Neil Huggett's Gallery - One Moreton Bay Fig Tree Project

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A Map of the Exposed Buttress Roots

A Map of the Exposed Buttress Roots
74 cm (w) x 55 cm (h), graphite and watercolour pencils on cartridge paper.
Date produced: 3rd March 2005

This was drawn entirely on-site. I wanted to produce a map of the exposed buttress roots of the tree, to see what overall patterns and shapes resulted.

I used a crude surveying technique to get reasonable overall accuracy. Note the series of concentric rings which were drawn on lightly before any recording, to aid the crude surveying.

This drawing took about 4 weeks of work. Having worked on this map for about 3 weeks longer than I thought it would take, I realised that such a map is extremely relevant to this project; so relevant, that the idea was expanded to attempt a map of the main lower boughs of the tree, including the canopy shape, to go along with this map of the exposed buttress roots.

While doing this drawing, it was quite common for falling fruit to fall directly onto the drawing (which was usually lying horizontally), making very loud and unexpected noises like guns being fired. These falling fruit also left little round pink marks on my drawing.

How I surveyed the roots:

I started by assigning a point on the tree as the centre, and measured out from that point using a string with regular markers, at intervals of one of my average ‘strides’. I used ‘strides’ because they were convenient. I measured out 8 strides along the string then divided that amount into 8 equal sections by halving that measure 3 times. I then copied those 8 strides to the next length of the string, so that I had enough to measure out to the furthest buttress roots, at around 15 strides. By staking the string from the centre point to the various buttress root arm ends, I could get a reasonably accurate measure of the roots and their features from the centre point. The angles of these staked lines were cross-checked using ‘strides’ to known reference points (such as the straight pathway that runs underneath the tree). At all times, I used my judgement of proportion and drawing analysis skills to further check the developing map.

I used a long cord, with measured marks to accurately record ‘highlight’ points of the roots. This cord was mainly used as a radiating line from an arbitrarily chosen centre point on the tree. However, triangulation was used to cross-check the positions of the outer points. The smaller sections of curves between the accurately measured highlight points were then drawn from observation, standing directly above those sections.

I needed to erase and redraw all parts of the map several times, starting with simple representative lines for the buttress roots, and eventually developing accurate indications of the true contours, shapes, and thicknesses of the many interconnected parts.

Very early on, I realised that there were different shapes of the roots at ‘ground level’ to the overall shapes seen from above. I’ve tried to show these things when they have differed significantly, by colouring around the ‘ground level’ shapes with pale purple, leaving overall contour lines as just lines. I’ve also indicated significant features related to the forms of the buttress roots, like ridges and ‘hollows’. These things can be more easily seen in the detail images.

I discovered a number of things while doing this drawing. From a visual point of view, I discovered that the shapes within the buttress roots seen from directly above are usually quite different from viewing the roots from an oblique angle and applying some intellectual compensation for the oblique angle. One really had to view things from directly above, which I did, apart from several places where I really couldn’t get above them properly (because of overhanging boughs).

I was very surprised by the number of root arms that joined in loops with other root arms, making ‘pools’. I was expecting that most root arms would be independent structures, generally just radiating out from the centre of the tree. These joined roots would be providing much more strength within the buttress root structure. How would they have formed though? Will the roots happily join if met by another from the same tree? How will the tree know if it the connecting root is one of its own?

I was also surprised by how little ‘cross-section’ went into the ground near the centre of the tree. Yes, there is a bit of a shape in the centre, but compared with the amount of timber one sees with all of the huge main boughs spreading out, I was still surprised - there were many hollows that seemed to be keeping the core as small as possible.

As I worked at recording the various buttress roots, I wondered about what the determining factors were that resulted in the roots growing as they had done - pre-determined genes, growth rates, the slopes within the ground around the tree, the location of nutrient supplies, availability of water (over the years), water drainage over the years, available sunlight (which will be changing through the seasons, and as a result of the tree’s own foliage), orientation to the sun, gravity(? perhaps), the influence of other trees (other trees’ roots, and other trees’ shadows), the influence of local insect populations, the prevailing winds and influence of storms (stressing the tree in certain ways and at certain consistent points), etc., etc. It is likely to be an extremely complex and delicate balance of cause and effect.




Detail 1:

A Map of the Exposed Buttress Roots - Detail 1





Detail 2:

A Map of the Exposed Buttress Roots - Detail 2





Detail 3:

A Map of the Exposed Buttress Roots - Detail 3





Detail 4:

A Map of the Exposed Buttress Roots - Detail 4





Detail 5:

A Map of the Exposed Buttress Roots - Detail 5

Journal Entry: 20th January 2005

20th January 2005

I have been continuing with the plan of the fig tree’s exposed buttress roots. I am happy with how the drawing is developing, but I am surprised with how long it has been taking. I guess, I should not be surprised, when I think about needing to study in detail all of the tree’s many exposed buttress roots.

As I work on this drawing, I have been thinking that it could lead to lots of interesting ideas:

Add a layer with main lower boughs drawn over the visible buttress roots.

Concentrate on some smaller sections, providing even more detail within each. It would be good to do that for at least one such section, perhaps even as a large pastel.

Use the map as a collection of shapes which can be reinterpreted to produce some aesthetic/interesting designs. Huge number of possibilities.

Produce a progression series, showing shapes as the roots are as they are cut by the ground, as they are seen from above the roots, and as they map under the main boughs.

Print out several smaller versions to indicate where some of the major drawings/photos have been taken from. This was one of the ideas that led to this map drawing being produced in the first place, not realising just how big a project it would turn out to be.

Look at the map in terms of shapes and character to extract some key character within the tree. Distortions, exaggerations may be needed to bring out the character.

Concept of growth, and spreading. This drawing is just one snapshot within the tree’s growing life. How might a similar map of the tree’s exposed buttress roots have looked 75 years ago? Or how will it look in 20 years time?

What is below the surface? Do some roots go way down to get water from the water table? How could one find out? Is it feasible to imagine a reflected tree below the ground? (a bit too simplistic?)

I would also like to do some “elevations” of the tree, now that I have got a fairly accurate map. Could the display of elevation with map lead to an expression of the size of the tree? (I see the expression of the size of the tree to be a very difficult expression.)

Journal Entry: 3rd February 2006

3rd February 2006 (Friday – overcast, mostly fine, top of 28°C)

There was a cable-laying crew drilling tunnels along Sir Edwin Smith Avenue, next to the tree today, for running underground fibre-optic cables. One of the drill operators said they drilled along the edge of the road and found massive roots from the tree running out across under the road. He felt that many roots had to be extending to the open ground on the other side of the road (about 20m), and that generally, the main roots extended out from the edge of the tree’s canopy for about another half a canopy’s distance. This set up an interesting image in my mind’s eye. I wondered whether most of the tree’s underground roots went basically horizontal, like the exposed buttress roots, and whether the tree had deep tap roots, getting down to the water table.




Another related artwork:


Colour Studies of Fruit at Different Stages

Colour Studies of Fruit at Different Stages
50 cm (w) x 35 cm (h), pastels on acid-free paper.

Drawn on-site directly from collected samples of the tree’s fruit, assumed to be at various stages of development.

The ‘odd’ specimen is the first sample shown, the small red fruit. Many of these smaller fruits, along with the larger fruit similar to the last image shown in the drawing are typical of the fruit found on the ground. The other stages are found (developing) on the branches. I can see/understand a development of the fruit based on the last 7 images shown here, with the fruit increasing in size, and changing colours as it matures, but where does the first type fit in? At some times of the year, these easily outnumber the other fruit found on the ground. I assume these are ‘fruits’ that have missed out on a crucial event for proper development, and instead are prematurely ripened and dropped from the tree. The other fruit stays on the branches, slowly getting larger and developing ‘normally’.

After doing some research on Moreton Bay Fig trees, it appears as though each species of Moreton Bay Fig tree is linked with special species of tiny wasps. Apparently the fruit is actually more like a container for internal flowers that are fertilized by the tiny wasps. The wasps need to bury themselves inside the fruit at the right time of the fruit’s development for development to take place properly. Looking back at my times under the tree, I know that I have sometimes been surprised by the number of small black insects that were around. They were very thin, about 3 or 4 mm in length. Perhaps these were some of the wasps that were required for the fruit to mature.

Pastels worked well for recording the colours, because they don’t change colour as they are applied, and I could easily colour match between my results and the actual fruit.




Detail 1:

Colour Studies of Fruit at Different Stages - Detail 1





Detail 2:

Colour Studies of Fruit at Different Stages - Detail 2





Detail 3:

Colour Studies of Fruit at Different Stages - Detail 3


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Neil Huggett's Gallery - One Moreton Bay Fig Tree Project