Macroalgae: Hidden Colors of the Sea

Artists uncover the complex beauty of under-sea plants

A South Florida collective called Tropical Botanic Artists blends science and art to make indigenous plants accessible to a wide audience through their exhibitions.

When members of Tropical Botanic Artists (TBA) approached park ranger Gary Bremen about mounting a show of native flora at Biscayne National Park’s art gallery, he suggested they collaborate with marine biologists at Florida International University (FIU) to illustrate plants from the park’s rich marine environment.  

Substantial populations of red, green, and brown macroalgae (multicellular marine algae) had been identified by FIU professors and students during BioBlitz 2010. That weekend-long ecological event sponsored by the National Geographic Society had identified hundreds of species of flora and fauna--terrestrial and marine--within Biscayne National Park’s boundaries.

From a species list provided by FIU post-graduate student Elizabeth Lacey, fourteen Miami artists each selected two or three species of macroalgae to illustrate. With assistance from Lacey, they researched photographic images from which they created their watercolor paintings. “We were challenged to learn about these lovely plants that are hidden beneath the sea,” said Silvia Bota, a member of ASBA and TBA. “Once we saw what was being proposed, we fell in love with the idea.”

Tropical Botanic Artists is a collective of Miami artists who are dedicated to observing the beauty of tropical plants through their artworks. The seven-year-old group’s members, several of whom are ASBA members, come from all walks of life; two of them—Donna Torres and Julio Figueroa—are professional artists.

Founding TBA members Donna Torres and Pauline Goldsmith organized the inaugural exhibition of “Macroalgae: Hidden Colors of the Sea,” which opened in September 2011 at Biscayne National Park in Homestead, Florida. Goldsmith then arranged for the exhibition of 27 original watercolors plus three herbarium specimens from FIU’s collection, to circulate to five more venues. Over the next twelve months, the works were exhibited at the Everglades National Park in Homestead, the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center in Key West, the Tropical Audubon Society headquarters in South Miami, the Anne Kolb Nature Center in Hollywood, Florida, and finally the Glenn Hubert Library on FIU’s Biscayne Bay Campus.

Twenty of the macroalgae paintings remain on permanent view at the Glenn Hubert Library, where faculty and students use the accurate but much-enlarged images as handsome reference material. “Working on this exhibition showed us and our audience how much there is to appreciate about plants, both on land and under the sea,” said Bota. Photos of the various installations can be viewed at under Archives.

Audience outreach continued in February 2013, when TBA members Goldsmith and Beverly Borland joined Ligia Collado-Vides, PhD, head of the Marine Macroalgae Research Laboratory at FIU for a presentation in Key Largo. “This was an avenue for the community of the Keys to learn more about macroalgae,” said Collado-Vides. “The FIU faculty and students were so impressed with the artwork that we decided to include examples of it in our presentation, with comments from the artists about their involvement with the macroalgae world. Our goal is to get more people interested in this lovely group of plants.” 

Members of Tropical Botanic Artists are now preparing plant portraits for a November 2013 juried exhibition at the Ernest Coe Visitor Center in Everglades National Park. Coordinated by TBA and ASBA member Kathleen Konicek-Moran, the subjects are indigenous Everglades plants that were discovered and recorded, or named for, early explorers of that ecosystem.  Plans are being made for the exhibition to travel throughout South Florida and beyond. ###


  • Pauline Goldsmith, Ligia Collago-Vides, Ph.D., and Beverly Borland at Key Largo, Florida, presentation on macroalgae.