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Seeing Flowers through the photography of Robert Llewellyn

by Timber Press on December 7, 2013

in Gardening

111_Passiflora-caerulea-8-WEB

All parts of the passionflower, Passiflora caerulea, are assigned symbolic meaning relating to Jesus’s final days: the five anthers signify the five wounds, the sepals and petals suggest the apostles, the center rays represent the crown of thorns, and so on. [Click for a closer look.]

All my life, I have been looking at, prodding, poking, sniffing, and plucking at plants. These are habits born of long hours outdoors. I remember, as a very small girl in suburban southern California, squinting at and then tugging on a passionflower vine coming over our fence from the neighbor’s yard. It was so mysterious, so complicated, and yet so symmetrical! I got pollen all over my fingers as I dismembered flower after flower, marveling. And I vividly recall the heady scent of orange blossoms in the nearby orchards. To this day, that fragrance is a Proustian trigger that returns me to my childhood, where I am tucked under the dappled shade of orange trees, spying on the bees browsing the sweet white-petaled flowers while the other kids in our game of hide-and-seek shouted in the distance. They should have known to look for me among flowers

Later, transplanted to the East Coast, I knelt in cool woodlands to admire the small and pretty spring wildflowers, rue anemones, clintonias, and mayapples. In a small bed off the porch I planted and fussed over perennials: black-eyed Susans, lavender, campanulas, and various irises. When I installed my first vegetable garden, I kept vigilant watch as tomato flowers turned to red fruits and as plump white blossoms on twining vines segued to delicious sugar snap peas. I noticed how spicy-scented beach roses became spangled with stout orange hips in autumn. I kept an orchid on my windowsill at work and cheered when it actually bloomed. Through all these travels and observations, I accumulated knowledge about the ways of plants and their flowers.

I studied botany informally via mentors, as well as in college classrooms. And I was fortunate to work as an editor at Horticulture Magazine during its Boston glory days, when the issues were monthly and thick with fascinating information and ideas. Everywhere I went or lived, I habitually gardened and acquainted myself with the plants around me, both wild and cultivated.

My path is not necessarily unique. If the world of plants holds sway in your affections, you probably have comparable stories. Perhaps over a lifetime you too have accumulated impressions and information about flowers and plants.

In nature, the wild columbine, Aquilegia canadensis, favors the cool shade of rocky woodlands. The genus name is thought to be from aquila, meaning eagle, but it could also be from aqua, or water, referencing the drops of nectar lodged in the hollow spurs.

In nature, the wild columbine, Aquilegia canadensis, favors the cool shade of rocky woodlands. The genus name is thought to be from aquila, meaning eagle, but it could also be from aqua, or water, referencing the drops of nectar lodged in the hollow spurs. [Click for a closer look.]

But it was not until I beheld Bob Llewellyn’s gorgeous, meticulous photographs of flowers that I truly understood how little I understood. This is not a case of “the veil of the familiar” clouding my perceptions. His photographs are different, unconventional. They actually comprise many small images—eight to forty-five—shot at a different point of focus, then stitched together using software developed for work with microscopes. The results are astoundingly detailed, intimate images of the plants we thought we knew.

Taxonomic botanists, all the way back to the innovative, diligent Carl Linnaeus, have long observed similarities between plants and grouped like ones together, primarily using the features of the flowers. Revisions, additions, and reshufflings have inevitably occurred—and continue to occur. In recent years, the advent of genetic research—referencing the DNA sequences of plants—has revolutionized and, arguably, greatly simplified the classification work. You may never have heard of the APG, or Angiosperm Phylogeny Group, but it and its subsequent updates (as of this writing, we’re on APG III) have made significant progress. Some of the rulings verify what the naked eye and/or microscopes have shown all along, while others are surprising. Some long-established plant families have suffered splits, while others have been submerged, making the work at times controversial. And yet it reflects the onward march of botanical knowledge. Common to most flowers are features such as petals and the sepals that support them, plus the sexual organs that offer pollen to pollinators and eventually develop into seeds and fruit. I hope you will discover, as I did when I looked through these photographs, a sense to it all. As varied, weird, wonderful, sexy, and graceful as flowers are, ultimately they have always been the plant world’s supremely resourceful way of staying alive.

 

Calibrachoa ‘Saffron’ looks uncannily like a miniature petunia. They are indeed closely related; both are members of the nightshade family. [Click image for a closer look.]

Calibrachoa ‘Saffron’ looks uncannily like a miniature petunia. They are indeed closely related; both are members of the nightshade family. [Click for a closer look.]

Once upon a time, as the late naturalist Loren Eiseley reminds us in his lyrical essay “How Flowers Changed the World,” there were no flowering plants, or angiosperms. The earliest plants arose near water, which aided fertilization and thus reproduction. Later plants (gymnosperms), such as primitive conifers and spore-bearing ferns, depended on wind. The advent of true flowers and the seeds they produced was, as Eiseley declares, “a profound innovation.”

Angiosperm means “encased seed,” an astonishing item that grows in the heart of a flower. Here an embryonic plant is developed, and soon it falls, floats away, ejects, is eaten, or grabs onto fur or clothing, and thus survives and expands its realm. But before this can occur, a flower must be pollinated. Pollination is the ambitious goal of all flowers. Bear this in mind as you view and learn more about the enticements, trickery, shortcuts, and quirks they use. There is plenty of variety, but also a common and practical purpose.

 

So-called hummingbird sage, Salvia guaranitica—hummingbirds seem to like all salvias—has the most vivid, true-blue flowers imaginable. Like all mint family members, it has square stems and aromatic leaves. [Click for a closer look.]

So-called hummingbird sage, Salvia guaranitica—hummingbirds seem to like all salvias—has the most vivid, true-blue flowers imaginable. Like all mint family members, it has square stems and aromatic leaves. [Click for a closer look.]

Angiosperms have indeed changed the world. They have populated it explosively, greatly outnumbering the more primitive gymnosperm plants. They feed and thus support the planet’s insects, birds, and animals. And they also they fill our world with incomparable beauty, especially with their flowers.

I now invite you—with Bob’s glorious, innovative photographs to contemplate—to see flowers, in all their diversity, for what they are: wonders.

Text by Teri Dunn Chace

Photographs by Robert Llewellyn

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Erin Covey CreativeTeri Dunn Chace is a writer and editor with more than 30 consumer titles in publication, including The Anxious Gardener’s Book of Answers. She’s also written and edited extensively for Horticulture, North American Gardener, Backyard Living, and Birds & Blooms.

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Robert Llewellyn THUMBNAILRobert Llewellyn has been photographing trees and landscapes for almost forty years. His photographs have been featured in major art exhibits, and more than thirty books featuring his photography are in print.

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Click image for a look inside this book:


Presents 343 blooms in such extraordinary detail that you feel you’re glimpsing the garden from an insect’s perspective. —Sunset Magazine

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Wall planter February 9, 2017 at 2:42 am

Very beautiful ,thanks for your sharing.

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