The art of botanical illustrations

During my background research for this project I came across a selection of lovely botanical illustrations of a selection of the trees species included in our project.  I have spread them throughout this piece of text outlining the background and recent renaissance of the art form.

Botanical illustration is the art of depicting the form, color, and details of plant species, frequently in watercolor paintings. They must be scientifically accurate but often also have an artistic component and may be printed with a botanical description in book, magazines, and other media or sold as a work of art. Often composed in consultation with a scientific author, their creation requires an understanding of plant morphology and access to specimens and references.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Early herbals and pharmacopoeia of many cultures have included the depiction of plants. This was intended to assist identification of a species, usually with some medicinal purpose. The earliest surviving illustrated botanical work is the Codex vindobonensis. It is a copy of Dioscorides’s De Materia Medica, and was made in the year 512 for Juliana Anicia, daughter of the former Western Roman Emperor Olybrius. The problem of accurately describing plants between regions and languages, before the introduction of taxonomy, were potentially hazardous to medicinal preparations. The low quality of printing of early works sometimes presents difficulties in identifying the species depicted.

When systems of botanical nomenclature began to be published, the need for a drawing or painting became optional. However, it was at this time that the profession of botanical illustrator began to emerge. The eighteenth century saw many advances in the printing processes, and the illustrations became more accurate in colour and detail. The increasing interest of amateur botanists, gardeners, and natural historians provided a market for botanical publications; the illustrations increased the appeal and accessibility of these to the general reader. The field guides, Floras, catalogues and magazines produced since this time have continued to include illustrations. The development of photographic plates has not made illustration obsolete, despite the improvements in reproducing photographs in printed materials. A botanical illustrator is able to create a compromise of accuracy, an idealized image from several specimens, and the inclusion of the face and reverse of the features such as leaves. Additionally, details of sections can be given at a magnified scale and included around the margins around the image.

Botanical illustration is a feature of many notable books on plants, a list of these would include:

  • Vienna Dioscurides

  • Flora Graeca

  • The Banksias

  • Curtis’s Botanical Magazine

  • The Cactaceae

Recently a renaissance has been occurring in botanical art and illustration. Organisations devoted to furthering the art form are found in the US (American Society of Botanical Artists), UK (Society of Botanical Artists), Australia (Botanical Art Society of Australia), and South Africa (Botanical Artists Association of South Africa), among others. The reasons for this resurgence are many. In addition to the need for clear scientific illustration, botanical depictions continue to be one of the most popular forms of “wall art”. There is an increasing interest in the changes occurring in the natural world, and in the central role plants play in maintaining healthy ecosystems. A sense of urgency has developed in recording today’s changing plant life for future generations. Working in media long understood provides confidence in the long-term conservation of the drawings, paintings, and etchings. Many artists are drawn to more traditional figurative work, and find plant depiction a perfect fit. Working with scientists, conservationists, horticulturists, and galleries locally and around the world, today’s illustrators and artists are pushing the boundaries of what has traditionally been considered part of the genre.

Tree Spotlight – No. 2 : The Oregon Maple

Acer_macrophyllum

  • Acer Macrophyllum, the big leaf maple or Oregon Maple is a large deciduous tree in the genus Acer.
  • It can grow up to 48.89 meters (160ft 5in) tall, but more commonly reaches 15-2- meters (50-60 ft) tall. It is native to western North America, mostly near the Pacific coast, from southernmost Alaska to southern California.
  • It has the largest leaves of any maple,

  • It has the largest leaves of any maple, typically 15–30 cm (5.9–11.8 in) across, with five deeply incised palmate lobes, with the largest running to 61 centimeters (24 in). In the fall, the leaves turn to gold and yellow, often to spectacular effect against the backdrop of evergreen conifers.

  • The flowers are produced in spring in pendulous racemes 10–15 cm (4–6 in) long, greenish-yellow with inconspicuous petals. The fruit is a paired winged samara, each seed 1–1.5 centimeters (3⁄8–5⁄8 in) in diameter with a 4–5-centimeter (1 5⁄8–2-inch) wing.

  • Color/Appearance: Unlike most other hardwoods, the sapwood of maple lumber is most commonly used rather than its heartwood. Sapwood color ranges from almost white, to a light golden or reddish brown, while the heartwood is a darker reddish brown. Silver Maple can also be seen with curly or quilted grain patterns.

  • Grain/Texture: Grain is generally straight, but may be wavy. Has a fine, even texture. The growth rings tend to be lighter and less distinct in Soft Maples than in Hard Maple.

  • Rot Resistance: Rated as non-durable to perishable in regard to decay resistance.

  • Workability: Fairly easy to work with both hand and machine tools, though maple has a tendency to burn when being machined with high-speed cutters such as in a router. Turns, glues, and finishes well, though blotches can occur when staining, and a pre-conditioner, gel stain, or toner may be necessary to get an even color.

  • Odor: No characteristic odor.

  • Allergies/Toxicity: Bigleaf Maple, along with other maples in the Acer genus have been reported to cause skin irritation, runny nose, and asthma-like respiratory effects. See the articles Wood Allergies and Toxicity and Wood Dust Safety for more information.

  • Pricing/Availability: Should be very moderately priced, though figured pieces such as curly or quilted grain patterns are likely to be much more expensive.

  • Sustainability: This wood species is not listed in the CITES Appendices or on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

  • Common Uses: Veneer, paper (pulpwood), boxes, crates/pallets, musical instruments, turned objects, and other small specialty wood items.

  • Comments: Big leaf Maple is appropriately named, as its leaves (shown below) are the largest of any maple, commonly reaching an overall width of 6 to 12 inches (15-30 cm) across. Big leaf Maple is a commercially important hardwood timber for the United States’ west coast, where it is virtually the only commercial maple species in the region.

Recent visit to Goldenbridge Cemetery

general grave stones lo res

I noticed that the Goldenbridge Cemetery in Inchacore in Co. Dublin was reopened to the public on Sunday, almost 150 years after it closed. I was lucky recently to have been given a private tour of the Cemetery prior to this opening and was really taken by the archway created by two very well established Yew trees and the general ambience of the space.

yew arch lo res

From the time of the Reformation, Catholics were not allowed their own cemeteries and buried their dead in old churchyards, monasteries and Protestant churchyards. Daniel O’Connell campaigned for a cemetery to be opened in the wake of the Penal Laws, to “those of all religions and none”, Goldenbridge Cemetery was the first non-denominational Cemetery in Ireland. It was closed following a dispute with the British War Office and has operated as a closed cemetery, locked and visited by appointment only for nearly 150 years. Only occasional burials took place, like that of politician WT Cosgrave. His son, former Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave, was at his father’s graveside today.

Ceremonial events on Sunday included a re-enactment of Daniel O’Connell’s ‘speech of the establishment of the non-denomination cemetery’, musical recitals by St James’s Brass and Reed Band and Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, a lecture on the history of the cemetery from Professor Maurice Bric, and an ecumenical blessing.

The annual commemoration of O’Connell, whose 170th anniversary was on Saturday was also marked. Wreaths in his honour were laid by a number of people including Minister of State for Communities Catherine Byrne and by the Liberator’s great, great, great grandson John Cunningham.  To follow see an image of a tree, which is thought to be  planted by O’Connell when the Cemetery was first opened.  The image on the right shows that many have carved their initials into the tree.

From today onwards, Goldenbridge Cemetery will be open Monday to Friday from 9am to 3pm for visitors and burial services.

The most important grave in the cemetery is that of WT Cosgrave, first head of government of the Irish Free State.

His son, former Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave (97), attended the rededication and formal reopening of the cemetery that Daniel O’Connell had campaigned for.

Mr Cosgrave, whose wife Vera Cosgrave was buried in Goldenbridge last September, said after the ceremony that “I’m very glad, very pleased to see it reopened. It’s a quiet cemetery.”

Frank Burke, a member of the Irish Volunteers and a step-brother of WT Cosgrave, is also buried there as is Mary Anne Jenkins a member of Cumann na mBan and Eugene Lynch an eight-year-old child killed during the 1916 Rising.

Science Notes: Cherry Blossom Buds

SCIENCE NOTES: Autumn Cherry Blossom Bud

How much of a tree is alive, do you think? Actually only about 1%, though all of it was alive at some time or other. Wood is made up of cells, and like all living things cells will grow and multiply, and they will die. All the wood in the middle of a tree is dead. There are only two places on a tree where you find living wood. One is a thin layer just underneath the bark, and the other place is the buds. I’m talking here not about the flower buds, but the buds which are forming the new twigs and leaves. Here’s one from the autumn-flowering Cherry Blossom, seen through Clodagh’s electron microscope.

Autumn Cherry Bud fig1

In this relatively low mag picture you can appreciate the shape of the whole bud. If we zoom in a little you notice that some parts of the delicate outer leaf structures have broken, revealing several layers of living cells.

Autumn Cherry Bud fig2

The cells in a tree multiply by dividing (which sounds like a mathematical contradiction!). A tree has different types of cells to do different jobs, such as bark, roots, leaves etc. All cells start off the same, and like the stem cells in your body they differentiate into specialist types. The cells in this picture are doing the job of protecting the growing bud: quite quickly they will break up and be replaced, in fact the strange wiggly things in the picture are the remnants of earlier protective layers.

Science Notes: Lichen on Trees

We found lichen on many of the trees around the campus. And that’s very good for us, because lichens only grow where the air is clean. In the 1970’s there was almost no lichen to be found on trees in urban environments because of air pollution and acid rain.

Lichens are fascinating organisms. In fact they are not one organism at all. They are made up of a fungus and one or more algae living together in a mutually-beneficial relationship – a kind of mini-ecosystem. The fungus makes up most of what you see: it surrounds and protects the algae. In return the algae feed the fungus (which is unable to feed itself) by photosynthesis.

The beauty of lichens is not easy to see: you need at least a magnifying glass to appreciate them, but an electron microscope is even better. Here are two photos which Clodagh took of lichen on the Oregon Maples:

 Lichen fig1

In the top photo you can see the filament structure of the fungus. The small circular shapes in the bottom photo may be cells of the algae.

Lichens are great survivors. You find them all over the planet in many different environments. And it turns out that they can even survive in space! The European Space Agency arranged to take some lichen up to the International Space Station where they brought them outside, exposing them to the ultra-cold vacuum of open space, where they would be bombarded by cosmic rays and everything. No space suits for them, but they still survived the trip: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Human_Spaceflight/Lichen_survives_in_space

 

 

Introducing the Rose Garden

 

 

IMG_2984 lo res

Even at peak student population, you’ll sometimes have the Rose Garden to yourself. It is a small intimate space enclosed on three sides. The well-spaced benches and domestic-style planting make it feel like a haven in a busy campus.

I recently spent a wonderful afternoon in the Rose Garden surrounded by the cherry blossoms, which were in full bloom. The flowers created a blanket like structure that seemed to hover overhead defying gravity. I was also captivated by the various species of birds that seem to frequent the space. I was especially delighted to see what must have been an adult bird wandering around on the grass pulling up worms while a young chick followed along greedily eating the food passed to it from its parents beak. I will write more about my time in the Rose Garden in a future post as the responses I received from visitors to the garden will form part of the art work that will be placed in the Crab Apple Tree in September/ October 2017.

The Rose Garden itself is located between the end of Woodward and Deane’s Museum Building and its perpendicular neighbor, the number 40 block of New Square housing, with open space (the rugby pitch and College Park, with the cricket crease and running track) behind railings on the other two sides. The path into New Square is the only open side, and even this feels somewhat enclosed thanks to the large cherry blossom tree planted nearby.

Tree Spotlight – No.1: Cherry Blossom

rows of cherry blossom trees

  • Common Name: Sweet Cherry, Wild Cherry, European Cherry
  • Scientific Name: Prunus avium
  • Distiribution: Europe and Asia
  • Tree Size: 32-65 ft (10-20 m) tall, 1-2 ft (.3-.6 m) trunk diameter

    Colour/ Appearance: Heartwood is a light pinkish brown when freshly cut, darkening to a deeper golden brown with time and upon exposure to light. Sapwood is a pale yellowish color, typically 1-2″ wide.

    Grain/ Texture: Has a fine to medium texture with close grain. The grain is usually straight or slightly wavy.

    Endgrain: Semi-ring-porous; small pores in no specific arrangement; solitary and radial multiples of 2-3; gum/deposits occasionally present; growth rings distinct due to a concentration of earlywood pores; rays visible without lens; parenchyma absent.

    Rot resistance: Heartwood is rated as being moderately durable to non-durable regarding decay resistance. Sweet Cherry is also susceptible to insect attack.

    Workability: Sweet Cherry is easy to work with both machine and hand tools. The only difficulties typically arise if the wood is being stained, as it can sometimes give blotchy results due to its fine, close grain. A sanding sealer or gel stain is recommended. Glues, turns, and finishes well.

    Odour: No characteristic odor.

    Allergies/ Toxicity: Although there have been no adverse health effects reported for Sweet Cherry, the closely related Black Cherry Black has been reported to cause respiratory effects.

    Pricing/ availability: Typically only available in Europe (or from orchards), Sweet Cherry is usually only sold in smaller sizes or as veneer. Prices should be moderate within the tree’s natural distribution.

    Sustinability: This wood species is not listed in the CITES Appendices or on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

    Common Uses: Veneer, furniture, cabinetry, turned objects, musical instruments, and carvings.

    Comments: Sweet Cherry is the Old World counterpart to Black Cherry found in North America. Sweet Cherry is said to exhibit a bit more of a color contrast than Black Cherry, and it also tends to be slightly denser and stronger. However, the tree itself tends to be smaller than Prunus serotina, and does not yield the larger sizes of lumber that are available for the American species.