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Article for the SBA in full




Unveiling Nature's Miniature Marvels: The Bryophytes and Lichens Art Trail at the Dundee Botanic Garden


by Inês-Hermione Mulford




“Nestled within the serene confines of the Dundee Botanic Garden lies a hidden world of miniature marvels waiting to be discovered. In a pioneering initiative, guided by world-leading experts in bryology and lichenology, an enchanting Bryophytes and Lichens Art Trail has been unveiled, offering visitors a glimpse into the captivating beauty of these often-overlooked plant species.”


Back in 2022 I was fortunate enough to be presented with an opportunity to create an Art Trail exploring the wonderful macro-world on bryophytes and lichens at the Dundee Botanic Garden. I had seen and partaken in trails  in other gardens, however, despite my love of bryophytes and lichens, I always found these trails wanting. I wanted more and what I proposed to Kevin Frediani the Botanic Garden’s Curator, was a lot more; we’re talking scaling up from 1cm to1m more.


But before we delve into the project, I think it is important to mention that my meeting with Kevin had come via  quite an unusual route, you might even call it serendipitous because while I had been mulling over the benefits of a more interactive version of these trails, ex-surgeon and now friend, Rod Mountain was looking at my paintings at the Surgeon’s Hall Museum in Edinburgh.



I have not come to botany from the most obvious of directions. I was for many years, a surgical painter; following surgeons in and out of surgery and producing fine art paintings that capture the accuracy of medical art with the realism and precision demanded of the subject matter. Working for  many years in anatomy, surgery and medicine, I learnt a lot, and I became aware of similarities between organs within our own bodies and the mosses and lichens I had amaturly been studying for many years. The two overlapped for a period during the Covid years, until I stopped the surgery completely turning my entire attention to the natural world.


Rod reached out through my website and after a couple of zoom conversations invited me up to Dundee to meet Kevin and the project was a go. Yes, it was that quick!


I spent a few weeks exploring the garden, researching, drawing, and, attempting, to identify species. Attempting being the key word here as a lot of bryophyte and lichen species can only be identified under a microscope, or with years of experience. I quite quickly realised I was out of my depth and so called in the troops. The British Bryophyte Society organised an identification day at the garden led by the truly incredible Lyn Jones, David Chamberlain and Liz Kungu. Along with a number of volunteers we swept the garden, identifying and recording as we went until we had recorded over 100 different species within the 27 acres nestled in the middle of Dundee. We did something similar, but on a smaller scale, with the lichens.


This meticulous observation, drawing, and identification of specimens unveiled the intricate beauty and ecological significance of these incredible plants. But how to narrow down over 100 species of bryophytes, let alone the lichens, into an art trail? After careful consideration and collaboration with esteemed experts Neil Bell and Liz Kungu (bryologists), and Becky Yahr (lichenologist), at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, a selection of eight specimens was curated, each chosen to showcase the diverse and fascinating aspects of these remarkable plants. From the delicate intricacies of mosses to the symbiotic partnerships of lichens, each specimen tells a unique story of adaptation and resilience in the natural world.


Drawings and reference photos taken, these final eight were then committed to paint. Why a painting and not photos? Well it wouldn’t be an art trail if we’d just used photos! But also, as with botanical art, because painting and drawing a specimen enables the artist to enhance features and remove anything unimportant. I am however considered unusual as I paint in oils. For me they come more naturally given that they’re the medium I have worked in throughout my career so far. I feel they enable me to create lush, vibrant compositions that evoke a sense of depth and realism, while the forgiving nature of oil paint enables me to revisit and revise my paintings over time, adding layers of complexity and refinement. These eight paintings, once finished, were then scanned,

and reproduced onto 1m aluminium boards to

be placed permanently within the garden.

 

Alongside the artworks, with the help of my fact-checkers Neil and Becky, I created two handouts for visitors, one for adults and another for children. These handouts provide facts and stories, but they also ask visitors to draw and make up names for the species; to not just look at the species but to use all their senses familiarising them with these amazing plants. I wanted the trail to serve as an educational platform, offering insights into the ecological roles played by bryophytes and lichens in sustaining diverse ecosystems.



The trail and the handouts have been curated in such a way that  new species can be added easily, and others taken away, allowing for a trail that changes over time showcasing this beautiful macro-world. But beyond its aesthetic appeal, the Bryophytes and Lichens Art Trail embodies a commitment to conservation and scientific inquiry. By highlighting the beauty and significance of these overlooked plant groups, the trail invites visitors to embark on a journey of discovery, where the smallest of plants reveal the greatest of wonders. I wanted it to inspire visitors and the next generation; to foster a sense of stewardship towards our natural heritage.


I’m thrilled to be working on a new trail with the British Lichenological Society and the Dundee Naturalists celebrating lichens within Dundee. We are hoping to one day develop these trails to go “Over the Garden Wall” as Kevin Frediani calls it. Taking art depicting bryophytes and lichens into urban settings in the city itself, to draw attention to these truly wonderful, resilient, plants, which are colonising our urban worlds. Because, as we marvel at the intricacies of nature's design, we may find inspiration to cherish and protect the rich biodiversity that surrounds us.


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