from each tree. I took very little for a few reasons. 1- The trees are on a patch of land that I can't tell if they belong to the city or to the home owner. 2- I wasn't sure about the dyestuff yet, or even what it was at that point. 3- When doing a small dye sample you don't need to dye hundreds of grams of fibre- dyeing 5-10g is fine! You're just trying it out!
So I took the fruit bits home, crushed them up in a small dye pot, and cooked up the stock solution. It turned out to be a bright blue- but I still had misgivings about it. Finding this type of blue in nature is almost always not lightfast and I didn't want to get my hopes up. I added in a small bit of wool yarn and a piece of cotton that had been pre-mordanted with 9 mordant samples. (I prepped a bunch of these while in a workshop with Michel Garcia)
At this point I still didn't know what the tree was- so I took to Instagram. I posted a photo of the tree on my Instagram page with a plea to help me identify this tree, and within an hour I had the answer! Clerodendrum Trichotomum- or more commonly known Harlequin Glorybower! And it's a traditional dye plant in Japan!
This was one of those AHA! moments as a dyer.
I didn't feel the need to go harvest more of these fruits to dye with for a number of reasons- one was that because I was unsure of who owned the plants, another was that I can get similar dye results by using indigo which is much more available to me, also that it would take so much fruit to dye a large thing that I would be taking too much from such a small amount of trees (Even though each tree had thousands of blooms), and finally that it was late in the season and the tree was starting to drop its fruits.
So there it is- the brilliance of investigation! For more on this check out this blog post from the Barefoot Shepherdess.