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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth De Cicco

Helonias bullata Field Studies

Helonias bullata, or Swamp-pink, is a federally threatened plant in the Melanthiaceae family. Southern New Jersey is the stronghold for the species, where it is ranked as S3. Basal leaves are present throughout the year, with the newest leaves and flowering stalks emerging in Spring. The greatest threats to Swamp-pink are pollution, development, and poaching.

Because this species is so charismatic, locations should be reported to the DEP Natural Heritage Program and not shared with anyone else. I have heard stories of this plant being dug up and transplanted and I have also seen it sold in nurseries. Wild collection is illegal. I've found some of my own populations by chance and submitted detailed reports about population size, overall health, and habitat. Swamp-pink has been very well studied in NJ, but more data can always help. As with other sensitive habitats, it is important to decontaminate your boots before entering.

In early spring, the only thing better than seeing the neon-green leaves emerge is the flower stalks starting to open. Every year, I've told myself that I need to set my art supplies and paint Helonias bullata in situ. Locations that I know of personally require quite a long hike, and the best plants grow on fallen logs suspended above 4ft deep streams. A common associate species is Smilax laurifolia et. al. Smilax laurifolia stalks mature up to 1" in diameter, including thorns.

Drawing this specimen from life felt amazing. I was able to measure every detail with my dividers, do some watercolor studies of the flowers and leaves, and it was sunny and beautiful outside! I have enough reference photos and sketches that I can do a scientifically accurate illustration later in the year. The flowers were just starting to fade to pale pink on most plants, but I selected one that was still well saturated.

My field studies took about 2 hours. I had a backpack with my camera, gps, and notebook and another large bag with my watercolor palette, a small jar of water, pencil case, sanding block (in a ziplock bag), 11x14" tracing paper, foam core board, watercolor pad, dividers, magnifying glass.

I later refined the tracing paper sketches and transferred them to an 11" x 14" Holbein Multi-drawing book. I'm hoping to use this in place of my Perpetual Journal for oversized specimens. The paper is a little too rough for fine toning and I will need to test how it takes watercolors.

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