PLANT: Exploring the Botanical World

Plants have been surprising, fascinating and inspiring humans for thousands of years and for as long as people have been creating art, they’ve been documenting this relationship. A new book, Plant: Exploring the Botanical World, captures and explores the fascinating role plants have played in our history and culture.

Rob Kessler, Scabiosa crenata, 2013. Image supplied by Phaidon

Plant: Exploring the Botanical World is a seriously beautiful book. It features 300 botanical illustrations ranging from the oldest surviving medieval manuscript from 512AD; medical x-rays of amazon lilies made in 2011 by Gary Yeoh; an herbarium of plastic plants by Columbian artist Alberto Baraya; and water colours made on James Cook’s exploration of Australia.

The design is beautiful, as expected of a Phaidon publication, and the stories behind each of the artworks are fascinating. What I enjoyed most about it was the range of imagery included – this is not your average botanical illustration book but more a book of art inspired by plants. Take the image of Scabiosa crenata. Fruit by Rob Kessler, for example.

Kessler works on the frontier between art and science, creating microscopic images of seeds and pollen grains that highlight the intricacy and mystery of plant reproduction.

Through his art, Kessler makes the invisible features of plants visible, and his extreme highlights of nature reveal the extraordinary diversity of plant forms,” the book editors suggest.

Then there’s the way the book is organised. Rather than arranging the works in chronological order, the artworks sit in complementary or contrasting pairs, often creating thought-provoking juxtapositions and certainly inspiring a sense of anticipation and surprise as the book is explored.

This is a great book. It’s one to save up for an afternoon in your favourite armchair, with something sweet on the side table and a cup of tea in hand. It’ll take you on a grand botanical journey – from 9500BC to today. You’ll see big name artists such as Robert Mapplethorpe, Georgia O’Keefe, and Irving Penn; a bunch of botanical illustrators such as Margaret Mee, Ernst Haeckel, Sydney Parkinson, the pressed flowers of Emily Dickinson and even a never before published sketch by Charles Darwin.

Plant: Exploring the Botanical World is a ripper gift idea. And as its that time of year, put it on your list of things you’d like for Christmas. Or surprise your non plant loving boyfriend with a very beautiful plant book… After an appropriate time period, do as suggested above: Cup of tea, comfortable chair, book. Holiday afternoon sorted.

Plant: Exploring the Botanical World
By Phaidon editors, with an introduction by James Compton
Published by Phaidon
RRP $79.95 AUD

Iwasaki Tsunemasa, Papaver somniferum, 1920-2. Image supplied by Phaidon
NIkolaus Joseph von Jacquin and Johannes Scarf, Various Flowering Plants, 1792. Image supplied by Phaidon
Philip Reinagle, Large flowering Sensitive Plant (from Robert John Thornton's Temple of Flora), 1799. Image supplied by Phaidon