2 Nov 2013

Up Close and Italicum

As both an amateur botanist and photographer currently living on a Mediterranean island, I have been blessed with getting up close and personal with those emblematic and characteristically fragrant ground-covering straw-coloured flower clusters from the asteraceae family, and nicknamed "the curry plant" in reference to their characteristic fragrance. The plant in question is called Helichrysum italicum and is commonly found on sunny exposed rocky coastline hillsides where vegetation is typically short and sparse and where sunlight is aplenty. This is what helichrysum italicum looks like:

Over the last twenty years helichrysum italicum has become a mainstream ingredient in the French skincare/ beauty and perfume industries. The flower has virtually become the flagship anti-ageing ingredient of L'Occitane. The common French name of the plant is Immortelle (no translation needed) and this will give you an idea of the mystique and slightly divine aura surrounding this element of the floral world. The flower is immortal because it never withers, even once it has been picked, and its fragrance lasts.

Thankfully helichrysum-picking has been regulated and a strict protocole has replaced the decimation of its wild populations. Nowadays the Immortelle is mostly sourced from cultures. However pockets of erradication are still encountered each Summer in the wild with unscrupulous pickers out there making a quick buck with no respect for biodiversity.

L'Occitane's Divine Extract
Casanera's Oliu di Mare (Monoï d'Immortelle)

The oil extracted from helichrysum italicum benefits the skin in many ways under its many formats, as anti-wrinkle moisturiser, serum, spray-on oil extract or floral water, calming and anti-inflammatory ointment for chafed and sunburned skin. Let's bear in mind that helichrysum is photosensitive, which means that using it in the sun may encourage the appearance of sun spots.

But let's be honest, what brought me to pen this post with a potted history of helichrysum was as an introduction to this amazing macrophotographic image I spotted in Co.Design! Talk of the WOW factor and a creative tangent! The image below is part of a selection of "colorized psychedelic images of the microscopic worlds all around us" shortlisted by the 2013 FEI Image Contest, and ohh don't we dig this! You guessed it - this amazing futuristic manga-looking view is no other than that of a "Helicrysum Flower with Pollens" (magnification: 652X!), by one of the contestants, Riccardo Antonelli.

'Helichrysum Italicum Flower with Pollens', photography by Riccardo Antonelli, via Co.Design

The finite is indeed an important component of the wonders of the world, and magnification unveils worlds that are truly magnificent! Be sure to marvel some more by checking FEI's image gallery, either via their own website or via Flickr. This way you'll find out about Marcos Rosado, the 2013 FEI Image Contest Winner for his stunning "Acacia Dealbata (Yellow Mimosa) Flower about to Open":

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