i completed this for our “cultural plant usage” assignment earlier in the semester. my inspiration was an article that came up on my tumblr dashboard, “the secret weapon” by heather pringle. the excerpt that caught my eye:
“…But this eminently forgettable looking plant, a member of the buttercup family, possesses a dark secret. Aconitum delphinifolium contains a toxin capable of killing one of the world’s largest animals, a 40-ton humpback whale.”
in the pacific northwest off the alaskan coast, the alutiiq people used the poisonous alkaloid pseudaconitine obtained from the aconitum plant in their whaling practices. the roots were boiled and mixed with human fat to bind the toxin to their spears. according to the video below, the goal was to strike the whale in its fluke, paralyzing the tail, and causing it to drown. eventually the body would wash onshore to be used for food and other products.
there are over 250 species of aconitum spanning the northern hemisphere, in mountainous regions from north america to asia to europe. they’re most recognizable by their helmet-like flowers, earning them the common name, “monkshood.” another more recognizable name is “wolfsbane,” for those who watch grimm or csi. this name was earned from its traditional european use in hunting wolves (and sometimes, werewolves). if you ever come across this plant in the wild, beware! they are certainly toxic to humans as well.
this assignment was illustrated entirely in adobe photoshop. i was aiming for a reduction woodcut look, but to get it to the desired stage i still have in my mind, i’ll probably have to continue to experiment with the scatter brushes. for the plant rendering, i knew i wanted to depict the roots (since it’s where the toxin is derived) but had trouble finding photos. so, i searched morphobank.net for a good botanical pressing and did my best to reconstruct it. the ones i used for reference can be found here.