Archive by category | Plant sciences

Orchids: the success of beautiful cheats

Orchids: the success of beautiful cheats

One in seven flowering plants on Earth is an orchid. The Orchidaceae, one of the oldest, as well as the most extensive, families of flowering plants, comprises 749 genera and around 26,000 species. Some have evolved to survive in the most inhospitable of environments, pushing their sweet blooms through the sands of arid deserts or the icy soils of Arctic tundra. All this I learned from The Book of Orchids, a luscious coffee-table tome from Ivy Press (and the University of Chicago Press in the United States), coauthored by Tom Mirenda, Mark Chase and Maarten Christenhusz.  Read more

An artist on Mars: Georgia O’Keeffe

An artist on Mars: Georgia O'Keeffe

Jimson weed, a cow’s skull, bare mountainsides scored by flash floods: revelations of beauty in badlands mark the work of American artist Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986). This is ‘nature’ art from a Modernist sensibility — strong, simplified form shocked into being by a lush palette. O’Keeffe may once have been drawn to the dark hearts of flowers, but she became a desert geek par excellence, in love with geological strata and stripped skeletons in the Martian landscapes of New Mexico. “The bones,” she wrote, “seem to cut sharply to the center of something that is keenly alive on the desert even though it is vast and empty and untouchable”. Much as early nineteenth-century art of the sublime — in tandem with explosive discoveries in geology — shifted Europe’s responses to its own wilderness from repulsion to awe, O’Keeffe taught us to see new worlds in the New World.  Read more