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Flora Brasil

Lenhardt Library celebrates Brazil in the Garden with a “Flora Brasil” special collections exhibition

Leora Siegel —  July 7, 2017 — Leave a comment

Brazil’s native flora has amazing diversity with differing biomes, including tropical rainforest, subtropical forest, tropical savanna, mangrove forest, tropical dry forest, wetland, and savanna.

Of the approximate 400,000 known plant species in the world, 55,000 are endemic to Brazil, and most of these are from the Amazon forest.

Brazilian bromeliads in the Crescent Garden

Bromeliads abound this summer throughout the Garden. There are more than 3,000 known species of bromeliads; 650 of these are native to Brazil. Many bromeliads have leaves that are spiraled and called a rosette. At the base of the rosette, the leaves may grow in an overlapping and tight form to become a place for water to collect.

Many of the foods we eat (like acai), industrial products we use (rubber tree and mahogany), medicines—even our houseplants in the Chicago region (orchids), depend on plants from this region. The unique flora of this area continues to be threatened by deforestation and urbanization, and plant species are at risk.

Books on display through October 15, 2017, in the Lenhardt Library’s Flora Brasil exhibition depict a plant exploration map, Brazilian aroid, and Brazilian bromeliads. An untitled original artwork by Brazilian landscape designer Roberto Burle Marx on loan from Longwood Gardens complements our main Joutras Galley exhibition of Marx’s work.

Roberto Burle Marx, Untitled, 1991, Courtesy of Longwood Gardens

Roberto Burle Marx, Untitled, 1991, Courtesy of Longwood Gardens

The library exhibition opens with an eighteenth-century map of South America with “the coast of Brazil being corrected” bound into the third edition in English of Voyage to South America: Describing, at Large, the Spanish Cities, Towns, Provinces on That Extensive Continent by Don Antonio de Ulloa and Don George Juan, 1772. Ulloa and Juan explored the region, observing and describing the flora, fauna, geology, minerals, indigenous population, and politics they encountered.

Map of a voyage to South America by Ulloa and Juan, 1772

18th century map of South America with “the coast of Brazil being corrected” from Voyage to South America: Describing, at Large, the Spanish Cities, Towns, Provinces on That Extensive Continent by Ulloa and Juan, 1772; Click here to view larger image

ILLUSTRATION: Philodendron cannaefolium by Heinrich Schott

Philodendron cannaefolium ‘Burle Marx’, a 24” x 30” detailed chromolithograph that is both scientifically accurate and stunning from Aroideae Maximilianae by Heinrich Schott, 1879.

A Brazilian aroid Philodendron cannaefolium (today known as Philodendron ‘Burle Marx’) is the centerpiece with a 24-inch-by-30-inch detailed chromolithograph that is both scientifically accurate and stunning. This 1879 work, Aroideae Maximilianae by Heinrich Schott, features 42 plates with delicate colors and clean lines. Schott was an Austrian botanist who traveled in Brazil from 1817 to 1821. He specialized in Araceae and throughout his career, he named 587 new-to-science species of aroids; by comparison, Linnaeus named six aroid species. 

Come also learn about Margaret Mee, who was an exceptional botanical artist, plant explorer, and environmentalist. Four reproductions of Mee’s “Brazilian Bromeliads” are on view. These are from a limited edition set published in Brazil in 1992.

Mee traveled to Brazil often, and went on fifteen botanical expeditions, mainly into the Amazon region. On these expeditions, she discovered several new plant species, painted more than 400 gouache pieces, and kept travel diaries detailing her adventures. Her passion for Brazilian flora coincided with the large-scale commercialization of the Amazon rainforest. She became an outspoken environmentalist, calling attention to the dangerous destruction of the biodiverse region. 

ILLUSTRATION: A Brazillian bromeliad by Margaret Mee

Margaret Mee’s Nidularium innocentii from Brazilian Bromeliads, reproduction, limited edition set published in Brazil, 1992.

Noted Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx cultivated plants that Mee brought back from her expeditions and used them in his landscape designs. Known for his bright and bold color choices, Marx was inspired by Mee’s paintings. Like Mee, he was concerned about the environmental impacts of the commercialization of the Brazilian Amazonian region.

Learn more about Mee, Marx, and Brazilian flora at our free Library Talks on July 16, August 22, and September 12 at 2 p.m. in the Lenhardt Library.


©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

One of my favorite volumes in the Lenhardt Library’s rare book collection (although I love them all) is Autumnal Leaves by Ellen Robbins, published in 1868. Each of the 18 original watercolor paintings of autumn leaves looks so true-to-life that you want to reach out and pick a leaf off the page.

Sumac illustraion from Autumnal Leaves by Ellen Robbins.

Sumac from Autumnal Leaves by Ellen Robbins

This volume, specifically, the sumac watercolor, will be on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, in the American Watercolor in the Age of Homer and Sargent exhibition which runs March 1 to May 14, 2017. I’m delighted that an East Coast audience will have the opportunity to share this treasure.

Although we’ll miss the book while it’s away, through the Lenhardt Library’s digitization program, each page of the book is viewable in the Illinois Digital Archives repository.

You’ll find the sumac shown here on page 4 of the content list. View the full collection of prints here: http://www.idaillinois.org/cdm/compoundobject/collection/ncbglib01/id/3364/rec/2

Additionally, the sumac will be published in the American Watercolor in the Age of Homer and Sargent exhibition catalog.

A unique, one-of-a-kind book, this is the only copy listed with holdings in a library.

Bound with gold tooling and gilt edges, the volume is quite brittle and fragile. It has just been conserved by a professional book conservator to prepare it for exhibition.

Inside front cover, marbling, and bookplate for Ellen Robbins' Autumnal Leaves, published in 1868.

Inside front cover, marbling, and bookplate in Autumnal Leaves, published in 1868

Read more about Ellen Robbins and her extraordinary life and talent from retired curator of rare books Ed Valauskas in one of his Stories from the Rare Book Collection: Ellen Robbins, New England’s extraordinary watercolorist and floral artist.

Discover more about the current and rare books in the Lenhardt Library’s collection, which is open to the public. Members have borrowing privileges—become a member today!


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

The Victorians had it, and so do we, right here at the Lenhardt Library! A new rare book library exhibition has just opened as part of the Chicago Botanic Garden’s 2015 Orchid Show: Orchidelirium: Illustrated Orchidaceae.

ILLUSTRATION: Oncidium papilio

Oncidium papilio from A Century of Orchidaceous Plants Selected from Curtis’s Botanical Magazine: Consisting of a Hundred of the Most Worthy of Cultivations by William Jackson Hooker (1785–1865). London: Reeve and Benthem, 1851

No matter what you call it, the Victorians were mad for the sensational new plants arriving in England from every exotic location on Earth. The race was on, as botanical explorations took orchid collectors from one end of the globe to another in search of the most beautiful, rare, vibrantly colored, sensuously shaped orchids to be found. Orchid fever flared again and again, from the first time the Victorians saw a Cattleya labiata from South America (it bloomed after arriving as packing material in 1818), to the orchid display of the 1851 Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace, designed by gardener, architect, and member of Parliament Sir Joseph Paxton (1803–65).

And if that wasn’t enough, books, articles, and botanical journals were also devoted to the orchid.

No photography? No Internet? No matter! Botanical illustrators captured orchids in all their thought-provoking beauty, one engraving and lithograph at a time. These trained illustrators caught the clinical and technical aspects of the plants with sheer precision. After Cattleya labiata, the next Victorian orchid-on-demand was Oncidium papilio, the butterfly orchid, which is one of the most dazzling illustrations in Orchidelirium: Illustrated Orchidaceae.

ILLUSTRATION: Vanilla planifolia.

Vanilla planifolia from Curtis’s Botanical Magazine: Comprising the Plants of the Royal Gardens of Kew by Joseph Dalton Hooker (1785–1865). London: L. Reeve & Co., 1891

This year we celebrate Vanilla planifolia, an edible orchid that produces the second most expensive spice in the world, next to saffron. An entire case is devoted to the vanilla orchid—look for Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker’s Curtis’s Botanical Magazine: Comprising the Plants of the Royal Gardens of Kew, London: L. Reeve & Co., 1891.

Chocolate and vanilla lovers: don’t miss the rare plate from Zippel and Bollmann’s Ausländische Culturpflanzen in Bunten Wand-Tafeln  (Foreign Cultivated Plants in Colored Wall Panels with Explanatory Text) that was used as a tool for teaching plant anatomy. Like many of our rare orchid books and journals, this fragile plate was in much need of conservation. It was conserved through a grant by the National Endowment for Humanities; the digitized plate can be accessed online at the Illinois Digitized Archives.

ILLUSTRATION: A match made in Heaven—vanilla and chocolate together!

A match made in Heaven! Vanilla and chocolate illustrated together in this plate from Ausländische Culturpflanzen in Bunten Wand-Tafeln by Hermann Zippel and Karl Bollmann. Braunschweig: Druck und Verlag von Fredrich und Sohn, 1880–81


Orchidelirium: Illustrated Orchidaceae is open daily until April 19, 2015, with extended weekend hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) during The Orchid Show


©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org