Living Herbarium Prints

The Story Behind the Living Herbarium Prints

Several threads came together to create these images.  The first was to provide the means for customers to see what their plants would look like in bloom, and the second was to provide access to good images of plants from references .  As the commercial and scientific strands came together, art emerged as the central binding experience. 

The first thread is the oldest.  During the mid 70s, I was a postdoctoral fellow at Brandeis University, and availed myself of the opportunity to visit the Harvard Herbarium a half hour away by bus.  There, I became captivated by the pen and ink/watercolored images that I found in the old 19th century botanic journals like Paxtonís, Hookerís, and Curtisí Botanic Magazines..  Along with the herbarium specimens at Harvard, I came to realize that there were very many neglected Salvias that should be introduced into the trade, or reintroduced as in the case of those in the old journals.

My records came out as xeroxed herbarium sheets as well as notes taken from the text references and the herbarium sheet labels.  They werenít in color, but I at least had the structured images to work with.  I hoped to pass this information on to others that would collect the plants, then share them with me.

About ten years later, my anger was aroused when I found out that access to the old botanic journals was restricted because the images were being stolen for sale as framed art.  Even tenured staff was suspected of these thefts.  I vowed to find a way to frustrate the desecration of these valuable references by creating a much more desirable substitute that would outsell the old images as art to devalue them.

I knew that to create such a viable product, I had to include all taxonomic features that could be visible at regular scale.  Colors of the fresh plant would be present, unlike the browns of herbarium specimens.  Secondary images of details like the hair branching patterns and trichomes could be presented to complete the visual description.  By flattening the fresh plant materials on a scanner, I was able to create a subject that could be rendered as a representation of a pressed flower specimen while preserving the true colors of the subject.  This gave rise to the name that was chosen for this type of image - Living Herbarium Prints.  By adjusting the image electronically, watercolor effects can be developed.

While traditional pen and ink line drawings clearly call attention to the details of the floral taxonomy, scanned live plants would be complementary by providing a more realistic image.  Since these images are of a live plant captured in time, they are Aristotelean in nature and not platonic.  The images are snapshots of a dynamic process, and are not idealized static models.  The Living Herbarium images bridge the gap between line drawings, herbarium sheet images, and the live specimens being considered. 

For another application of these images, go to the Salvia Flower Structures web page.  The colored line drawings were developed from the scanned Living Herbarium images using Adobe Illustrator®.

This feature is of great value because most persons canít understand the text of a taxonomic description or don't know how to interpret a herbarium sheet.  An image which illustrates all of the taxonomic features will make an adequate visual equivalent, providing the details are present   Thus, the addition of these images would make a digital version of a flora useful to a larger public.  An example of such an electronic reference is the Synthesis of the North American Flora.*  Also worth mentioning are two online herbariums, the Missouri Botanical Garden W3 TROPICOS Image Index and the New York Botanical Garden Vascular Plant Type Catalog .  These are the first major internet resources that offer images of type specimens of plants.   The images would also be useful in textbooks and reference books.

*The second edition of the Synthesis of the North American Flora will have some images and line drawings.   The beta version should be in the testing stage soon. 

The second thread began as flat bed scans taken of late-blooming perennials to generate images for signage.  The subjects were scaled by pairing them with a ruler.  The background, including shadows, were removed to enhance the presentation.  Printing the images provided the scaffold for visual identification of late bloomers.  These placards were used for spring plant festivals, when most people buy plants and when these worthy plants were not in bloom.. An expanded label that carried twelve fields of horticultural information completed the description.  I constantly get comments on the uniqueness and usefullnes of my signs while I am at my festivals

The other commercial application is a hinged double bulletin board filled with laminated images that serves to draw festival customers from hundreds of feet away, then lets them study and compare the various salvias I have to offer.

By weaving the two threads together, a third use for the images emerged. The cleaned images would have value as art.  Taking a hint from my own mental processes, I realized that I stored the essential impression in my mind as a simplified image.  Going from three to two dimensions and removing background information from the image created an aesthetic experience that I could readily hold on to and easily recall.  The new images extend the basic wisdom behind the 19th century watercolors of plants by finding a new way to unequivocally identify them through beautiful detailed images.

The finished art being offered through this site will hopefully facilitate the exploration of its scientific and commercial uses.  The greater public will benefit by being made aware of the rapidly rising importance of botany through these applications.

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Links to Other Living Herbarium Pages:

Digital Files for Sale - Living HerbariumThe First Living Herbarium Print LibraryOrdering Information

Living Herbarium Home Page

Links to World of Salvia Pages:

A World of Salvias Home PageHorticultural Links to Botanic Gardens and Nurseries

2001:  The Year of the SalviaCollage of individual Salvia flowers; taxonomic uses

A Gallery of Salvias Main Index and First VolumePlacard BooksList of Plants for Sale

Salvia FAQ PagesMission statementUtility Pages