Jan Moninckx and Bowstring Hemp: Plant and Illustration Still Vibrant After 400 Years

by DerdriuMarriner

Bowstring hemp (Sansevieria hyacinthoides) is presented, especially in its current status as a Florida invasive, via stunning c.1700 watercolor by Jan Moninckx.

Dutch botanical artist and painter Jan Moninckx (c. 1656 - May 1714) and his daughter, Maria Moninckx (c. April 1673 - February 1757), created over 370 color illustrations for their magnum opus, the nine-volume Moninckx Atlas, of which eight volumes were published from 1686 to 1709.

The ninth volume, published in 1749, over three decades after Jan’s death, did not include watercolors by Jan or Maria.

Sansevieria hyacinthoides (L.) Druce: c. 1700 illustration by Jan Moninckx
Sansevieria hyacinthoides (L.) Druce: c. 1700 illustration by Jan Moninckx

 

The Atlas was commissioned by amateur botanist, Amsterdam mayor, and Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie) administrator Joan Huydecoper van Maarsseveen II (February 21, 1625 - December 1, 1704) and botanist, Amsterdam alderman, and herbal-pharmaceutical merchant Jan Commelin (April 23, 1629 - January 19, 1692). By a decree dated November 12, 1682, the Amsterdam City Council established in the Plantage neighborhood east of Amsterdam’s city center a new garden designed as a Hortus Botanicus (Latin: hortus “garden” + botanicus “botanical”) with economic, medicinal, and ornamental plants that journeyed there from the exotic extents of the vast territories over which the Dutch East India Company held sway. The scope of this new garden differed from that of the Hortus Medicus (Latin: hortus “garden” + medicus “healing, medical”) which had been founded in Amsterdam in 1638 to provide medical plants for Amsterdam’s doctors and pharmacists.

Instrumental in promoting the Hortus Botanicus, Huydecoper and Commelin, as commissarissen (commissioners), oversaw the garden's multiple missions of medicinal and economic botany, public amenity, horticulture, and botanical research. As a herbarium was not installed on the premises, Huydecoper and Commelin conceived of creating a pictorial repository of the extensive living collection.

 

portrait of Jan Commelin (2nd from right):
"The Regents of the Spinhuis and the Nieuwe Werkhuis in Amsterdam", 1669 oil on canvas~Amsterdam Museum
"The Regents of the Spinhuis and the Nieuwe Werkhuis in Amsterdam", 1669 oil on canvas~Amsterdam Museum

 

Known as the Moninckx Atlas in recognition of the contributions by the father-daughter artists, the tome actually was entitled Afteekeningen van Verscheyden Vreemde Gewassen in de Medicyn-Hoff der Stadt Amsteldam (“Portraits of Several Exotic Plants in the Physic Garden of the City of Amsterdam"). Appended to the title was the acknowledgment of the garden's current commissioners. Thus, the first two volumes acknowledged that its publication was door Ordre van de Heeren Joan Huydecoper, Ridder, Heer van Maarseveen en Neerdyk, Burgemeester en Raad en Jan Commelin, Raad, als Commissarissen van den voorn ("by Order of the Gentlemen Joan Huydecoper, Knight, Lord of Maarseveen and Neerdyk, Burgomaster and Council and Jan Commelin, Council, as Commissioners of the Aforesaid Garden”). The family coats of arms for both historically influential families were drawn by Jan Moninckx and ritually included in the opening pages.

 

Hortus Botanicus, site of bowstring hemp illustrated by Jan Moninckx; home of another South African native, 300-year-old Eastern Cape giant cycad (Encephalartos altensteinii)
Palmhouse, built in 1912 to shelter palms, cycads, conservatory plants
Palmhouse, built in 1912 to shelter palms, cycads, conservatory plants

 

Over four centuries later Hortus Botanicus is still in existence in its same location, attracting throngs who appreciate its vast collection of over 4,000 healthy plants and find respite in its aesthetic, lush greenery from the nearby clamor of downtown Amsterdam. Similarly, the artwork created by Jan and Maria continues to impress with its vibrant accuracy.

Jan Moninckx's renditions of Sansevieria hyacinthoides as engravings and color plates were completed between 1701 and 1703 and were derived from a live specimen in the Hortus Botanicus, which was gifted by plant collector Simon van Beaumont (1640 - 1726) and which originated on Algoa Bay in South Africa's Eastern Cape Province.

 

St. Croix Island, one of 6 named islands in Algoa Bay, viewed across the Bay from Hougham Park
Algoa Bay, the area which yielded Sansevieria hyacinthoides specimen for Jan Moninckx's illustration
Algoa Bay, the area which yielded Sansevieria hyacinthoides specimen for Jan Moninckx's illustration

Sansevieria hyacinthoides: bowstring hemp

 

Sansevieria hyacinthoides (L.) Druce is commonly known as African bowstring hemp or iguanatail. Its numerous scientific synonyms, which reflect its taxonomic (Greek: τάξις, taxis, "arrangement" + νομία, nomia, "method") peregrinations, include Aloe hyacinthoides (L.), Aletris hyacinthoides (L.) guineensisCordyline guineensis (L.) Willdenow, Sansevieria guineensis (L.) Willdenow, and Sansevieria thyrsiflora Thunberg.

 

portrait of Carl Per Thunberg, namer of Sansevieria genus
frontispiece, Voyages de C.P. Thunberg, au Japon, par le Cap be Bonne Espérance, les Isles de la Sonde, etc. (1796)
frontispiece, Voyages de C.P. Thunberg, au Japon, par le Cap be Bonne Espérance, les Isles de la Sonde, etc. (1796)

 

The genus of Sansevieria was named in 1794 by the "father of South African botany," famed Swedish naturalist Carl Per Thunberg (November 11, 1743 – August 8, 1828) in honor of alchemist-inventor-scientist Raimondo di Sangro, Prince of Sansevero (January 30, 1710 - March 22, 1771). Commemorating the multitalented yet controversial Italian nobleman by way of naming iguanatail's genus was also considered by Neapolitan physician and professor of botany Vincenzo Petagna (January 17, 1734 - October 6, 1810), who suggested Sansevierinia. Nevertheless, iguanatail's taxonomy fluttered for over a century before finally agreeing with Thunberg.

 

portrait of Raimondo di Sangro, Prince of San Severo, namesake of genus Sansevieria
portrait of Raimondo di Sangro, Prince of San Severo, namesake of genus Sansevieria

Sansevieria hyacinthoides: Distribution

 

Sansevieria hyacinthoides is native to South Africa, where it is distributed in coastal areas from the southwestern contours of Cape  Province around to the southeast, where dense stands commonly occur in Eastern Cape Province.

Sansevieria hyacinthoides then hugs KwaZulu and Mpumalanga provinces. Sansevieria hyacinthoides is also native to the southeastern African countries of Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

 

sturdy leaves of vigorous form of Sansevieria hyacinthoides, Guro district, western Mozambique
sturdy leaves of vigorous form of Sansevieria hyacinthoides, Guro district, western Mozambique

 

Sansevieria hyacinthoides was introduced into the British Overseas Territory of the Cayman Islands around 1942 probably as an ornamental. Located in the western Caribbean Sea northwest of Jamaica, the territory consists of three islands, Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac, and Little Cayman. Sansevieria hyacinthoides is present on all three islands as dense ground cover. Other islands in the British West Indies with a naturalized presence by Sansevieria hyacinthoides are Anguilla, the Bahamas, Barbados, and Bermuda.

In the United States Sansevieria hyacinthoides is found in Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Its range is distributed throughout central, southeastern, and southwestern Florida.

 

Mozambique native Sansevieria hyacinthoides, deemed most common Sansevieria species in country's center
bowstring hemp flowering in the wild, Guro district, western Mozambique
bowstring hemp flowering in the wild, Guro district, western Mozambique

Sansevieria hyacinthoides: Unwelcome as a non-native invasive species in Florida

 

Sansevieria hyacinthoides is classed as a Category II invasive species by the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council (FLEPPC).

A non-profit, non-regulatory organization, FLEPPC provides a forum for exchanging educational, scientific, and technical information as a means of managing invasive exotic plants in natural areas. For example, a major endeavor is the FLEPPC Invasive Plant Species List, which is revised biennially, i.e., every two years. Listed plants are categorized as Category I if their presence is altering native ecosystems (Greek: οἶκος, oikos, “home” + σύστημα, sustēma, “organized whole, body”), i.e., all components of a particular area, through such disruptive activities as displacement of native species or hybridization with native species. Category II is assigned to invasive exotics with an increasing presence but without the detrimental ecological impact exacted by Category I species.

 

County distribution of Sansevieria hyacinthoides in the state of Florida

Sansevieria hyacinthoides (L.) Druce - iguanatail ~ SAHY2
Sansevieria hyacinthoides (L.) Druce - iguanatail ~ SAHY2

On the list of the six worst plant invaders in the Florida Keys

 

The southwestwardly arching string of over 1,800 islands comprising the Florida Keys exhibits rich, tropical faunal and floral biodiversity which is threatened by development as well as by non-native floral invaders. Sansevieria hyacinthoides appears on the list of the six worst plant invaders in the Keys. Non-native invaders are targeted for elimination, with replacement by native flora, by the Florida Keys Invasive Exotic Task Force, a coalition of governmental sectors (municipalities, county, state, federal), utilities, and environmental organizations.

 

from Royal Gardens Kew specimen from Cuba gifted by Dr Edward Alfred Heath via Royal Botanic Society Regent's Park
illustration of Sansevieria hyacinthoides, as synonymous Sansevieria grandis, by John Nugent Fitch (1840–1927)
illustration of Sansevieria hyacinthoides, as synonymous Sansevieria grandis, by John Nugent Fitch (1840–1927)

Externals:

What Sansevieria hyacinthoides looks like

 

Its waxy, thick leaves shoot upwards like loosely clustering blades, in rosettes (French: rosette, diminutive of rose, "rose"), i.e., in a circular arrangement, from the rhizome. Their shape is lanceolate (Latin: lanceola, diminutive of lancea “a lance”), which is lancelike with tapering to the tip (apex), and linear (Latin: linea “line” + -aris, an adjectival suffix), which is long and narrow with practically parallel sides.

Their coloring is a variegation of light and dark green cross bands with yellow to orange red margins. Leaves range in height from one to three feet (0.4 to 1 meter) and have a width of about 3.1 inches (8 centimeters).

Green white flowers, up to 1.1 inches (3 centimeters) in length, open in clusters of two to six, along spiky, cylinders, i.e., racemes (Latin: racemus “cluster, bunch”).

Inflorescence (Latin: inflorescere “to begin to flower”), i.e., flowering, may extend for up to 17 inches (45 centimeters).

Sansevieria hyacinthoides fruit is an orange to red, round berry with a diameter of up to 0.4 inches (one centimeter).

The fruit encloses one to three hard, rounded seeds.

 

1875 drawing of Sansevieria hyacinthoides as synonymous Sansevieria angustifolia for Sextus Otto Lindberg's description
1875 drawing of Sansevieria hyacinthoides as synonymous Sansevieria angustifolia for Sextus Otto Lindberg's description

 

Grown from thick rhizomes, Sansevieria hyacinthoides is a succulent perennial  reaching a height of 3.3 feet (1 meter). Succulents (Latin: sucus “juice, sap”) retain water in order to survive in the arid climates in which they originate. Perennials (Latin: per “through” + annus “year”) live for more than two years.

A rhizome (Greek: ῥίζα, rhiza, "root") is a root, the horizontal part of the plant that usually is located underground or at the soil surface and from which roots and shoots often sprout from its undersurface. Sansevieria hyacinthoides has stoloniferous rhizomes which produce runners or stolons (Latin: stolo "branch"), horizontal shoots above or below the surface of the soil capable of cloning the parent plant from buds at the tip, therefrom forming large colonies. In a process known as vegetative reproduction, rhizome sections and leaf cuttings are both capable of propagating new plants.

 

2 steroids and 1 flavonoid in rhizome show antimicrobial activity against Bacillus subtilis, Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella typhi and Candida albicans.
82-year-old Rufina James in 2007, Manica province, western Mozambique with bowstring hemp for treating chicken diseases
82-year-old Rufina James in 2007, Manica province, western Mozambique with bowstring hemp for treating chicken diseases

Ethnobotany:

Benefits for chickens and people

 

Bowstring hemp's scientific synonym of Cordyline hyacinthoides highlights the use of fiber in its leaves for making matting, paper, ropes, and string. Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker (June 30, 1817-December 10, 1911) noted in his description of bowstring hemp, under the synonym of Sansevieria grandis, that the donor of the specimen in the Temperate House at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew had been told by a Cuban merchant:

"The fibre . . . is fine, white, silky, and is of extraordinary strength, far exceeding any other, a few strands of it being sufficient to hang a man." (Curtis's Botanical Magazine, Tab. 7877)

Therapeutic remedies in South Africa are produced from the plant's leaves, roots and rhizomes. Chewing fresh or boiled rhizomes and drinking its juice treat hemorrhoids, intestinal worms, stomach disorders, and ulcers, as well as diarrhea.

Eating boiled roots expels intestinal worms and treats hemorrhoids.

Drinking root infusions prevents miscarriages.

Although the actual remedy is not identified, Sansevieria hyacinthoides also protects against lightning.

In South Africa as well as in the East African country of Tanzania, the plant's leaves are heated to treat earaches and toothaches. After heating, juice is squeezed from leaves and either dropped into the painful ear or applied to the throbbing tooth.

In Mozambique the leaves and rhizomes are useful in treating diseases in chickens.

 

Sansevieria hyacinthoides inflorescence buds with nectar drops ~ Leikanger, Sogn og Fjordane County, southwestern Norway
Sansevieria hyacinthoides inflorescence buds with nectar drops ~ Leikanger, Sogn og Fjordane County, southwestern Norway

Florida: from introduction to invasion; EDDMapS; Over 800 sightings in the wild

 

Florida: from introduction to invasion

Introduced around 1800 in Florida as an ornamental and fiber crop, Sansevieria hyacinthoides easily naturalized, i.e., adapted, to central Florida's humid subtropical climate and especially to south Florida's tropical climate. By 1951 Sansevieria hyacinthoides had escaped into the wild, that is, established itself outside of the area where it was cultivated and was therefore controlled.

In the wild Sansevieria hyacinthoides is decried for overwhelming native vegetation by its extensive underground rhizome network and its virtually impenetrable aboveground thickets. Through its triple whammy of propagating by setting seeds, by leaf cuttings, and by rhizomes Sansevieria hyacinthoides aggressively ensures its survival.

Furthermore, Sansevieria hyacinthoides runs amok throughout the gamut of terrains in central and southern Florida. Infestations of Sansevieria hyacinthoides abound in maritime, prairie, and rockland environments. A popular habitat for Sansevieria hyacinthoides is in maritime hammocks, which are narrow bands of diverse forests that stretch discontinuously inland and on barrier islands along the Atlantic coast. With the longest coastline in the contiguous United States, Florida has a plethora of maritime forests, especially on its approximately 468,000 acres of barrier islands.

 

EDDMapS: Tracking Sansevieria hyacinthoides in Florida

The National Park Service and the University of Georgia Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health collaborate on The Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States, which is an online compendium of non-native plant invaders that is compiled from many sources including governmental agencies and environmental organizations. Sansevieria hyacinthoides is one of the 558 species in the category of herbs (non-woody plants) and forbs (Greek: Φορβη, phorbe, “pasture, fodder”), i.e., herbs other than grasses, currently tracked in the atlas.

Early Detection & Distribution Mapping System (EDDMapS) was launched by the Center in 2005 as a web-based mapping documentation system of the distribution of invasive species. Observations submitted by users are reviewed by state verifiers to ensure data accuracy. This data, which presents a fascinating profile of non-native invasives, is available online as an information source for anyone, from scientists and researchers to informal educators and conservationists to city/county/state/national park employees to concerned citizens. It is an invaluable resource in developing and managing strategies for the control of non-native plant species invaders.

 

Over 800 sightings in the wild: from the historic Old Tamiami Trail to Palm Beach County's Pine Jog Environmental Education Center to Manatee County's Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage Preserve

For example, over 800 sightings of Sansevieria hyacinthoides in the wild have been reported for county distribution maps in Florida. For instance, scattered dense patches were sighted near the southeast coast in Palm Beach County in January 2010 in a mesic hammock habitat at the Pine Jog Environmental Education Center and in January 2009 on the back side of a dune in Reed Reef Park. Further south in Miami-Dade County a scattering of Sansevieria hyacinthoides was sighted and photographed in March 2011 in Everglades National Park at the edge of the road along the Old Tamiami Trail, a historic 275-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 41 connecting Tampa and Miami. In January 2010 on the central western coast in Manatee County a scattering was sighted in a tidal swamp on the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage Preserve.

 

Botanist John Kunkel Small (1869-1938) saw bowstring hemp in Key West disturbed areas in 1913.
Small family (George, Kathryn, Elizabeth W., Elizabeth, John) on cruiser Lida, Everglades near Lake Okeechobee, Nov 1913
Small family (George, Kathryn, Elizabeth W., Elizabeth, John) on cruiser Lida, Everglades near Lake Okeechobee, Nov 1913

 

Surviving in a wide range of light conditions, Sansevieria hyacinthoides grows in full sun as well as in shade. Sansevieria hyacinthoides adapts to mesic (Greek: μέσος, mesos, "middle") habitats, which have a moderate to well-balanced supply of moisture. As a succulent, Sansevieria hyacinthoides naturally accepts xeric (Greek: ξηρός, ksēros, “dry”) shrublands, which are dry habitats with little moisture.

Drought and heat tolerance are attributed to its crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM), which reduces water loss by undergoing nocturnal transpiration, a form of evaporation, to benefit from nightly cool humidity. Thus CAM plants such as Sansevieria hyacinthoides close their stomata (Greek: στόμα, stoma, “mouth”), i.e., pores used for gas exchange, during the day so stored carbon dioxide is released for photosynthesis (Greek: φώτο-, photo-, "light," + σύνθεσις, synthesis, "putting together", "composition").

 

eastward-looking aerial view of Fort Jefferson (built 1846-1875) on Garden Key, 2nd largest of 7 islands of Dry Tortugas: Sansevieria hyacinthoides is present in Dry Tortugas National Park

Aerial view of Fort Jefferson (looking east) at Dry Tortugas National Park
Aerial view of Fort Jefferson (looking east) at Dry Tortugas National Park

Conclusion

 

Whether in the wild or cultivated, Sansevieria hyacinthoides does not require much care and attention. The difference is that controlled environments set boundaries and encourage a docile vivacity. In the wild the struggle for survival for a nonnative plant in an alien environment demands aggressive use of all resources and all opportunities. Sansevieria hyacinthoides is not at its best in the wild, and as demonstrated in Florida its unwelcome displacement of native species necessitates its entry on all the ecologically undesirable lists.

In the wild, Sansevieria hyacinthoides takes on an unkempt, dingy patina that underscores its aggressive invasion as a non-native species. Lost are the aesthetic symmetry of its leafy rosettes and the gentle contrast of its delicate flowers against the fascinatingly subtle interplay of its leaves' light and dark variegations. In its cultivated habitats, in carefully nursed gardens and as a house plant, Sansevieria hyacinthoides exudes graceful contours and colors.

It is in this kind of environment that Jan Moninckx vividly captured its essence, both in black-and-white engravings and in perfectly colored botanical illustrations.

 

Acknowledgment

 

My special thanks to talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the Internet.

 

My special thanks also to:

  • Editorial Committee of the invaluable, multi-volumed Flora of North America North of Mexico for the illustration of Sansevieria hyacinthoides in volume 26
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service for PLANTS Database, especially for detailed distribution maps
  • University of Florida/IFAS (Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences) Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants for resources both online and in print
  • University of Georgia Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health, in collaboration with the National Park Service, for online resources such as The Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States and EDDMapS (Early Detection & Distribution Mapping System)
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for superior on-campus and on-line resources.

 

Jan Moninckx 1697 rendering of Commelijn family heraldic arms to honor Jan Commelijn, co-commissioner of Jan's artistry
Jan Moninckx 1697 rendering of Commelijn family heraldic arms to honor Jan Commelijn, co-commissioner of Jan's artistry

Dedication

In posthumous recognition of their achievements and contributions, this article is dedicated to the memory of:

  • Victor Alan Ramey (June 21, 1948-November 24, 2005), University of Florida Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants APIRS (Aquatic Plant Information Retrieval System), Gainesville, Florida, and
  • D. Onno Wijnands (1945-September 10, 1993), Director of the Botanical Gardens (Botanische Tuinen), Department of Plant Taxonomy, Agricultural University, Wageningen, Netherlands.

This article also honors the memory of Jan Moninckx and his illustrious collaboration with his talented daughter Maria.

 

Huydekooper family heraldic arms, drawn by Jan Moninckx in honor of Joan Huydekooper, co-commissioner of Jan's artistry
Huydekooper family heraldic arms, drawn by Jan Moninckx in honor of Joan Huydekooper, co-commissioner of Jan's artistry

Sources Consulted

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Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 16+ vols. New York and Oxford. Volume 26 (2002), p. 415.

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Hortus Botanicus: as with Jan Moninckx's illustration of S hyacinthoides and as with living plant itself, still vibrant, viable, and fascinating after four centuries
east entrance iron bridge to Hortus Botanicus in Amsterdam's Plantage district
east entrance iron bridge to Hortus Botanicus in Amsterdam's Plantage district
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

The Golden Age of Botanical Art by Martyn Rix

17th century explorers sailed around the world to gain firsthand knowledge of previously unknown continents; they collected the world’s most beautiful flora; their floral findings were recorded for posterity by talented professional artists.
botanical illustration-themed books

The Girl with the Pearl Earring: black t-shirt

image of Johannes Vermeer's (1632 – December 1675) masterpiece, ca. 1665 oil on canvas ~ Vermeer specialized in people; Jan and Maria Moninckx focused on plants.
The Girl With The Pearl Earring
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Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 08/19/2014, DerdriuMarriner
 
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