Botanical Illustration: Churchyard plants and natural history: Higher plants

Story posted: Friday, 13. February 2015 by Lizzie Harper

I've recently been working on natural history illustrations for The Field Studies Councils publications department, in this case for a fold out chart of plants commonly found in British graveyards.  Last week I took a look at some of the lower plants we can expect to find in our local churchyard; this week it's the turn of the higher plants.

There are tons of these, and lots are incredibly beautiful and gaudy.  Amongst these is the Meadow Cranesbill, one of my favourite British flowers, because of its violent purple colour.

Meadow cranesbill Geranium pratense botanical art natural history illustration by Lizzie Harper

Meadow Cranesbill Geranium pratense

Being January, I had neither hope nor expectation of finding this beauty; luckily I'd painted one a while ago for The Bumper Book of Nature by Stephen Moss, and FSC were happy to re-use this.

A plant which I could readily lay my hands on at my local churchyard was the yew Taxus baccata. No longer in berry, true, but easy to find and looking rather fine in the January gloom.

Botanical illustration of the Yew Taxus baccata natural history illustration by Lizzie Harper

Yew Taxus baccata

Another plant on the list was not only growing in the churchyard wall opposite mt house, but was also in flower.  Although this is actually rather unusual, and reflects the lastest findings of the BSBI Plant Hunt survey which found more than 300 British plants in flower on new year's day 2015 (compared to around 30 plants flowering at the same time 50 years ago), it was rather useful for me to work from.

Ivy leaved toadflax Cymbalaria muralis botanical illustration by natural history illustrator lizzie harper

ivy-leaved toadflax Cymbalaria muralis

A plant I know grows in St. Mary's Church in Hay on Wye (opposite my home) is the Birds foot trefoil Lotus corniculatus. Again, no way this would even be showing leaves at this time of year, so FSC re-used an earlier illustration.

Birds foot trefoil Lotus corniculatus botanical illustration by natural history illustrator lizzie harper

Birds foot trefoil Lotus corniculatus

One of the plants I was asked to illustrate is Biting Stonecrop Sedum acre which I haven't seen growing over the road.  I shall go and search for it in summertime.

Lizzie Harper illustrator botanical illustration of biting stonecrop sedum acre natural history illustration

Biting Stonecrop Sedum acre

Despite a thorough look, I couldn't find any Pennywort Umbilicus ruprestris either. This is a plant I associate more with coastal areas, so perhaps that explains its' absence from land-locked Hay on Wye.  Irritatingly (and somehow inevitably) when I went to Devon days after completing the illustration from reference and photos, it was absolutely everywhere.  Nothing like forward planning.  It's edible, so I cruched on several pennywort leaves to soothe my disappointment...

Lizzie Harper illustrator natural history illustration of pennywort umbilicus rupestris botanical art

Pennywort Umbilicus ruprestris

One of my favourite British plants was on the list, Self-heal Prunella vulgaris.  Again, this wasn't out (I know it flourishes in our local graveyard and in Hay on Wye cemetery) but I had all the detailed notes I needed to reconstruct it from my sketchbook.  Keeping a botanical sketchbook has got me out of trouble on more than one occasion, and it was lovely to be able to use such a tailor-made and reliable source!

Self heal prunella vulgaris botanical illustration by natural history illustrator Lizzie Harper

Self-heal Prunella vulgaris

The most evidently prolific plant in our churchyard is the Forget me not, Myosotis.  This species didn't make the FSC list, which first suprised me, and then made me really happy.  It meant the amazing pale blue clouds of flowers that festoon the graves in April and May might just be a bit unusual, and yet another thing that makes Hay on Wye a slightly different and a truly fabulous place to live and work.

Botanical illustration of forget me not by Lizzie Harper

Forget me not Myosotis sylvatica

Other species listed by FSC include Ladies bedstraw, eyebright, cowslip, primrose, scabious, snowdrop...  It's a long list and I cant wait to see them all together in the soon-to-be-published FSC fold out chart.

On another topic entirely, I'm afraid I've had to turn off the "comments" button on my blogs due to spamming.  If you would like to give any comments or feedback, please do so on my Facebook page or Twitter account or email me at  Many many thanks; and apologies.

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