the printed plant

Nature’s ‘finger prints’: The bookthe Pressed Plant (DiNoto Andrea & David Winter. (1999)The Pressed Plant: The art of Botanical Specimens, Nature prints, and Sun Pictures. New York, America. Stewart, Tabori & Chang.) has given me an in depth historical journey into the way plants have been recorded and documented by mankind. It was heartening to read that others have had this same fascination with documenting/recording nature that I have in the 21st Century. Here are a few observations from this book: The earliest nature prints are fossils, created by nature herself. The drive to replicate this detail of a plant print (without the plant falling apart), had man fascinated for many centuries, and it was not until the early 20th century that this was resolved (having the ability to create multiple prints from one plant) Before the multiple plate print of the 20th century, prints were made directly from plants. This was very limiting, if many of the same prints were needed, as plants fell apart after only a few prints. Over the centuries man has been fascinated with the ability to print nature, to create botanical text, both for status and also for educational purposes. The lineage of plant imagery by printing is a long and impressive one, but in a nutshell (and certainly not complete):

  • The Chinese appear to be leading this from around AD 1560 to 1590
  • Egyptian stone reliefs carved in the walls of the Great Temple of Thutmose III at Karnak around 1450 BC.
  • Between the 3rd and the 2nd century BC Historia Plantarum (also called Enquiry into Plants/Inquiry into Plants) is a survey of botany written by Theophrastus.  This work served as a reference point in botany for many centuries.
  • De Materia Medica was the definitive botanical text for the first century AD, written by Pedanius Dioscorides, it contianed the first true nature prints
  • Between 1490 $1519 Leonardo da Vinci also did some nature prints
  • In 1613 the 2 volume Hortus Eystettensis florilegium contained 100 flowers and 667 species organized by seasons.
  • Botanica in Originali was published between 1757 and 1764 using Heironymus Kniphof nature prints - containing approx 1200 plates.
  • 1816 - hand mounted plants with printed pages - written by and for gardeners Hortus Graminues Woburnensis, published in london
  • Temple of Flora by John Thornton dominated the first half of the 19th century, an extravagant flower book of 28 paintings by several artist. (
  • Pierre Joseph Redoute produced several portfolios of flowers in water colours and hand coloured stipled engravings. His most celebrated of these being, Choix des Plus Belles Fleurs.
  • 1855 saw Alios Auer publish ’Physiotypia Plantarum Austriacarum of Constantin von Ettingshausen and Alois Pokorny - it was 5 volumes printed in brown ink, giving it a gloomy appearance - but it showed that delicate, detailed nature printing was possible - the ‘finger prints’ of nature were discovered.
  • Benjamin Franklin discovers a way to print many images from one plant, as he creates America’s first printed money - his discovery stays secret for over 100 years.
  • 1857 saw Henry Smith create Specimens of Nature Printing from Unprepared plants
  • 1859 saw Henry Bradbury produce plates for a 4 volume work - Nature Printed British Seaweeds by W.Johnstone and A. Croall.
  • From the early 20th Century the botanical art form of painting & drawing appears to become more recreational.

Photography enters the game:

This development form simple nature prints to x-ray photography has not eliminated 2 important aspects of plant documentation; the physical collection and the accurate recording of the finding place. Without these 2 essential steps, neither science nor art can continue to be enchanted by nature and it’s unique patterns. As an avid gardener I collect and record plants in my own garden.

Posted by Elle Anderson

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