Story behind the art of Maria de Rezende

Out of the Woods: Celebrating Trees in Public Gardens
The Third New York Botanical Garden Triennial

Noz-moscada Africana 

Monodora myristica
Jardim Botânico, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

My first thought for Out of the Woods was to choose a native species to represent the Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden, one of the most important botanical gardens in Brazil, but the peculiarity and beauty of the Monodora myristica captivated me at first sight. And the final certainty that it was a perfect species for the theme of this exhibition came from knowing that this is the only example of this species in this Botanical Garden.


I first saw my subject Monodora myristica in a photo taken by the curator of living collections from the Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden, which showed the beauty of this tree in flower. Immediately I went to the arboretum to see it in person, and it was much prettier than in the photo, because besides the beauty of the flower colors, the perfume was also wonderful.  I asked permission from the curator, Marcus Nadruz, to collect some branches of the species to facilitate the illustration and faithful annotation of colors and shapes in my studio.


As the theme of the exhibition was trees, I would have liked to represent the whole plant, but its flowers were so spectacular with different colors depending on their degree of development that I decided to emphasize them in color, using watercolor technique, and work the whole tree with its beautiful trunk only in graphite. I show the spectacular flowers of different shades, ranging from pale yellow to orange, red and vinaceous, which hang between green leaves with light pink tones at the edges. In the background, I represent in graphite the whole flowering tree, which in nature has a dense canopy and can measure about five meters in height.


I hope viewers will notice the difference in colors between the flowers and their intricate shapes, looking like orchid flowers. For this reason, it is popularly known as the orchid tree.


This tree is native to Africa and its seeds were brought to the Caribbean islands by slaves in slave ships, and also to Brazil in the eighteenth century. Sometime ago, its seeds were used as a cheap substitute for nutmeg, because it has the aroma and taste of the seed similar to the true one, used as a popular seasoning in African cuisine.  The tree is known in Brazil as both African nutmeg and Jamaican nutmeg.  The fruits of this tree are collected from wild trees and the seeds are dried and sold whole or ground to be used in stews, soups, cakes and desserts. It is also used for medicinal purposes and as an insect repellent. The seeds are also used in jewelry such as necklaces and earrings.


I have been working as a scientific illustrator on research projects in the Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden since 2002. Even though I have been there every week for so many years I always find myself surprised on every walk through the arboretum to find interesting plants. My preference for my own art is always to choose subjects/plants which have not been frequently represented in the botanical art world, such as this tree.


Read more about this artist’s work: 15th Annual International
  • © 2017 Maria de Rezende
    Noz-moscada Africana
    Monodora myristica
    Watercolor and graphite on paper
    19-5/8" x 13-3/4"