Friday, December 12, 2008

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

publish or perish?

Illinois Audubon published an article I wrote about Illinois' native orchids, in their fall 2008 issue. Since that article, one more orchid species has gone extinct in Illinois, the small whorled pogonia, Isotria medeoloides. They are federally listed as threatened, recently downgraded from endangered because of new population discoveries, but the populations are so small and intermittent, they're hard to locate and monitor.
John Schwegman, noted state botanist, had been monitoring the tiny population for many years and a friend of his had even purchased the piece of property the plants were on, to save them from the ravages of development. So it goes, sometimes... 

Friday, November 21, 2008

New Work

Well, the ASBA exhibition accepted one of my pieces, of the rare native yellow lady's slippers. That was encouraging news. With the stock market tanking and no end in sight to the recession, I fear this will be a tough time for artists - a time for regrouping, reconnecting with their public, re-envisioning. Wouldn't it be nice if Pres-elect Obama instituted a WPA, promoting more art in the service of science and innovation?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Back at the drawing board finally!

After a hiatus of almost two months I am back at the drawing board, finishing up two paintings, hopefully soon, and starting a third. I have a deadline of next June to finish twenty-five native orchid paintings for an exhibit up in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Since I won't be out in the woods anytime soon, and the orchid monitoring season is pretty much over for me, I might have enough time to meet that deadline! The CD is in the mail to the American Society of Botanical Artists for their 'Losing Paradise?" exhibit, next year, but it is very competitive and it is the first time I've submitted to them so my expectations aren't high. There are a couple of nice pieces on the CD tho and they plan to post all submissions on the web, so that is something to look forward to in any event!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Hazards of the trade...

On July 26 (my mother's birthday), while out monitoring Ilinois' endangered purple fringed orchid for the Chicago Botanic Garden, I stepped in a low spot. My knee went one way, my ankle the opposite, and my left fibula was broken just above the ankle. Fortunately I had other monitors with cellphones nearby and they called EMS for me. It took them ten minutes to find our location on their map and they ended up sending out four ambulances for the one of me. Even though I ended up as afternoon snack for a horde of mosquitoes, it could have been a lot worse. I didn't need surgery, I didn't end up sitting in a patch of poison ivy (I'm very allergic) and I was able to get home that evening after the leg being put in a cast at the hospital. (Chorus of Beatles' "I'll get by with a little help from my friends!") Five weeks later, I'm more or less back on my feet and tomorrow will start painting again. My son says, "No more hiking in the woods for you, mom!" Hah! We'll see about that, but he's right for the moment. I have to be good for a few more weeks. I have a lot of catching up to do with my artwork! My exhibit is home for now and I'm researching other venues. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Sunday, June 29, 2008

New exhibit

Our local Whole Foods Market in River Forest has graciously invited me to exhibit several of my native orchid paintings along with other species monitored by the Chicago Botanic Garden's Plants of Concern program. It's an unusual venue, to be sure, but the small cafe has north light, friendly customers and an earth-centered mission. I plan to be there many evenings to help talk up the conservation work in our area. Here's the poster from the July 2008 exhibit.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Purple pitcher plant with rose pogonia orchid

Today I finally completed another in my native orchid series. The rose pogonia orchid, Pogonia ophioglossoides, is fond of tussocks of sphagnum moss, and is frequently seen in bogs and sometimes on the edges of quiet lakes. I have seen this plant in the wild over the past several years. The first rose pogonia I ever saw was sitting atop a mat of sphagnum no more than six inches across. All around it was open water. A couple of feet away was the edge of the sphagnum mat, with ferns, pitcher plants and other wetland-obligate species. There were only two orchids visible from the floating boardwalk that year. The park naturalist told us a story that had horrified me: while making her rounds, she discovered that someone had stepped onto the floating mat, pulled up the orchid, thought better of it, and then dropped it on the boardwalk, where it shriveled and died in the sun. I can see why these are endangered species!

She also told us that as the bog closes in, there is more sphagnum moss for the orchids to grow its seeds on, but other plants also invade the new floating mats, competing with the orchids. As taller and taller plants become established - ferns, highbush cranberries, poison sumacs and larches, the orchids decline because they become shaded out. Such is succession. In the meantime, I will enjoy the orchids.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Native orchids up in Illinois!

I am expecting to see orchids soon in all their various habitats, since the common spiranthes is up about half an inch in my prairie patch. Their parallel-veined leaves, slightly recurved at the tip, give them distinction from grasses and sedges and members of the lily tribe. Some leaves are very smooth, even waxy, others slightly pubescent (those being mostly the ladyslippers, whose tiny hairs often contain a chemical irritating to the skin, to ward off predators. Despite that, unfortunately, they are all 'deer candy'.

Three paintings were exhibited this spring at the former Brushwood estate of the Ryerson family, now an education center for the Lake County Forest Preserve. I painted three species native to Lake County: Platanthera psycodes, the purple fringed orchid; Mitella diphylla, also known as bishop's cap, for the curious shape of its seed pods; and Asclepias exaltata, the poke milkweed, an undisputedly ugly name for a lovely woodland milkweed. The exhibit was organized by my dear colleague Ann Gilna for our Reed-Turner Woodland chapter of the American Society of Botanical Artists. Derek Norman, head of the Midwest Center for Botanical Documentation, is the president of our group. He used to be head of the Chicago Botanic Garden corporate design team before he retired and is now on staff there teaching several botanical art courses. Quite amazing work, that! I have not studied with him tho am sure I would enjoy the privilege. The exhibit represented species native to northern Illinois as well as some tropical plants. I prefer the natives, simply because a close look reveals hidden treasures, and many people are not familiar with them.

I came across A. exaltata a couple of years ago when out in the woods botanizing with my mentor John Banaszak. He pointed out the plant to me and said that if the buckthorn was cleared from there to open up the savannah a bit, we'd see more of the plant, and if we didn't, we would lose the species from the site. So restoration was scheduled for that winter, clearing out the brush and carefully herbiciding the stumps of the buckthorn and honeysuckle bushes that were starting to take over the black ash/swamp white oak flatwoods. The following summer, instead of two plants, there were several. And one of them had seedpods, so I have great hope that we will continue to see the population increase.

Habitat restoration is important. Sure, I adore orchids; how can you not? - they're SO cute! But they're also the 'canaries in the mine' for habitat and water quality. When the orchids disappear from a site, you know that there are changes, visible or invisible, that are making the site inhospitable to them. Some of these changes might be changes in hydrology, especially lowering of the water table, since orchids are dependent on fungi in the soil and the fungi seem to be pretty specific in their moisture needs. (I need to research that further but that's what staff at the CBG tell me) Another change is incursion of non-native species such as reed canary grass, buckthorn, honeysuckle or garlic mustard. The garlic mustard is especially insidious, since it contains an anti-fungal chemical which is deadly to the essential but delicate fungal network in the soils of high-quality woodlands and prairies. (I found a sneaky overwintering rosette yesterday in my yard - AAAGH! - they can be very difficult to remove by the roots, but that's what you have to do.) Quite a bit of my 'discretionary time' which heretofore had been spent painting orchids is now devoted to restoring habitat so that there will be orchids there next year, and the next, and maybe for hopefully many years to come.

This year I hope to be monitoring four species of native orchids, and several other species besides, for Plants of Concern. I also hope to get out to see the extremely rare Calopogon oklahomensis. Stay posted for new images from my field trips, and new paintings.

Friday, January 4, 2008

New Year, new projects...

This year has been so busy, wrapping up a variety of projects having little to do with orchid painting, tho definitely with their conservation. I hope to start in earnest my series of native orchid paintings this year. Climate change, loss of habitat through real estate development, the lowering of water levels in Lake Michigan and other areas around the Great Lakes, have all played their part in altering the ecology of the sites where our native orchids are trying to hang on for dear life.

Hopefully by producing this series of paintings and researching the efforts of those many people who have helped save habitat for orchids and other threatened native species I can help promote awareness of these beautiful plants and the need to save them while we can.

On a personal note, my son Ian turned twenty the other day. : ) I am no longer the mother of a teenager, and instead the mother of an amazing young man. Wish he would help me save orchids! : ) He's too busy, tho, helping people save (or recover) the data on their computers...

Oh, the other projects? The Chicago Wilderness Fieldbooks, subtitled 'a Passport to Discover Nature's Hidden Treasures.' I completed about seventy pen and ink illustrations for self-guided nature journals, meant to be part of the new national initiative called 'No Child Left Inside'. Get those kids away from their TVs and computers and Blackberries! Enough already! : ) Get 'em outdoors to play!