Botanical Illustrations Shine a Light on Grand Canyon’s Rare Plant Species

Fifty botanical illustrations depicting Grand Canyon National Park’s interesting, rare, and sensitive plant species are on display at Kolb Studio on the South Rim starting Friday, July 2, 2010. The exhibition Grand Canyon’s Green Heart: The Unsung Legacy of Plants brings to light the park’s incredibly diverse plant communities and the National Park Service’s efforts to preserve and protect them.

Artists and botanists have used pen-and-ink and full-color botanical illustrations for centuries to help identify and describe plants. Those on display at Kolb Studio were created by volunteer artists with the Desert Botanical Garden’s Art and Illustration Program, under the direction of curator Wendy Hodgson.

The illustrations will be included in the revised edition of Nancy J. Brian’s book,A Field Guide to the Special Status Plants of Grand Canyon National Park, so it was crucial for the drawings to be accurate and as detailed as possible. Grand Canyon vegetation program manager Lori Makarick explains the importance of botanical illustrations: “Because many of these plants are so rare, very few photographs or herbarium specimens exist to help identify them. Because we first need to know what plants are out there in order to properly preserve and protect them for future generations, these illustrations help park biologists distinguish rare plants from other closely related species and then monitor the health of the populations in the park.”

Curator Hodgson hopes that visitors will also find inspiration in the beauty of the illustrations. “The volunteer [artists] have donated months of their time to hone their craft,” she says.

The exhibition also includes large-scale photographs by Gary Ladd and interpretive text to help tell the story of the plant life throughout the canyon. It’s a history that begins in the last ice age and continues through today’s plant communities, even looking at how those communities might change in the future. Gardening buffs and visitors interested in geology, biology, and botany will also enjoy learning about the history of botanical research in Grand Canyon, from the first herbarium sample ever collected in the park to the current comprehensive vegetation-mapping project. Other sections explore the life zones found in the park and how different types of soils, isolation, and elevation impact plant diversity.

According to Grand Canyon Association director Susan Schroeder, the exhibit covers an often forgotten aspect of the canyon. “The beautiful illustrations truly blend art and science,” she says. Park superintendent Steve Martin is excited to share the exhibit’s message about the conservation work done by the National Park Service. “Many people are unaware that Grand Canyon National Park has the greatest plant diversity of any national park,” he says.


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