Guest post by Tim Calkins

They’re everywhere, whirling blades showering off the maples in every gust of wind, the next crop of trees on the move.  The first of the horde appeared on the pathways in mid-April, delivered by yesterday’s gusts.  They struck me as unusually pink, since those I typically see in my garden are of course from the nearby trees, which are Norway and silver maples, producing big tan seeds.  Today’s are smaller, much more colorful, most likely from the red maple Acer rubrum.

But are they pink?  They looked that way on the path, but color can be so subjective, depending on both observer and lighting. Once brought back home, the colors seemed harder to pin down, more varied, shifting.  Just taking the largest of the pinkish seeds, I tried to find a close match.  It is not Pantone Pink, d74894 (RGB 215, 72, 148) – to my eye, it is darker.  It might be closer to Pantone 18-02054TSX, Bossy Pink (really?).  Out of the Pantone panchromatic panoply, maybe Madderlake, a32824, a darker shade of cc3336, comes close, even if these descriptions come across as a shade too clinical, too formulaic.  They may capture the color, but don’t evoke much of the magic it has.

Can one reliably subdivide the infinite ranges of color?  Maybe.  Artists, chemists, naturalists, and writers certainly try to do so, and have been trying for a long time.  Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours, a book used by Darwin on his HMS Beagle voyage, includes Lake Red, the color of spinel and red tulip (but which tulip, one wonders) and Rose officinalus. Lake Red seems pretty close, at least in some lights.  For charm, one might choose Dragon’s Blood which, according to Kassia St. Clair’s The Secret Lives of Color, is a dark resinous red substance which Pliny attributed to the mingled blood of dragons and elephants in India having fought to the death.  (Not sure why the dragons got top billing).  

There actually is such a resinous red pigment.  Dragon’s Blood has been used by artists, but not altogether successfully, as it darkens with exposure to light, apparently as variable as a samara.  Once source of the pigment is Dracaena draco, the dragon tree in the Canary Islands.  Another is Daemonorops (now under Calamus), a rattan palm.  Yet another is Dracaena cinnabari from the island of Socotra in the Gulf of Aden.  Sometimes what you get is Sangre de Drago, from any of seven species of South American Croton.  The old maps may have been right; there be dragons everywhere. There are certainly wily marketers everywhere, ready to offer a great name to a local product.  

Dragon’s Blood in the end may be a bit too dark to match my samara, but it does seem a spiritual match, the color to which a winged achene should aspire.  Clearly, some do.  And there we are today, down another rabbit hole, but at least we’re in the pink.

Tim Calkins gardens a greatly-overplanted 1/3 acre in Reston, VA, with a few fruit trees, not enough vegetables, an entertaining assortment of insects and other wildlife, and more snowdrops than might be reasonable, sometimes achieving the goal of something in bloom every month.