Natural History Illustrator out and about: Grasses Class by IAPI November 21st 2014

Story posted: Friday, 21. November 2014 by Lizzie Harper

Scientific illustration and botanical art often means hours of sitting alone, staring at plants through a hand lens.  Sometimes getting out, especially spending time with like minded people who share your interests, can be a tonic.

IAPI (the institute for analytical plant illustration) is a fabulous organisation for botanists, botanical illustrators, and anyone interested in these disciplines and their overlap.  On September 21st I went along to their masterclass on grasses, presented by the Summerfields of Westshores nurseries who have been specialising in growing, selling, and propagating grasses since 1996.

Westshores nurseries Gail and John Summerfield

John and Gail Summerfields of Westshores Nursery

First, we were reminded of the difference between reeds, sedges and grasses.  Reeds are round with open sheaths, 2-3 ranked, with solid node-free stems.  Sedges have edges, closed sheaths, leaves are 3-rankes, and again the stem (culm) are solid and node-free.  Grasses are round with (usually) open sheaths, 2 ranked leaves, and a hollow cylindrical culm with nodes.

We then discussed differnt genera of grasses, and got to examine them under the dissecting microscope.

Botanical illustration grasses masterclass lizzie harper microscope specimens IAPI

We were shown examples of the seven main genera of ornamental grass, and plentiful photos of specimens from each genera.

All had to be hardy to survive in the UK, and the Summerfields were experts on what traits you'd find in the different grasses they discussed.

The seven were Panicum and Miscanthus (both tough genera with species having long-lasting panicles which look gorgeous long after the seeds are spread), Pennisetum which prefer the warm season, Calamagrostis which thrive in cooler, well-drained soils; Molinia which are tufty and hardy; the large species classed as Stipa; and the Eragrostis which are very hardy and like well-drained sites in direct sun.

I drew some of the specimens, trying to choose as morphologically diverse specimens as possible.

Lizzie Harper natural history illustrator botanical sketchbook illustration

Sketchbook study of Calamagrostis brachytricha AGM

I was delighted by one of the grasses; Pennisetum setaceum "Rubrum" as it had such enormous flowers that it was simple to see the details of each under the microscope, including its dramatic red feathery stigmas.

Lizzie Harper botanical illustration Pennisetum setaceum rubrum sketchbook

Pennisetum setaceum "Rubrum" sketchbook study

We discussed grass anatomy, and had a fascinating talk by Peter Mitchell about C4 and C3 grasses (more of which in next week's blog); and had the chance to buy the ornamental grasses provided by the Summerfields.

University of Leicster botanic garden IAPI meeting Lizzie Harper botanical illustrator

As I drove home, I was yet again delighted by just how happy these IAPI meetings make me; other people passionate about botanical illustration, willing to share their expertise and knowledge.  It's a fabulous organisation and I'd suggest any British botanical artists join.

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