Losing Paradise: Endangered Beauties

Losing Paradise: Endangered Beauties

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Tess Wilson
Apr 2, 2012

It's one thing to know that a heartbreaking number of plants are on the brink of extinction- it's another to see lovingly-rendered portraits of those plants, knowing the gorgeous specimens aren't long for this world, probably. An exhibit created by the American Society of Botanical Artists makes the plight of endangered plants painfully beautiful...

Losing Paradise? is an ASBA exhibit that has traveled from the Missouri Botanical Gardens to Chicago, New York City, Washington, D.C., and now the Shirley Sherwood Gallery at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, UK. I know, I wish I'd known (and told you) about it before. UK readers, I hope you can attend and tell us all about it. Artists from around the world created lovely and detailed illustrations of the rarest plants, some already extinct in the wild. According to Garden Design Magazine, "The project began in 2006 'in order to tell two stories, those of the continuing relevance of botanical art, and the often neglected story of plant endangerment.' It encouraged illustrators to collaborate with scientists, identify endangered species, and develop a Code of Ethics when working with rare plants in the field." Consider these shocking statistics from Garden Design as well: "Of the estimated 350,000 plant species on the planet, 15% are undiscovered, and one third could become extinct by the end of this century. Consider the plants that are at the intersection of these numbers: a class of known unknowns--those that will become extinct before they are even discovered." So sad! In the meantime, it's nice to know that botanical artists are preserving the fragile beauty of so many species.

I picked my three favorite illustrations to show you, and they all happen to be native to the U.S. First there's the Atamasco Lily by Julie Martinez. "At the edges of its historic range, it is at risk, although in some states it is quite common." Encouraging! Next, we have the gorgeous Stonogyne of Hawaii by Wendy Hollender. Sadly, it "easily falls into the IUCN Critically Endangered (CR) Red List category which designates it as facing the highest risk of extinction in the wild." Third, there's Glade Mallow by George Olsen, a tallgrass prairie plant. It may be on the plainer side (though I think it's lovely), but imagine it in all its 9-foot tall glory!

Luckily for those of us who didn't make it to this exhibit, the Losing Paradise? catalogue is available for purchase through the ASBA, and it has 44 full-color artwork reproductions from the show.

(All images by the artists as credited above, part of Losing Paradise? by the American Society of Botanical Artists, via Garden Design Magazine)

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