At the age of 60, biologist Maura Flannery decided to learn more about plants. She writes about her decision in Daring Botany, an article written for her Biology Today column in The American Biology Teacher. In this article, she discusses how botanical illustration and online databases about plants have helped to resolve her self-described “plant blindness” (Flannery, 2007).
Flannery is no stranger to the use of imagery in biology. One of her research specialties is the relationship between biology and art. So it was no surprise to learn she studied botanical illustration at the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG). She has written about botanical illustration in previous articles (Flannery, 1995). What was different about this article was who she mentioned as the botanical artist whom she describes as her “role model” (Flannery, 2007).
Dr. Dick Rauh is a much-loved and respected botanist and botanical illustrator and is currently serving as President of the American Society of Botanical Artists. He teaches Plant Morphology at NYBG and at botanical gardens across the U.S. In her article, Flannery (2007) writes how Dr. Rauh taught her to see “how plants are put together”, how they work and how their morphological features vary between plant families. She writes how Dr. Rauh’s passion for plants made each of his students want to learn more about them.
Flannery describes her time at NYBG as a “humbling experience”, one marked with challenges in learning how to draw, learning how to draw plants, and “even learning (how) to hold a pencil correctly” (Flannery, 2007). Her experiences in botanical illustration made her appreciate the challenges of learning a subject with many layers of information and caused her to reflect on the challenges her own students face when learning new concepts in her classroom. Her studies at NYBG also trained her to “look more carefully at the green world” and instilled in her such a strong enthusiasm towards plants, Flannery (2007) made plants the focus of a class she taught later that year. Anyone who has learned from Dr. Rauh knows such a transformation is not an exaggeration. This story is great example of the power of effective storytelling and how botanical illustration can connect people to the seemingly invisible world of plants.
Throughout the rest of her article, Flannery (2007) talks about how she learned a great deal about plants and modern botany at the Botany and Plant Biology Joint Congress. Flannery describes the plant databases and research projects that made an impression on her. It is a selection of these databases that I will focus on next, as they are resources botanical artists may want to bookmark for future studies and travels.
View tens of thousands of plant images, use interactive keys to identify the gymnosperms, legumes, grasses and wetland monocots in your state. Are you interested in creating a body of work about local plants? The information on this website will get you started.
National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII)
A resource-rich website providing information about our nation’s biological resources.
Botanicus Digital Library
A free Web-based catalog of botanical literature, with a special focus on illustrated books.
Jepson Herbarium, UC Berkeley
A searchable database of 1.2 million specimens stored in herbaria throughout California. This is a resource worth exploring if your current project involves drawing a plant indigenous to California.
The C.V. Starr Virtual Herbarium
The online herbarium of the New York Botanical Garden comprised of 1.3 million herbarium specimens and 225,000 images. Specimen catalogs feature bryophytes, fungi, lichens, algae, and vascular plants. This is only one of many digitizing projects being conducted by herbaria across the U.S.
Tropical Plant Guide from The Field Museum in Chicago
Explore the tropics! The Field Museum has created downloadable field guides to plants and animals for anyone to use. This is a fantastic resource. If you need a guide to explore the ferns of Bolivia, the fruits of Mata Atlantica, or the seedlings of Costa Rica, you’ll find color guides you can download and then laminate. Also available are photos of neotropical plants, herbarium specimens, and micro-herbaria available on DVDs.
Both of Flannery’s articles can be purchased online for $14 each. Alternatively, you can search for these articles at a library near you.
Flannery, Maura C. 1995. The visual in botany. The American Biology Teacher. 57(2):117-120. [accessed 16 June 2011] <http://www.jstor.org/pss/4449936>
Flannery, Maura C. 2007. Daring botany. The American Biology Teacher. 69(8):488-491. [accessed 16 June 2011] < http://www.jstor.org/pss/4452210>