Botanical Watercolors

Butterfly Weed
Asclepias tuperosa

Like taller members of the Milkweed family, this brighter, smaller plant is host to the Monarch butterfly – thus its common name. I found this particular specimen at the edge of our field. It had been run over by a tractor. When I dug it up in a rescue effort, its large tuberous root took me by surprise. Turns out, a tea brewed from the root was once used to treat asthma and pleurisy. In large quantities, the tea can be toxic.

Blackberry-LilyBlackberry Lily
Iris domestica

This tiny member of the Iris family was originally Asian and came to America in the 18th century. Its root has many uses in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Western science confirms its anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal properties. I love the “blackberry” seed clusters and the way the spent blooms curl into spirals (fun to paint!). My background drawing in graphite shows actual size.

Anemone-AmericanaRound-lobed Hepatica
Anenome americana

An unobtrusive member of the Buttercup family, Hepatica is one of the earliest spring ephemerals. Its brown-mottled leaves and shy flower make it hard to spot on the woodland floor. Early herbalists used a tea made of its leaves to treat liver aliments – hence its common name derived from the Latin word for “liver”. During the19th Century the plant was over-harvested for a tonic. In 1883 alone, some 450,000 pounds of dried “liverleaf” were consumed in Europe. Today’s science, however, does not substantiate claims of its healing virtues.

Stiff Goldenrod
Solidago rigida 

A rare plant in our mountains and the piedmont, this handsome species of goldenrod blooms in flat-topped clusters instead of arching sprays.

 Platanthera-GrandifloraLarge Purple Fringed Orchid
Platanthera grandifolia

This orchid is one of the rare plants in the Shenandoah National Park. Its location is carefully mapped and kept secret in order to protect it. I felt honored when the Park’s botanist gave me its coordinates. I visited it three times to photograph and sketch it from bud to bloom. My composition was inspired by religious paintings in which a central holy figure is flanked by two lesser companions.

passionincarnataPurple Passionflower
Passiflora incarnata

A weedy vine with a most complicated flower. Its common name refers not to sexual passion, but to the passion of Jesus: the five stamens suggest the five wounds of his crucifixion; the fringed corona, his crown of thorns. It is also called “Maypop” because its egg-shaped fruits make a popping sound when stepped on. However, despite the name, the fruits don’t appear until mid-summer. They are supposed to contain a delicious pulp, but the ones I found were hollow, except for seeds.Traditionally, the roots of the plant were used as an anti-spasmodic and sedative. Modern research confirms that root extracts are mildly sedative and slightly reduce blood pressure.Watercolor – sold
9” x 13 5/8” giclee prints available

After the death of my mother in September 2009, an artist friend sent me a bountiful bouquet of white lilies in bud. I sketched them as they opened, but it was the spent lilies that fell onto my tabletop that spoke to me: they were dead, yet they were still changing. There was movement and beauty in the curls of their petals. I drew them in red tones – red being the color of blood and life.Color pencil sold9 ½” x 10”
giclee prints available
Panax quinquefolium

For centuries, this woodland plant has been famous as magical cure-all. In the 1700s, Jesuit missionaries created a booming demand for American ginseng in China. Fortunes were made in exporting it. Daniel Boone hunted ginseng to pay off his ever-present debts from land speculation. Today ginseng is still agressively hunted, causing it to be listed as a threatened species. Most herbalists classify ginseng as an “adaptogen” which supports the body in times of stress.Most commonly, the ginseng root is depicted propped up like a priapic “little man”. (The name “ginseng” is thought to derive from the Chinese word schin-shen or “man-plant”.) But the root I drew looked plump and feminine, as senusous as an odalisque. I took the artistic license to curl its long stem into a womb-like shape around its recumbent golden root.For current research on plant
see sold
10” x 16” giclee prints available

Black-CohoshBlack Cohosh
Cimicifuga racemosa

Thomas Jefferson lists Cimicifuga as “black snake root” and describes it as a medicinal herb in his only published book, Notes on the State of Virginia. Like most folk remedies, it was used to treat a wide variety of multiple complaints: bronchitis, cholera, fevers, nervous disorders, lumbago, rheumatism, snakebites. It was also used in childbirth and for menstrual irregularities. Black cohosh was a main ingredient in the famous “Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound” used by many women in the 19th century for a variety of disorders, including menopause-associated hot flashes.

For current research on plant
Watercolor and graphite NFS

Datura stramonium

A member of the nightshade family, the Datura’s dangerous reputation intrigues me. The plant is violently toxic – a hallucinogen that can be lethal. Shamans and Native Americans have long used its pyschotrophic effects in religious rituals. Thomas Jefferson described it as an “elegant” and “rational” Kavorkian-type way to end suffering from incurable diseases. Today, its medical compounds (belladonna alkaloids like atropine and scopolamine) have been used to treat a variety of diseases from Parkinson’s to vertigo. However, few clinical trials have been conducted because of its extreme toxicity.

It is a witchy looking plant with a rank smell. It thrives in weedy fields and roadsides and is so attractive to insects that it’s hard to find an undamaged leaf. I had to wonder if they got high on it. I was particularly taken with the internal architecture of the seedpod – a tiara-like structure that chambers the tiny, but potent lentil-shaped seeds – so I drew it magnified in graphite beside the watercolor life-sized portrait of the plant in bloom.

For current research on plant see

Watercolor and graphite

Aplectrum hyemale

Also called “Adam-and-Eve” for the way each new root tuber sprouts out of the previous year’s tuber. The small, lumpy tubers contain a sticky goo used by Native Americans to repair broken pottery. (No data on how well the pots held together.) In winter, this orchid’s single leaf is green with white pinstripes – easy to spot in the bare woods. In the spring, the leaf dies back as the plant flowers. The flower stalk is about 10 inches high and the individual little orchids on it measure about three-quarters of an inch.

Watercolor, graphite, color pencil


Lewisia rediviva

Watercolor and graphite, giclee prints available. Done for the 2006 exhibit,
“The Botanical Treasures of Lewis and Clark”
at the Cocoran Gallery of Art,
Washington, DC 2006:

10″ x 6 3/4″ Watercolor and graphite NFS. 10″ x 6 3/4″ giclee prints available


 balsamrootArrowleaf Balsamroot
Balsamorhiza sagittata

Watercolor and graphite.
Done for the 2006 exhibit,
“The Botanical Treasures of Lewis and Clark”
at the Cocoran Gallery of Art,
Washington, DC 2006.53″ x 24″Watercolor and graphite 53″ x 24″ NFS

rattlesnakeDowney Rattlesnake-Plantain
Goodyera pubescens

Watercolor, graphite,
colored pencil

Leaf-1“Subdivisions #1”
graphite, colored pencil

leaf2_large“Subdivisions #2”
graphite, colored pencil

Cherrybell“Cherry Belle”

bluebellVirginia Bluebell
Mertensia Virginica

Watercolor and graphite