Caring for Trees

WhyWouldAnyoneCutATreeDown We walk past trees all the time. They line sidewalks, grow in the backyard and are celebrated during seasonal activities like apple picking.

The tree on the sidewalk or in your yard probably doesn’t demand too much of your time. However trees, like annual flowers, require proper care and sometimes they need to be cut down. Why cut down a tree?

Author Roberta Burzynski explains the reasons why in Why Would Anyone Cut a Tree Down?. Published by the USDA Forest Service’s Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry in Newton Square, Pennsylvania earlier this year, Burzynski wrote her book in response to what students were telling her during classroom visits. While students were aware of the benefits of trees and the products they provide, they repeatedly told her that trees could never be cut down. As she explains in the preface of her book, she wrote her book to address their “gap in knowledge and understanding” about this subject.

Burzynski wrote Why Would Anyone Cut a Tree Down? for children, adults and families. It is an informative book illustrated with the peaceful, thoughtful and moving watercolor paintings of scientific illustrator, Juliette Watts. Burzynski discusses the ecological benefits of trees and the products derived from trees (e.g., pencils and paint brushes) in the first part of her book and then eases into the reasons why trees might need to be cut down in the second part. She closes her book with instructions about how to care for trees and supplies readers with resources about the following topics:

  • How to recognize hazardous defects in trees.
  • How to prune trees.
  • How to get help identifying tree pests.
  • How to use fire-resistant plants in the landscape.
  • How to buy trees and plant them in appropriate locations.
  • How to find wood markets in addition to commercial sawmills.

Burzynski’s text and Watts’ illustrations provide many talking points and learning opportunities for both children and adults. This wonderful book is available for purchase from the U.S. Government Printing Office for $10 (US) and $14 (International). It is also available as a free PDF from the USDA Forest Service. My personal recommendation is to purchase a print copy. This is a resource you will want on your shelf.

A sixteen-page curriculum guide is available for teachers and parents. This resource-rich guide includes 17 activities that can be completed in 15-60 minutes. Links to Web-based resources and books are also included.

Literature Cited

Burzynski, Roberta. 2013. Why Would Anyone Cut a Tree Down?. Newtown Square, PA: USDA Forest Service, Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry.

Also See

Updated October 29, 2014

Welwitschia © 2006 Wilna Eloff. All rights reserved

Welwitschia © 2006 Wilna Eloff. All rights reserved

Wilna Eloff is a South African botanical artist whose specialty is indigenous trees and shrubs.

This weekend Wilna will open a solo exhibition at Gallery 91 in Somerset West. You are invited to attend the opening reception on Saturday, November 1, 2014.

Wilna is an award-winning artist who has earned several medals at the Kirstenbosch Biennale Awards (Gold Medals 2013, 2008, 2006; Silver 2010; Bronze 2004). Her work is in the collection at The Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation at Carnegie Mellon University (USA), the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (UK), and in the First Rand Corporate Art Gallery (South Africa).

Her artwork was commissioned for publication in Field Guide to the Orchids of Northern S.A. and Swaziland by Douglas McMurtry, Lourens Grobler, Jolisa Grobler and Shane Burns (2008). ISBN: 1-919766-46-4

Join Wilna this weekend at Gallery 91 to learn about rare and endangered indigenous plants. Here is a flyer you can download, print and share with friends.

Gallery 91 Expo

Download flyer, share with friends

Download flyer, share with friends

Lyceum of Monterey County
The oldest non-profit on the Monterey Peninsula, the Lyceum of Monterey County offers enrichment classes for adults and families. Included are botanical art classes for adults and families. The Lyceum “inspires a life-long love of learning” through its enrichment programs and academic events.

    Drawing Seeds and Pods and Berries with Nina Antze
    December 6, 2014
    10 am – 12 pm; 1 pm – 3 pm

    Discover the intricate details of fruit, capsules, nuts, pod and flowers. Using colored pencil techniques of layering and blending, learn how to mix a variety of rich and interesting browns and grays along with the colors of autumn. Cost: $60

    View Details/Register

Plants really do receive less attention than animals.

This was determined in a study of attention “blinks” by Benjamin Balas and Jennifer L. Momsen. Experiments confirming this physiological component of plant blindness can be reviewed in Attention “Blinks” Differently for Plants and Animals.

Using an established research protocol in the study of visual cognition, Balas and Momsen investigated the ability of individuals to detect plant and animal images presented to them in rapid succession. The protocol they used is a measurement of “attentional blink” which they describe as a “phenomenon in visual perception in which detecting the first of two targets in a sequence of rapidly presented images compromises the ability to detect the second target for a short time” (Balas & Momsen, 2014). They go on to explain that this compromise occurs because the first image captures the visual attention of the viewer. Because it takes time for a viewer to disengage from the first image (and free up visual attention), subsequent images appearing too close to the first one tend to go unnoticed (Balas & Momsen, 2014). That is, “attention blinks” (Balas & Momsen, 2014).

Balas & Momsen (2014) recruited 24 psychology students to take part in this study. Half were asked to detect plant images and half were asked to detect animal images. Students were placed in a darkened room and viewed image sequences on a MacBook laptop computer. At the end of each sequence, participants were asked to respond to questions about what they observed. Specific details about the research procedure and statistical analyses used by Balas & Momsen (2014) are described in their paper.

Data collected by the authors indicate:

  • Attention is not captured by plants the same way it is captured by animals.
  • Participants are more likely to miss plant images.
  • Participants more often report seeing plant images when none were present in the image sequence.
  • Participants’ attention to plants is delayed, suggesting “attentional resources are deployed differently for plant targets” (Balas & Momsen, 2014).

These results demonstrate a measurable difference in how humans perceive plants and animals and suggest that plant blindness may be a result of delayed attention, instead of reduced attention (Balas & Momsen, 2014).

So what does this all mean for educators?

Because plant blindness has a physiological base, Balas and Momsen (2014) offer these suggestions to educators:

  • Explain to students that plant blindness exists.
  • Incorporate engaging active learning opportunities about plants into your lessons.
  • Integrate plants into life science lessons and stop treating botany as a separate subject.
  • Add auditory and visual learning components to your lessons. Do not rely only on text and images.

The article by Benjamin Balas and Jennifer L. Momsen is available for free through an Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons License. Click on the link below to download a PDF copy of this article.

Literature Cited

Balas, Benjamin and Jennifer L. Momsen. 2014. Attention “blinks” differently for plants and animals. CBE – Life Sciences Education. 13(3): 437-443. Retrieved from http://www.lifescied.org/content/13/3/437.full.pdf+html.

WeirdWildWonderful The American Society of Botanical Artists, The Botanical Artists Guild of Southern California and The Huntington Botanical Gardens present

A Weird, Wild & Wonderful Symposium
July 23 – 26, 2015

in conjunction with the exclusive Southern California showing of

Weird, Wild & Wonderful

The Second New York Botanical Garden Triennial Exhibition of 46 captivating paintings and illustrations of exotic specimens by invited members of the American Society of Botanical Artists at The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Garden in San Marino, California.

Learn More

Cutting edge research meets botanical art in a new exhibition at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

The exhibition Inspiring Kew offers a historical perspective about how scientists at Kew have inspired artists. The exhibition features botanical paintings from the 17th century, as well as artwork by contemporary artists Rachel Pedder-Smith and Laurence Hill.

Many of you are familiar with the work of Rachel Pedder-Smith. Today I would like to introduce you to artist Laurence Hill.

Laurence Hill takes a systematic photographic approach to botanical art. Hill’s life-size presentation of the genus Fritillaria is not only beautiful to look at, it is a lesson in biodiversity. Titled Fritillaria: A Family Portrait, the composite image he created is composed of 80 Fritillaria and provides “insight into the biodiversity of life” (Hill, 2014). His digital photographic image stretches across 5 panels and is 10 meters long and 1.4 meters high (~33 ft. x 4.5 ft.). Specimens in the image are arranged according to the molecular phylogenetic analysis of the genus as described by Peter D. Day, Madeleine Berger, Laurence Hill, Michael F. Fay, Andrew R. Leitch, Ilia J. Leitch, and Laura J. Kelly (2014).

In the color booklet accompanying his exhibit, Hill describes his collaboration with Dr. Ilia Leitch and her research team at Jodrell Laboratory. He also presents a dendrogram explaining the taxonomic relationships between Fritillaria species and includes a replica of the 10 meter-long image now on view in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art (the fold-out image is 1/10 the size of the original). This booklet can be purchased at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery for £2.50. It can also be purchased from Laurence Hill for £2.50 plus shipping (convert currency). Transactions will be processed through PayPal. To order the booklet from the artist, please contact Laurence Hill.

Laurence recently presented the first of two gallery talks about his work. His next gallery talk will be on November 5, 2014 at 2 pm. Seating is limited and reservations are required. To reserve a seat, please contact the Shirley Sherwood Gallery.

About Laurence Hill

Laurence Hill manages Fritillaria Icones, a searchable photographic database assisting with the identification, research and conservation of Fritillaria. This very informative database is an Open Access Web-based resource.

Laurence maintains a living collection of Fritillaria and has worked on Fritillaria Icones for many years. He graciously took the time to discuss his project and what educators will find at Fritillaria Icones.

Over several years I have been building a living collection which I systematically photograph and post online. This new dataset provides a supplement to other taxonomic resources, e-vouchers for published work and insight for many other botanical disciplines.

My living collection of Fritillaria, a genus of about 160 taxa, has over 700 accessions which are photographed at four stages through their annual cycle:

  • The bulb just after root growth has starts
  • The whole plant and a dissected flower at dehiscence of the anthers
  • The capsule just before seed dispersal showing it both whole and dissected
  • The seed just after germination

These images are dated, scale bars added and then formatted into PDF’s with accession details. Each PDF is put online with the URL incorporating the accession number and not the species name. This acts as a form of DOI or universal identifier so in the event of any taxonomic revision the image specimen set will continue to be associated with any reference.

These image sets can be used for species identification, delineation and classification but they also show:

  • Root structure
  • Period of growth
  • Photosynthesis period
  • Flowering point relative to other species
  • Mode and tempo of bulb renewal
  • Vegetative growth
  • Reproductive output
  • Seed type

Most herbarium specimens record a plant in flower and botanical illustrations prioritise the parts thought to be taxonomically important by the consensus of the day. I have chosen these four time points with Fritillaria to record a wide set of non-prioritised data. As photographs the information they carry is constantly open to re-interpretation. As a record of a botanical collection they have a phenotypic value and also service the interests of disciplines. Many of my accessions have been sampled for genetic research, both DNA sequencing and genome size, and these PDFs act as e-vouchers both for published work and online databases.

By combining images and textural information including synonyms and common names plus appropriate embedded metadata, the images on Fritillaria Icones have an enhanced visibility to internet search engines. Information, no matter how valuable, that lacks visibility will be underutilized.

My project is an example of how living collections in botanical gardens should be systematically recorded with photographic protocols established for genera or families. Databases need to move beyond random single images to embrace a more structured approach using horticulturists specifically trained to record the plants in their care. This would be an additional resource both to the taxonomic community but also to physiologist, genetics’ and non-traditional uses of taxonomic information.

These two PDF’s have the complete compliment of images.
Fritillaria amabilis
Fritillaria pontica

The information found in Laurence’s beautiful and informative database is available for educational use and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Literature Cited

    Day, Peter D. and Madeleine Berger, Laurence Hill, Michael F. Fay, Andrew R. Leitch, Ilia J. Leitch, Laura J. Kelly. 2014. Evolutionary relationships in the medicinally important genus Fritillaria L. (Liliaceae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 80:11-19

    Hill, Laurence. 2014. Fritillaria: A Family Portrait.

Plant projects can be overwhelming. I had a school plant project once that was, quite simply, a hassle. I did not think there was enough direction and many parents didn’t like it either.

Since then I have seen other people’s children struggle through plant projects. There must be a better way, I always think. I may have found a better plant project in the literature. What I like about it is that it encourages the exploration of different plant communities instead of requiring the collection of specific plant species. It also invites students to include a plant they find especially interesting.

Teacher Catherine Hibbitt writes about this plant project in
A Growth Opportunity. In her article, Hibbitt describes how her project is more than a traditional plant project and explains how her students also learn project management skills, learn how to conduct research, and learn about biodiversity, patterns in nature and ecology.

Hibbitt (1999) explains her project begins with students visiting a field site to record as many observations as they can. Students write and sketch about what they hear and see. After sharing observations with each other, students are led into the collection phase of the project during which they collect, study and describe tree leaves. Students also collect other plant types and eventually prepare herbarium specimens and present their collections to the class. The herbarium collections created at the beginning of the school year are used as a foundation for lessons in plant reproduction, plant behavior, plant chemistry, plant products, writing and natural science illustration (students create posters and postage stamps).

The instructions for this plant project can be found in Hibbitt (1999).
Get a copy of this paper at the NSTA Store for 99¢.

Example of an Ongoing Plant Project

Two years ago we learned about a plant project in the Chicago area dedicated to encouraging an interest in native plants. Scientific illustrator Kathleen Garness is completing the illustrations for this project. I am happy to pass along news about the plant guide she is helping to create.

Kathleen says the project team has updated the plant families’ page on the website of the Field Museum of Natural History. They added information about six plant families to the collection: the Cyperaceae, Iridaceae, Juncaceae, Poaceae, Polemoniaceae, and Violaceae, bringing the total up to twenty. The project team hopes to add five more families during the next year.

Botanists Linda Curtis (author of Woodland Sedges of Northeastern Illinois) and Morton Arboretum’s Andrew Hipp (author of Field Guide to Wisconsin Sedges) edited the Carex family page; Stephen Packard (founding director, Audubon Chicago Region) edited the Grasses page; Kay Yatskievych from the Missouri Botanic Garden edited the Iris page; Rebecca Collings from the Field Museum edited the Phlox family page; and Dr. Harvey Ballard Jr. edited the Violaceae.

The guide Common Plant Families of the Chicago Region is available online for free. The pages of this guide are standard 8.5″ x 11″ pages, fit easily into a 3-ring binder and are easy to laminate. Artists, naturalists and educators in the Chicago region are encouraged to bookmark the guide’s website.

Go to Common Plant Families of the Chicago Region

Literature Cited

Hibbitt, Catherine. 1999. A Growth Opportunity. Science Scope. 22(6): 34-36


Kathleen Garness takes botanical art into the community

Farmer's Market Fullerton Arboretum


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