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Weird, Wild & Wonderful! (an art exhibit)


In homage to the beauty of the botanical world’s most bizarre flora, the New York Botanical Garden invited members of the American Society of Botanical Artists to participate in a study of the eccentric, creating works of art based on visually unusual plants chosen by the artists themselves. View the results of their efforts.

Candace Aburdene: Chocolate vine, Akebia Quinata

One year in the fall, while I was looking out the window admiring the garden, my eye was drawn to some large blue-violet objects wedged in the vines. Wondering what these strange things were, I went to have a closer look and was surprised to discover that they were the fruit of the Akebia vine. There was a cluster of three large pods that had split open, revealing the gelatinous tubular fruit encasing large purple-black seeds that were just visible through the white membrane. Along with their unusual color, I thought they were the most weirdly beautiful things I had ever seen and of course I had to paint them.

Beverly Allen: White Bat Flower. Tacca integrifolia Ker Gawl

I finally painted this plant after nurturing it for many years, loving it just for its fabulous leaves. When it finally flowered in a spectacular fashion, well… ‘wonderful’ was the motivation.

Carol Ashton-Hergenhan: Allium sphaerocephalon ‘Hair’

I grew this plant for the sole purpose of a possible subject for this exhibit. I chose it partly because, to my knowledge, it is not a widely painted subject, but mainly because this recent mutation of a Drumstick allium fits the criteria of this exhibition so well.

Margaret Best: Tillandsia bulbosa

What could be more curious than a chameleon-like epiphyte that resembles an octopus and offers shelter to ants?

Monika deVries Gohlke: Devil’s Claw

Roaming through the herb garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, on the lookout for an unusual-looking plant specimen for the “Weird, Wild and Wonderful” project, I was shown the dried seed pod of the Probiscidia louisiana by the resident curator and was instantaneously fascinated. And to my utmost delight, there on the ground was the living, blooming, sticky-fruited plant offering itself enthusiastically to my pencil and paper.

Carrie DiCostanzo: Buddha’s Hand

It was a wonderful surprise to come upon Buddha’s Hand at my local produce store! After one look at this odd fruit, I knew that it was indeed fitting for this exhibition.

Akiko Enokid: Tacca Chantrieri Andre

Tacca chantrieri is also known as “Cat Whiskers” or “Bat Flower”. It is named after the long bracts that emanate from the flower scape. This flowering plant is part of the yam family.

Ingrid Finnan:Passiflora vitifolia, Passion Flower

Coming upon the massive tangled vines of the Passiflora vitifolia in full bloom at the Conservatory of the New York Botanical Garden always takes my breath away. I got some small cuttings and set to work to capture a bit of the plant in a painting.

Kathy Folino: Ascophyllum nodosum, Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis, sea weed

When I looked at my piece of seaweed, what I saw was a piece of natural calligraphy. The fact that it is so dark only made that more obvious. Even though the specimen is dry, its original form and movement is implicit.

Lara Call Gastinger: Smilax Roots

In botanical art, there is an emphasis placed upon the beauty of the flowering parts of a plant but I gravitate towards the parts of plants that are not so flowery or colorful.

Nancy Gehrig: Euphorbia horrida, Milk Barrel Cactus

My first attraction to this plant was the curving folds which are accentuated by the spiny barbs. As I looked closer, the colors intrigued me. The more I studied the plant, the more I realized how magical the colors were – the soft blue greens plus yellow toned greens.

Damodar Lal Gurjar: Mushrooms on Mustard Stover

People often ignore these mushrooms, especially because their color scheme makes them blend in with their surroundings. I find the mushrooms very fascinating. The Weird thing about my subject is that it does not have bright and beautiful colors.

Carol E. Hamilton: Wisteria Floribunda

I very much like the Japanese Hill-and-Pond garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. I am irresistibly attracted to the flowering wisteria there in spring.

Asuka Hishik: Wasabi

Being Japanese-born, I am so proud that I have seen real Wasabi root. It is such a strangely shaped root vegetable with a pale but intense green color. Unlike tube wasabi, the real wasabi tastes much milder and has an elegant sensation when you put it in your mouth.

Heirloom Tomato

Heirloom tomatoes are my life-long subject. The colors and shapes of the tomato are so unique. Every tomato is one of a kind – I have never seen two heirloom tomatoes the same. They may be similar, but their scars or bumps grow distinctively.

Ann S. Hoffenberg: Seed Capsules

I observed this seed capsule while traveling in Peru in 2004. I came across this unique and intriguing seed pod which was suspended in the midst of the forest, dangling from a long stem. I was absolutely awestruck by its unique color and form.

Annie Hughes: Astrophytum Caput-medusae
Medusa’s Head Cactus

My vivid recollection when I first saw this plant was “what on earth is it?”, and the cactus man said, ‘It is an Astrophytum and quite rare’. Although this cactus is unusual compared to the other members of the species, it had the beautiful flowers that they do. The fact that it was only discovered in 2001 added to my interest. So now I had to paint it and its million spots.

Mieko Ishikawa: Rafflesia Keithii

I like drawing strange plants such as Nepenthes, Ant plants and especially Rafflesia. The mysterious Rafflesia, a parasite of vines of the Tetrastigma group (the host plant of the Rafflesia), is a particular plant in which I have been interested for a very long time since reading about it in a book as a child. As Rafflesia blooms for only three to four days, it is difficult to see the flowers. In 2000, I finally saw a blooming Rafflesia pricei, and could hardly contain my excitement as I sketched it.

Joan Keesey: Snow Plant, Sarcodes Sanguinea

The Snow Plant (Sarcodes sanguinea) is truly “Weird, Wild and Wonderful”. Its mechanism for obtaining nutrients is “Weird”; as a native to Western North America it is “Wild”, and its appearance is both “Weird and Wonderful”. When I heard about WW&W, I thought, “this is the plant for this show”. It is a good example of the amazing variety of plant forms and colors, and of mechanisms by which a plant can survive.

Martha G. Kemp: Monotropa uniflora, Indian Pipe

Merely looking at this small plant caused me to smile: the sepals waving as if windblown, like tiny long-necked giraffes with fanciful faces and ears (even extra ears!) nodding in a breeze or nodding at their companions.
Several aspects of this plant made it seem weird and wonderful to me: the fact that it doesn’t produce chlorophyll, thus has no green color or much of any color, for that matter; the fanciful waving motion of the sepals that makes the specimens look animated; and the dramatically changing form as the plant emerges, matures and dies.

Karen Kluglein: Datura Metel

I was given a tour of a very special garden in East Hampton. Whenever a gardener is especially excited to show me something in their garden, I pay particular attention. That is what happened when I was introduced to the unusual Datura flowers. The flower is both poisonous (hallucinogenic) and medicinal. The dark, speckled, shiny stems and bumpy leaves add interest to the voluminous petals. It is all at once darkly sinister and obscenely huge as well as beautiful.

Lucy Martin: Violet Hedgehog Mushroom, Sarcodon fuscoindicum

As a painter specializing in fungi, I have to love oddities! So this show seemed like a natural for me; almost everything I paint could be called Weird, Wild and Wonderful. But the Violet Hedgehog mushroom does stand out to me, because of its gorgeous color and uncommon form. It presented me with an irresistible challenge – a great example of the limitless creativity of nature that inspires my art.

Lee McCaffree: Aristolochia Californica, California Pipevine

Its weird pipe shaped blossom is a curiosity as it is pollinated by fungus gnats collected in the pipe. I am very excited when I find this inconspicuous pipevine in bloom on the local trails, sometimes covering a small tree. I planted it in my garden and it took several years to take hold and produce any blooms – then it was time to paint it. Now I know winter is finishing when the blooms appear, followed by the heart shape leaves.

Joan McGann: Carnegiea Gigantea, Crested Saguaro

It is an unusual, weird, wild and wonderful plant even in its most common form, and familiar to many around the world. Rarely, but on occasion, the growing tip of the saguaro will produce a fan-like form, called a crest or cristate. Biologists disagree as to why some grow this unusual form. Some speculate it is due to a genetic mutation while others say it is a result of a lightning strike or freeze damage. So for me, finding a rare crested one to draw made it all the more appealing to me. I saw this particular one a few yards off the roadside north of Tucson.

Kathie Miranda: Canna tropicana, Tropicana Canna

I love the tight cylinders that first emerge: each large colorfully striped leaf that later unfurls is a wonderful surprise. The flower stalks are equally amazing as they begin as muted magenta-colored spikes that explode into exquisite hot orange-yellow blossoms.

George Olson: Hybrid Silphium

Each year its sends up a tall stalk surrounded at the base by huge leaves which combine the impressive size of the prairie dock leaf with the numerous pointed lobes of the compass plant. Hybrid silphium is especially striking in the autumn when the dark brown leaves curl up and take on a sculptural quality.

Hillary Parker: Coryanthes Alborosea,
Coryanthes Orchid – Emerging Bloom

I was first drawn to the Coryanthes Orchid because of its peculiar bloom, both intriguing and rather grotesque. Its pollination story and the symbiotic relationship with the male Euglossine bee, piqued my curiosity. This is a prime example of Nature engineering the fashion, form and function of the flower for the sole intention of attracting a pollinator. The composition of this painting captures that moment as the emerging bloom unfurls in preparation to fulfill its singular purpose.

John Pastoriza-Piñol: Schizolobium Parahybum

Whilst teaching a Masterclass at Brisbane Botanic Gardens Mount Coot-tha, which are recognised as Queensland’s premier subtropical botanic gardens, I stumbled across some very unusual pods. Initially I had found a single broken specimen and after much searching around the immediate area I discovered a complete second pod. I had no idea what the pod was or to which tree it belonged. It was only after I successfully completed the work that I identified it. With help from the director of the Gardens, Ross McKinnon AM, I was able to identify the pods as Schizolobium parahybum or Brazilian firetree, a tree species from tropical America.

Susan Pettee: Rudbeckia sp.
Galls on Last Year’s Rudbeckia Stems

I was taking an early evening walk with a local naturalist last summer to watch birds, when we came to a meadow punctuated by dried black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia) flower stalks from last year sticking up above this year’s tender green grasses and flowers. Many of these stalks had galls – rounded, swollen outgrowths caused by the insects they had sheltered. I was fascinated by the galls of differing sizes, some even double, one above the other. I picked a bunch of them to bring home so I could draw them.

Lisa Pompelli: African Blood Lily, Scadoxus Puniceus

After acquiring a large, crusty bulb for a commission, I potted it and waited months until something happened. To my surprise a plant more alien than terrestrial emerged out of the dirt: a shiny blood-red bud pushed through a dark purple-spotted sheathing. The swelling bud rode on top of a telescoping bright green stem and burst with a densely packed head of orange-red florets. The florets that could escape the rigid bracts looked limp and exhausted from their constraints. I decided to liberate three so the viewer could see their delicacy and also to counterbalance the tangle of fleshy roots below.

Linda Powers: Castor Bean, Ricinus Communis

Very ornamental, it is loved by some and cultivated in gardens, but is also despised as an invasive plant (as I saw in Mexico.) Very colorful, there are star-shaped leaves in brilliant green and purplish-red, monoecious flowers in red, pink and white, and spiny capsules containing uniquely-patterned seeds that look like ticks and contain the infamous ricin poison.

Very dramatic and very deadly . . . how could this plant not be called weird, wild and wonderful?

Kelly Leahy Radding: Fibonacci’s Camellia
Camellia Japonica ‘Sea Foam’

I was researching, photographing and sketching camellias in Charleston, South Carolina for my exhibit in the Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society’s BISCOT show in Scotland. This Connecticut Yankee was quite surprised to fall in love with a southern charmer, the camellia. After I completed my paintings for the BISCOT show, I knew that I would continue to paint camellias. I was fascinated by the almost perfect spiral arrangement of some of the formal double varieties of the camellias. Like pineapples and pinecones, they are an example of nature’s Fibonacci sequence.

Lynne Railsback: Squaw Root, Conopholis Americana

The name is attributed to its use by Native Americans to relieve symptoms of female ailments, and it is considered to have other medicinal properties as well. Because members of the Broomrape family contain no chlorophyll, they are parasites, requiring a host plant to survive. The decaying roots of oak trees provide the Squaw Root its nourishment. Since the extractions are minor, the trees are not seriously harmed. The Squaw Root itself, however, is threatened in New Hampshire, vulnerable in New York and of special concern in Rhode Island.

Dick Rauh: Witch Hazel “Arnold’s Promise”
Hamamelis intermedia

Another strange attribute of this plant is the myth associated with its ability to dowse. American legend has it that a forked branch of witch hazel, held horizontally by both branches of the ‘y’, will tilt downwards if it senses underground water. There doesn’t seem to be any scientific validity for this, but that has never discouraged anyone from attempting it or for the fiction to disappear. The astringent properties of the plant are another story, and leaves and twigs have a long history of medicinal use, although today the therapeutic elements of the plant are largely reproduced chemically.

Janet Rieck: Chin Cactus, Gymnocalycium Mihanovichii

I came to Buenos Aires to retire, dance tango and paint the flora and plants here. I will be returning to the United States in May with numerous subjects to paint as a result of my living and exploring the reserves here. The “Chin Cactus” is the first of a number of cacti I will be painting, all of them very unique and “weird”. I loved the contrast of nature between the thorns and the delicate flowers that bloom on top. I have always been drawn to exotic plants and flora…so this was no stretch. Although the thorns were very difficult to do, it was a great subject to paint.

Betsy Rogers Knox: Living Stones

They are comical, adorable little gems – I was drawn to them. They are weird because if you were walking around in a desert, you would mistake them for a stone. And they are delightful when they bloom – that’s the wonderful part.

Lizzie Sanders: Rainbow Eucalyptus (Bark)

‘Weird, Wild and Wonderful’ is the perfect place to exhibit something as exotic as the bark of Rainbow eucalyptus. The colours of the peeling bark, ranging from pale lime green to deep purple, are quite spectacular, but the fine details on or just below the surface make the subject truly challenging.

Dolores R. Santoliquido: Purple Pitcher Plant
Sarracenia Purpurea

Clearly the Purple Pitcher Plant answers each descriptor of the title “Weird, Wild and Wonderful.” This is a plant that has fascinated me for years but I had not had an opportunity to paint. This show presented the perfect opportunity! The plant itself is full of contradictions: The graceful, highly veined, pitcher shaped leaves are a death trap for any insect that enters. The plant and flowers are simultaneously sturdy and delicate, not only in structure and appearance but in their ability to sustain. It thrives in such wetness that it’s next to impossible to approach, but can survive drought and resurrect when the wetness returns. For me, the Purple Pitcher Plant is magical.

Deborah B. Shaw: Dog Turd Fungus, Dog Poop Fungus, Dead Man’s Foot, Dyemaker’s Puffball
Pisolithus Tinctorius

In cross-section it’s easy to see the distinctive “peas” or pseudoperidioles, the little compartments where the spores are formed. Each starts out tiny and yellowish at the base of the fungus. They then push up toward the top and expand into distinctive, separate compartments. At maturity the thin walls of the pseudoperidia disintegrate into a fine cinnamon-colored dust (the spores).

Beverly Simone: Skunk Cabbage

Except for its pungent odor, Skunk Cabbage might not appear very weird, but its flowers certainly are – with their brownish – maroon – sometimes reddish, speckled, hooded spathes. And they’re thermogenetic to boot! Skunk Cabbage is able to produce enough heat to melt snow, so it is able to grow and flower very early. The “skunky” aroma is attractive to carrion flies, which are among the few early spring pollinators.

Jessica Tcherepnin: White Bird of Paradise
Strelitzia nicolai

What could be more wonderfully weird, or more weirdly wonderful than the seed pod of the Strelitzia nicolai? I love doing sculptural things like this rather than prettier subjects, because of the wonderful coloring and wonderful shapes.

I have painted these seed pods several times. Each time I see new and exciting details of the shapes and colors. This particular seed pod was the perfect model with its twists and turns.

Julia Trickey: Fern Crozier x5, Polystichum sp.

I noticed this fern one spring and was fascinated by its structure and the way in which the crosiers, or fiddleheads, were unfurling – so unlike other members of the plant kingdom. In order to enhance this quality of ‘otherness’ as well as to exploit the detail, I decided to paint it magnified five times the original specimen. By depicting it in this way and in isolation from the rest of the plant, I feel it truly looks weird, wild and wonderful!

Alana VanDerwerker: Crumpled Rag Lichen
Platismatia tuckermanii

Most people generally ignore them, but I want to call attention to their crucial roles in the biosphere in addition to their beauty. As the eminent lichenologist Irwin Brodo writes in Lichens of North America, “Lichens play a significant role in nature almost everywhere they occur. They form the dominant vegetation over about eight percent of the earth’s terrestrial surface, fundamentally influencing the growth and development of other plants and animals sharing the same environment.

Jeannetta VanRaalte: Romanesco Cauliflower
Brassica Oleracea

From a farm in upstate New York to a farmer’s market in Ditmas Park to an artist’s studio in Marine Park to a gallery at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx……

I painted a Romanesco Cauliflower head (aka romanesco broccoli) several years ago after my daughter brought me one from a vegetable store. I was fascinated by the beauty of the plant, with its rich, bright and dark green coloring, and by the complex pattern of each large bud being composed of a spiral of smaller buds.

Denise Walser-Kolar: Rosa “William Baffin Rosehips”

I am starting to concentrate more and more on painting what is in my own yard. Every year I paint my William Baffin rosehips, five paintings so far. During the winter, when everything else is covered in snow, the climbing rosehips are right outside my window. There is always one branch that is so beautiful that it really needs to be painted. This time, instead of painting the rosehips their actual size, I enlarged them x3 to be able to capture the texture and color of each individual (and very different) rosehip.

Carol Woodin: Muir Listens, Banksia sp.

I was in California last year visiting the Berkeley Botanical Garden, and was excited by the arrangement of their collection according to geography, as well as the variety of plants that can be grown in that moderate climate. Banksias have always been a fascinating plant, but one I’d only seen in images, mostly paintings, the most memorable being done by Celia Rosser of Australia. Berkeley had an incredible collection of Banksias, and this one was especially mesmerizing. The first thing about it was its anthropomorphism. It looked like a raggedy-haired head with nose and ears! After laughing at it, I started to look closer. The grayish threads behaved like hair in the sun, even though having a very matte surface so many colors were reflected in the greys.

Thank you for touring the art exhibit. I think it’s extra rich to hear from the artists themselves as they describe their interpretations of Weird, Wild & Wonderful.

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Absolutely fascinating to see how artists view the plants so differently

20 Sep, 2014


Yes, I think their view of the world is on a whole different level

21 Sep, 2014


Incredible subjects and beautiful artwork.....simply amazing!

21 Sep, 2014


I wish I had the skills to paint like this. I have been enthralled by botanical drawings from about the age of 3 and one day I hope to own several.

21 Sep, 2014


I'm glad you enjoyed it. Seaburngirl: I hope you follow your inspiration as I believe it will leave an imprint on the world in ways you can't imagine.

21 Sep, 2014


A botanist blog indeed :-)
perfected art!
love love love.

21 Sep, 2014


Thank you Marybells. :)

21 Sep, 2014


very interesting, not to mention the talent, thanks for posting

21 Sep, 2014


you are welcome!

21 Sep, 2014


Unbelievable pictures full of interest. I love the explanations of how each picture came about. Thanks for posting Bathgate :)

21 Sep, 2014


Thanks Waddy. I'm so glad you enjoyed it. I hope you were inspired as much as I was - to follow your inspirations. You make it all worthwhile.

21 Sep, 2014


These are fascinating. I love this type of illustration, and I bought a book of them a few years ago.
Seeing these has made me want to take to my sketching again ... I wish I had more time !

22 Sep, 2014


I'm glad you enjoyed the exhibit, Hywel, and that I could share it with you. This was a labor-intensive project but I really enjoyed it. I hope you find the time to pick up the paint-brush. You already have the required passion for Cacti and Fushias and that's what you should be painting, sketching combined with the beautiful part of the world you live in.

22 Sep, 2014


Thank you :o)
You have helped me get started again now :)
I've added this blog to my favs so that I can keep looking at it again ...

22 Sep, 2014


You are welcome. Here is a link you might (will) find very helpful.

It's for the American Society of Botanical Artists. You will find this exhibit in greater detail plus all kinds of resources, meetings, supports, contacts, etc. Look around the website. See what you can find.

22 Sep, 2014


Thank you. It looks interesting. I'll take a longer look tomorrow. It's late here now and I am tired :)

22 Sep, 2014


good night

22 Sep, 2014


Good night ...

22 Sep, 2014


Thanks for sharing that information Bathgate and thanks for your time to put it all together for us. I appreciate it.
I also like botanical art and enjoyed reading your blog..

25 Sep, 2014


Thank you for your comment Klahanie. I'm glad you enjoyed the art exhibit

25 Sep, 2014


Thank you Bathgate, it was just wonderful to see and read. Has to go to my favourites.

21 Oct, 2014


You are welcome Thank You John Joe!

21 Oct, 2014


Here's another one that I've grown that was featured in the exhibition...............

9 Aug, 2015


Wow the Bat Flower! One of my favorites pieces. I'm sure the painting doesn't compare to growing the actual flower.

9 Aug, 2015


Expletives were prominent when friends and family saw it for the first time! It is a total show stopper!

10 Aug, 2015


Inspiring . . . makes me want to pick up my paints. Maybe when the bad weather comes I will - thanks for sharing this special exhibition.

25 Sep, 2016


You're welcome Sheila. I'm seriously thinking of quitting my job to start a new career path into this field. I'm glad you've been inspired to paint too.

25 Sep, 2016

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