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by Bobbi Angell

As a scientific illustrator, I have been drawing tropical plants for botanists for 40 years. As a gardener, I always appreciate drawing cultivated plants for various projects including my copper etchings. Living on the edge of the woods in Vermont, I am very familiar with native plants and ‘weeds’ but they have rarely been a priority for my artwork. That has now unexpectedly changed because I was invited to illustrate plants of the Jura Mountains in Switzerland and I soon was able to recognize many of the species as related to or the same as species in my gardens and woods and fields. I had known little about alpine and European plants, but my first visit there with my sister and brother-in-law 2 years ago led to Wow, sure, I’d be glad to illustrate the flora.

Bobbi and Jason at Creux du Van

Plants growing in the Jura Mountains and southern Vermont are remarkably intertwined, with nearly a third of the 700 species native to the Neuchatel Canton region also growing here. A small number of the species are circumboreal, native to northern US as well as Switzerland. The others traveled across the ocean, by design or by accident, to settle into our fields, gardens and roadsides – now naturalized and often considered weeds. Seeing the plants on both sides of the ocean broadened my concepts of ‘a worldwide flora’.

The field guide to the plants of Neuchâtel, undertaken by botanist Jason Grant of the University of Neuchâtel, has a design plan that will include an introduction to 28 prominent plant families with descriptions and anecdotes for individual species, including rare orchids, alpine gentians, sedges and grasses as well as ferns, conifers, lichens, mushrooms and mosses. Jason, his students, and my sister have been taking photographs of the native flora and color photos will be the main focus of the book. 

Desktop sketches and books

My role is to create pen and ink illustrations which will illuminate features that do not show up well in photographs, whether they be leaves details, fruits or dissected flower details. The illustrations, alongside the photographs, will be useful for comparing and distinguishing similar species, and for displaying plant family relationships. The book will appeal to a broad audience - Switzerland is home to an active group of students and amateur and professional botanists who, along with visitors from across Europe and elsewhere, will appreciate our comprehensive field guide.

I have been learning the Swiss flora during two trips there and I will follow up with a third trip this summer. Jason knows his flora well so we have traveled to spectacular habitats to find plants in bloom. I work on pencil sketches as we find plants and we collect and press some of them for reference. Then back in my studio I do pen and ink illustrations based on my sketches. Concurrently, I am seeking out plants here in Vermont that are on our checklist. Drawing species from both locales is requiring me to accurately identify species, including weeds I have tended to ignore here. As I draw, my desktop is overloaded with both regional and Swiss floras and field guides. Identifying and drawing individual species of my local flora as I illustrate a foreign flora one is a challenging and satisfying project, linking the woods and fields around my home to the spectacular Jura Mountains. I look forward to encompassing it all in Jason’s field guide, to be published as Guide de Terrain du Canton de Neuchâtel, Switzerland.

©Bobbi Angell, Caprifoliaceae

Bobbi with specimens to be pressed

©Bobbi Angell, Fabaceae

Dactylorhiza maculata

©Bobbi Angell, Rosaceae

Gentiana aculis and clusii

2024 ASBA - All rights reserved

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