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Endangered plants you'll likely never see

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Just finding a plant to depict was, for some artists, a multiyear effort. Take the elusive pitcher's thistle (Cirsium pitcheri). Artist Derek Norman spent five years searching for the threatened plant with cream-colored, fragrant blossoms, which flowers and produces seed only once before dying.

Mr. Norman's subject, found infrequently on beaches and dunes of the western Great Lakes, mostly in Michigan, is vulnerable to human impacts like shoreline development and recreational vehicles.

In Norman's own story of drawing the pitcher thistle he recalls spending two "sweltering, hot, humid days in the company of biting flies, a colony of ants, and the occasional attacking red-wing blackbird" as he drew a highly detailed pencil illustration of the plant in situ.

Such perseverance and dedication to capturing an image of fleeting botanical beauty is admirable but, some might ask, in the digital age why not snap a few dozen high-resolution photos instead?

Botanical artists and scientists say there is no comparison. Hollender explains that a hand rendering of a plant allows the artist to emphasize important features and select an optimum composition that is descriptive and aesthetically pleasing in a way the camera cannot. Artists can depict light or even a certain state or condition of a plant to create an ideal image.

Botanical art, no matter the medium, is not merely about the reproduction of physical facts, says Carol Woodin, coordinator of ASBA exhibitions and a painter herself. "Details are important, but there is a human interpretive element and the hope of depicting the dynamism of a given plant that is inherent in botanical art."

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