Painting a botanical illustration of opuntia basilaris

Chris Bondante is one of the contemporary botanical artists whose work is part of the juried portion of the Florilegium Program’s current exhibit Botanical Art of the Sonoran Desert: Past and Present. Chris has degrees in microbiology and scientific and medical illustration. Her illustrations have appeared in several publications, including The New Our Bodies, Ourselves and Key to the Invertebrates of Southern California Coastal Waters. She recently retired after 21 years as a biology instructor at Pima Community College and now devotes herself to botanical art and illustration, working with both the Florilegium Program and the Legumes of Arizona project.

One of the challenges of botanical illustration is finding a logical and organized way to present the drawings of various plant structures. Starting at the top left of the drawing, Chris shows the cycle of flowering, beginning with a partially opened flower and progressing through the fully opened flower (side view and top view), moving then to longitudinal sections of the flower to reveal the reproductive structures, and ending finally with a grouping of mature seeds. The bottom portion of the drawing is reserved for showing the complete habit, or growth form, of the plant in bloom and an enlargement of the surface of the cactus pad including a detail of the glochids.

Although not a tiny flower, the cactus flower nonetheless requires magnification in order to see clearly the reproductive structures. A magnifying glass, dissecting microscope, or macro lens can all be invaluable for capturing details before the flower fades.

The flower cut in half lengthwise (longitudinal section) to reveal numerous male structures (stamens) that surround the single female structure (pistil)
The same longitudinal section cut to reveal additional structures: beneath the single pistil is the ovary containing the ovules that will develop into seeds
Further magnification of the developing ovules

Plan to attend the exhibit and see the marvelous details in Chris’ painting up close. The exhibit will be shown in the Ironwood Gallery and the Baldwin Education Building at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum from August 24 through October 27, 2013. — Cindy Hartwell

This appeared in the July 2013 issue of the Desert Breeze, the monthly newsletter of the Tucson Cactus and Succulent Society.