The First Question Is—Why?

plantain1I’m asking myself this. Why?  Why attempt such an insane project?  What’s the allure?

The easy answer is that I’ve always been a fan of Gerda Bengtsson’s designs.  From the minute I saw the first examples, they stirred something in me.  They’re pretty, but it’s more than that.  It’s their simple elegance, their spareness.  Each is a plant, distilled down to its essential elements.

The botanist in me appreciates how each one is readily identifiable.  The illustration to the left is obviously a plantain, a member of the genus Plantago.  The narrow, strap-shaped leaves with parallel veins, the spikes of tiny flowers that bloom sequentially from bottom to top—it couldn’t be anything else.  A plantain is a humble weed; most people would pull it, but Gerda saw its soul.  It makes my geeky little heart go pitter-pat.

But it’s more than art, more than needlework or taxonomy.  It will be a way of immortalizing the plants I love, the plants that are disappearing under strip malls and asphalt, the plants that are being shoved aside by introduced weeds and summers that start too early and last too long.  It will be a way of reconnecting with the plants I used to work with every day, back when Biology at Texas A&M included field botany, economic botany, and yes, taxonomy.  It will be a way of remembering plants that used to be common and are now so rare that most people don’t know what we’ve lost.

Will I chart a thousand plants, like Gerda?  Oh, very probably not.  I’ll be the first to admit that my large projects are usually long in the finish, if they get completed at all.  But anything is something.  In a year or two or three or five, I’ll be a year or two or three or five years older, whether I get anywhere with this or not.

So let me see if maybe I can leave some spiderworts and bluets behind.