The 2022 Museum Christmas card features a painting of the Lord Howe Island Christmas bush, a common under-storey plant on the island.
Not only a native of Lord Howe island, it also occurs on coastal northern NSW and southern Queensland; it is botanically known as Alyxia ruscifolia.
The origin of its name apparently goes back a long way in the island history. The early settlers, being English, were used to having a ritual sprig of Holly over the door at Christmas time. This plant with its shiny, stiff, prickly leaves, and dark orange fruit most of the year was the ideal substitute on the island.
The painting was done by Ida McComish who visited the island in 1936.
Ida and James McComish
Ida Evans was a watercolour painter, with a passion and enthusiasm for natural history, and a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society. She was living in Auckland, New Zealand, with botanist James Doran McComish when he left for Alexandria, Egypt, with the Auckland Infantry Battalion in World War I.
Sustaining injuries during the war, James left the army after achieving the rank of Captain. Ida and James were married in 1932 in Papeete, French Oceania. They travelled together to exotic destinations to discover, collect, paint and record unique flora.
With backpacks and stout walking gear, they would often trek over rough terrain and camp out while exploring new territories on their botanical expeditions.
Several of Ida‘s illustrations from her visit to Lord Howe Island in 1936
In their quest for rare endemic botanical specimens, they visited various South Pacific islands, including Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Tahiti and Rarotonga. Closer to Australia, Lord Howe and Norfolk islands provided wonderful subjects.
In 1937, James discovered the endemic tree Elaeocarpus costatus on Lord Howe Island, and the endemic tree Rapanea mccomishi is named after him.
The pair visited about eight Pacific islands, including Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Tahiti, Rarotonga and Norfolk Island.
Ida’s inquisitive and investigative nature extended not only to flowers but included fungi and lichens, seaweeds, sponges, seeds, pods and bark, which were recorded and pressed in her albums alongside her paintings. Each album features separate subjects and is clearly indexed.
Handwritten notes describe the various plants and their uses. In the album of work from the South Sea islands, (1928-1933), woven native purses and other craft work demonstrate how various leaves and barks were used. Many spices from these islands were also collected and recorded.
Ida‘s diary and woven pandanus items
The Lord Howe Island museum holds a unique handwritten diary illustrated with photographs and paintings by Ida, and has had it reproduced as a facsimile to sell in the museum shop.
The museum also holds a collection miniature woven pandanus items made by Ida.
In later years, Ida and James moved to Wahroonga on Sydney’s north shore. The thick bushland of the area provided her with many plant specimens as painting subjects.
Together, Ida and James collected and mounted more than 170 botanical specimens, sending them to museums and botanical gardens worldwide, including the Kew Gardens Herbarium, the British Museum in London and the Auckland Museum in New Zealand.
After her husband’s death in 1948 Ida continued the work they had begun together, although her subjects were then sourced locally. She completed her final album at the age of 72.
Ida McComish (1885-1978)
Australian National Botanic Gardens Biographical Notes
Women of flowers: botanical art in Australia from the 1830s to the 1960s
Leonie Norton, National Library of Australia, 2009