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23rd Annual International

American Society of Botanical Artists at Wave Hill


Autumn at Pond's Edge

Typha angustifolia, Bolboschoenus maritimus, Schoenoplectus pungens, Juncus torreyi

I first became interested in wetland plants after taking a course on the botany of wetland grasses and sedges at the Denver Botanic Gardens School of Botanical Art & Illustration. I was fascinated to learn of the diversity of these plants and began to seek out wetland areas on my daily walks so that I could study and illustrate them.


I live in the Colorado Front Range next to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains at the western edge of the High Plains subregion of the Great Plains. While the climate in this region is semi-arid, wetland and riparian ecosystems are surprisingly common and can be found alongside rivers, streams, and ponds as well as in ditches and shallow basins. These areas provide essential habitat for vast numbers of birds and other vertebrate species in an otherwise often harsh environment. They also provide ecological “services,” including water filtration, ground stabilization, and flood zone buffering.


The inspiration for this illustration sprang from a group of wetland plants I observed at the Chapungu Sculpture Park, along the Greeley and Loveland Irrigational Canal in Loveland, Colorado. Alongside walking trails and a collection of stone sculptures by Zimbabwean artists, there is a wetland ecosystem that supports a diverse collection of flora and fauna. The drawing includes three obligate wetland plants (occurring only in wetlands: Typha angustifolia, Bolboschoenus maritimus, and Schoenoplectus pungens) and one facultative wetland plant (usually occurs in wetlands but may also occur in non-wetlands: Juncus torreyi).


On the left, Typha angustifolia, found throughout the Northern Hemisphere, is commonly called narrow-leaf cattail, lesser reedmace, or corn dog grass. Also known as lesser bulrush, the cattail is not a rush but a monocot herb that is often considered invasive, although it is also useful. Many parts of the cattail are edible. Early civilizations used the fluffy down of the flower heads in making diapers and pillows, and the leaf fiber for roof thatching and in woven mats, baskets and shoes. Cattails have many uses in herbal medicine, and the plants have been shown to remove poisons from water. They provide food for ducks, geese, muskrats, beavers, moose, and elk as well as nesting material for many songbirds.


Cattails are hermaphroditic, with male and female parts on the same stalk. In autumn, as illustrated, one sees the stems after the male (staminate) flowers at the top have released pollen and fallen away. Below this is a short section of bare stem that separates the male and female flowers and is specific to the T. angustifolia species. The female (pistillate) part of the plant is the characteristic fuzzy brown cylinder.


Next to the cattail is Bolboschoenus maritimus, a common wetland plant known as the cosmopolitan bulrush (also not a true rush). Found in much of the world, it is a member of the family of wetland sedges. The culm is triangular, as in most sedges. The flower spikes are clustered near the apex of this slender stem, with bracts that extend above like graceful arms, while leaves below curve fluidly outward as though trying to embrace neighboring plants. The cosmopolitan bulrush provides food for birds in its seeds and rhizomes, and its leaves and stems are eaten by beaver and muskrats. The plants also provide nesting cover for waterfowl, amphibians, small mammals, and fish.


Next is Schoenoplectus pungens, the common threesquare sedge. It is found in North and South America, Europe, New Zealand, and Australia. The stem is sharply triangular, stiff, and straight, with compact flower spikes and a single bract well above shorter leaves. Like the cosmopolitan bulrush, the seeds and rhizomes of this plant are an important food source and nesting habitat for muskrats, waterfowl, fish, and amphibians.


Finally, on the right is Juncus torreyi, Torrey’s rush, native to north America. A true rush, it has stiff, round stems, globe-shaped flower heads with a single bract, and two to five leaves with a translucent sheath at the base of each blade. The seeds of this plant are eaten by insects, and to some extent by small rodent and ducks, and the plants also provide cover for wildlife.


In composing this illustration I envisioned a kind of wetland “dance,” grouping the four plants to best show their similarities and differences. Because these are tall plants, in order to draw them at life size, I created a “window” to focus on the most descriptive characteristics of each. Illustrating the inflorescence of each plant was fun and challenging, from the dull, fuzzy, multicolored brown of the cattail flower head to the precise details of the sedge and rush flower spikes. It was important to accurately depict the stem shapes, since they are specific to the different types of plants. Also important was getting the greens of the leaves and stems correct, in order to show the plants in autumn colors as they begin to yellow and fade toward winter browns. I enjoyed illustrating each individually, yet always in concert with the others, as in a dance.



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23rd annual-crabtree-autumnatpondsedge-95vcn

Typha angustifolia, Bolboschoenus maritimus, Schoenoplectus pungens, Juncus torreyi

Autumn at Pond's Edge

Colored pencil on paper

16-1/2 x 12-1/2 inches

©2020 Mary Crabtree

2024 ASBA - All rights reserved

All artwork copyrighted by the artist. Copying, saving, reposting, or republishing of artwork prohibited without express permission of the artist.

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