Wildflower Watch

Lotus McElfish Goes to Washington

By Derek Norman with Guest Author Lotus McElfish

Originally appeared in The Botanical Artist - Volume 15, Issue 4


In her story, Lotus McElfish demonstrates that the relevance of botanical art to the issues and news of the day has never been greater. And in this age of instant, unlimited communication anything can happen. This is the story of a series of fortuitous, serendipitous events that started with a single, simple email and ended with a call from Washington. And that was only the beginning! 

Sometimes I get inspired by something I see in the media and I have learned to act on those inspirations. You just never know what might happen! That was how I began my endangered species project in 2005, getting a grant from the ASBA to paint the rare plants of the Texas Hill Country after reading about and seeing the effects of urban sprawl on central Texas landscapes. 

After watching President Obama’s prime time speech to Congress in March, I sent him an email urging him to maintain funding for the arts in his new budget. I also sent his family a catalog of the Endangered Species: Flora and Fauna in Peril exhibit that was going to end March 6th at the Department of the Interior Museum, which is right in their backyard. Two days later, the president gave a speech at the Department of the Interior, honoring the Department’s 160th birthday and signing a memorandum that will, “…help restore the scientific process to its rightful place at the heart of the Endangered Species Act.” 

Later that week I received an invitation to speak there! A coordinator from the Museum called and said the exhibit was extended until May 16th (by popular demand) and that she wanted me to share the beauty of the Texas Hill Country and its endangered plants on closing day. She scheduled me to present a slide show of my field work and a workshop on graphite pencil techniques. 

Arriving in the DC area, I delighted by the support I got from the local Botanical Art Society of the National Capitol Region, and the botanical art school, Brookside Gardens School of Botanical Art and Illustration – I felt quite honored. At the Department of Interior Museum, the attendance was perfect and the coordinator from the Department of the Interior was very impressed, as it seems that their events like this are not well attended. Students were enthusiastic, and I felt I had recruited even more people to the task of saving our endangered species.  

The museum is a gem that people have not yet really discovered. The building contains the agency in charge of keeping an eye on our natural resources, but it’s not really a tourist destination. In actual fact, like so many of the institutions in Washington, it is full of delightful and unexpected surprises. You may wish to pay a visit one day, who knows what might happen! 

Image to left: Zizania texana, Texas Wild-Rice, watercolor, ©Lotus McElfish 2007, presented in the poster used for this workshop. Its story: Flo Oxley, Director of Plant Conservation and Education at the Lady Bird Wildflower Center in Austin suggested that I paint Texas wildrice, which became the first Texas plant to be federally listed as endangered in 1978. This aquatic grass grows only in a small stretch of the upper San Marcos River. Its thin leaves, up to six feet long, wave in the currents among tubers and kayakers. She told me once that, “If it’s endangered it’s not too late [to save it from extinction]!” 


  • Styrax platanifolius ssp. Texanus, Texas Snowbells, watercolor, ©Lotus McElfish 2007. Its story: After many calls to locate this specimen, I learned about David Bamberger, who searches out Texas snowbell colonies, collects seed, and reintroduces the plant. This portrait is in honor of his mission to get the plant off the endangered list. The bloom is gorgeous and short-lived, dropping in masses that cover the ground like snow.