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Fritillaria Icones – Botanical storytelling

Diving deeper into botanical art and scientific contribution

In this second part of my interview with botanical photographer Laurence Hill on the subject of fritillaria and the amazing resources that he has established with his Fritillaria Icones website and his exhibits, we discuss

  • Which hurdles and opportunities non-formal scientists can face when wanting to publish scientific contributions
  • Why it is important to read more scientific literature than what one thinks may be important.
  • What we can learn about human history by looking at plants and their cultivation
  • How botanical art can be used to convey societal and philosophical thoughts
  • How to find inspiration and tell your story using plants.

This interview is the 2nd part of my interview with Laurence Hill. In the first part he shared his journey into botanical photography with fritillaria and the reason for establishing his website Fritillaria icones that is a fountain of knowledge on this plant genus.

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Science available for everyone?

Scientific publishing can be a difficult tasks for every scientists. Manuscripts get written, approved by all authors, submitted and peer-reviewed to make sure all experiments were correctly done and results interpreted with care. As scientists we know this process can be lengthy. Laurence gives us a different perspective on scientific publishing that presents different challenges. There is fundamental, often older literature that can be available in other languages than English. This makes this literature difficult to understand and use for scientists and findings can become ignored or forgotten. In one of his previous works, Laurence has translated one such publication from Russian to English to make it available and accessible for the community. His fascination and deep interest in Fritillaria has encouraged him to read all kind of scientific literature about this genus and given him a wealth of knowledge. He has summarized about 200 years of knowledge on Japanese fritillarias and even discovered and published a new species, which you can find in the picture below, the Japanese Fritillaria kiusiana. Publishing has not always been easy for him, as it comes with costs and wanting to read scientific literature, can end up in front of a paywall. In the podcast, we discuss these challenges and the changes that are slowly put in place to make science more accessible.

Fritillaria kiusiana - Higokobaimo
Fritillaria kiusiana, a Japanese Fritillaria species that Laurence Hill has discovered, documented and described in Curtis' Botanical Magazine (2016).

Knowledge inspires art

In the podcast Laurence and I discuss how he finds inspiration for his artwork. His explanation gives a deep insight into his long years of interest on Fritillaria. The fact that he has read in all kind of different areas about this genus, and a deep interest in human history and culture can inspire a variety of pieces of art. From religious traditions to modern themes or societal challenges, Laurence captues these subjects and makes them visible through his artwork in a subtle way. He seeks to attract the viewer, whatever experience with plant that person has or does not have. Pulling in the viewer to make them get closer and discover new aspects of plants has been a path he has been striving for. His botanical narratives attract through their aesthetics and tell diverse stories.  Laurence has also talked about this process in a video to the Linnean Society in London. It’s fascinating to see in this video how he bridges historical botanists with modern Swedish furniture design through his work. His work below is entitled “Mapping The Future” and is composed of Fritillaria imperialis cultivar tepal images. More of Laurence’s artwork can be found here.

Fritillaria imperialis cultivar tepal image by Laurence Hill.

Fritillaria under the microscope

We at Flora-L Design make a different kind of art from plants. Our starting point is also some sort of photography, however it involves a microscope. We go down to their smallest structures, their cells. Below you can see an image showing Fritillaria meleagris ovules. Botanically speaking, the purpose of a flower is to facilitate sexual reproduction. In the centre of the flower are the female parts of the flower, called a gynoecium. Gynoecium comes from “gyno” for woman, and “ecium” meaning “house”.⁠

We harvested the central, female part of the flower, and cut with a razorblade through it. In the lab we stained the tissues and observed them under the microscope. Inside the female “house” are the ovules, waiting to be fertilized to produce fertile seed.⁠
⁠In this microscopy image, the large oval shapes lined up in a row are the ovules of the Fritillaria flower. The dark ridges where the ovules attach is the placenta, the tissue within the gynoecium where the ovules are attached. The arrangement of the ovules and the placental tissue can be important for botanical classification of flowers and fruits.⁠

Fritillaria meleagris ovules under the microscope by Flora-L Design

From micrograph to art

We love to experiment with microscopy images to create textures and repeat patterns for textiles. Here we have used the micrograph of the Fritillaria meleagris ovules shown above and turned it into three different patterns. The digital possibilities gives us a wealth of possibilities to work with these pictures. This is a very different type of art as compared to what Laurence is making, yet both show us Fritillaria in a new perspective and express different, fascinating aspects about the plant. You can find more of our microscopy designs as usable items here.

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This was our fifth and last episode on the mini-series on Fritillaria. If you haven’t listened to the others yet, you can find them here. Or discover our previous episodes on Pelargonium and Nasturtium via the same link. We have one more episode for you before a little summer-break and much more content again from august and onwards. Until then we would love to get your feedback on the Flora and Friends podcast through this short survey.

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