Beckler's Botanical Bounty Botanic Art

Beckler’s Botanical Bounty Exhibition

I am so excited! On Thursday we confirmed that our exhibition for Beckler’s Botanical Bounty is going to be held in February, 2018, at the Art Gallery of Ballarat.

The magnificent foyer of the Art Gallery of Ballarat (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2016)

Let me do a little explaining…..

I am part of a group of botanic artists who are working on a project to collect and paint the specimens collected by Dr. Hermann Beckler on the Burke and Wills Expedition of 1860. To find out more you can head to our website Beckler’s Botanical Bounty, and you may like to read other posts of mine.

Typical of the Outback habitats we explore for our plants. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2014)

For 6 years we have headed up to Menindee, an hour out of Broken Hill, Outback New South Wales. An exhibition has always been a priority for us and Ballarat was always at the top of our wish list. It is a wonderful, innovative gallery, with a strong interest in botanic and natural history art. Last year we finalised our exhibition proposal and sent it off to the Curator at Ballarat. And that’s where we have ended up!!

I must admit, as I was standing in the room our exhibition will be in, I thought “What have we done? Can we actually pull this off?” And then I thought “Of course we can, because we have a whole swag of supportive and knowledgeable people behind us!”

It seems like a long time away, but we have lots to do. I will certainly keep you informed. For now my first task is to get my painting finished!

Cullen cinereum, close up of an area, to show the stalks going in front and behind the leaves.
AnneLawsonArt Beckler's Botanical Bounty Botanic Art My art work

Painting my Cullen cinereum

Don’t we just love to see how creative projects are progressing? I have been following the progress Kate’s Cloth of Heaven, a beautiful quilt she is making as a special present. So, I thought you might like to follow the progress of my painting of Cullen cinereum.

Often I draw feathers, which I sell in my Etsy shop. I am also working on other, looser watercolour paintings. However my C. cinereum painting is a larger, more precise botanic art painting that I am painting for a special project.

I am one of a group of botanic artists who go to Menindee each year to collect plants that were first collected in the area by Dr Hermann Beckler, a member of the Burke and Wills Expedition of 1860. Our aim is to collect all 120 of his specimens and then do a painting of each of them. You can find out more about the Beckler’s Botanical Bounty Project on our website.

This October was the fifth time the Fella and I had journeyed up there. I was looking specifically for this plant, C. cinereum. Beckler collected four plants in the Cullen genus. I have collected and painted the other three, now it was time to search for this one. Below are my paintings of the first three.

I found it easily enough, on the dry bed of Lake Pamamaroo. So I collected my specimens [and yes, we have permits to do this] and set up my work space back in Menindee’s Civic Hall.

The first stage of painting is not any art work at all, but a lot of research. Accurate identification of the plant is crucial and that means working through the species key provided in reference books ~ what makes this plant Cullen cinereum and not C. discolor or one of the other species? What are the features of the genus? As well there are structural things to look at ~ how does the leaf join to the stem; are all the leaflets the same size? What is it’s habit and what identifying features do I need to include in the drawing?

Some artists move on to doing microscopic work and produce delightful drawings of the tiny parts of a plant. Unfortunately I am not very good at doing this. I do enlarged drawings of different sections, such as leaf joints and flower buds. Such drawings help me understand the plant and are a great reference.

Once I have a good understanding of the specimen before me, I begin a measured line drawing. Botanic art is done at size. Any enlargement, such as microscopic work, is indicated, for example x2, x10 and so on. Tracing paper is great for line drawings as you can rub out as often as you like and not destroy the paper.

This time I also managed to get a tonal drawing done. I laid another piece of tracing paper over the line drawing and shaded in the darker areas I could see on the specimen. Aside from colour matching, that’s all I have time to do up in Menindee. [You may remember the story of the little ladybird that hatched on the plant as I was drawing it.]

So, back home and it was time to transfer the line drawing to the good sheet of paper. I am using Fabriano watercolour paper, 300gsm. At this stage I had to consider the composition of the painting. I am fortunate that the specimen I used had a very nice shape to it. You can see the nice flow in the line drawing. It has a gentle curve that nestles into the corner of the paper and then the strong diagonal across the page. As well this composition shows the identifying feature of the habit ~ that it grows along the ground a little way and then becomes more upright.

To trace it I went over the drawing on the back of the tracing paper with pencil. After placing the tracing on the good paper I went over the whole drawing again to transfer the pencil on the back to the paper. Your really get to know the drawing well when you do it this way!

The drawing traced onto the good paper with some of the washes on the leaves

The next step begins, laying down washes on the leaves, and the tonal drawing comes into its own. I have lots of photos, but they don’t guide me at this early stage. It would be too easy to get carried away and not leave the lighter sections.

First washes on the leaves

This is where I am up to. Most of the leaves have their first wash. I have begun to add in some of the stems and flower stalks as I need to know whether they go in front or behind the leaves.


Close up of an area, to show the stalks going in front and behind the leaves.
Close up of an area, to show the stalks going in front and behind the leaves.
Beckler's Botanical Bounty Plants Travels

A story to tell from the Australian Arid Lands Botanical Gardens

Before we went south to the Coorong and the Great Ocean Road I made the Fella we went to Port Augusta. For a couple of years I had wanted to visit the Australian Arid Lands Botanical Garden there. To be completely open I wanted to see if they had any of the Cullen genus growing. Unfortunately not, but there were other things to see, and I found a plant that I certainly had not expected.

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I was walking around I heard a rustle in the bushes. I envy you if you live in a place where, when hearing a rustle in the bushes, you don’t automatically think “SNAKE!”. I jumped and panicked because I was not wearing sensible, anti-snake clothes. Then, bravely walking on, giving wide berth to the rustling bush, I looked and saw….this magnificent fellow.

Sand goanna (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2014)
Sand goanna (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2014)

I don’t think he is a Showy Daisy Bush, despite the label he is sitting next to! Instead he is a Sand Goanna, Varanus gouldii. 

A little further on I found this bush, and this where my story about this plant begins.

Spiny daisy Acanthocladium dockeri (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2014)
Spiny daisy Acanthocladium dockeri (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2014)
Spiny daisy Acanthocladium dockeri (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2014)

The plant is the Spiny Daisy, Acanthocladium dockeri. Not much to look at, and I wouldn’t have given more than a passing glance if I hadn’t read the sign that began

First collected 1860 by the Burke and Wills expedition in South-Western New South Wales.

My immediate thought was “Beckler!” Those of you who have been following my blog for a while will go “Ah, Beckler”. Those of you who are newer will go “Huh? Beckler?” So I have to explain. If you know who I am talking about, skip over this part.

As the sign says, in 1860 the Burke and Wills Expedition travelled through south-west NSW on their way to transverse Australia from south to north. The whole saga is fascinating and click here if you want to read more, but the Spiny Everlasting Daisy and I are staying in the south west, at Menindee. It was here that part of the Expedition, including Dr Hermann Beckler, stayed for a number of months. Beckler was fascinated by Australian plants and collected about 120 plants in the area during the enforced stay. These specimens were sent to his colleague, Ferdinand Von Mueller, who had established the Herbarium in Melbourne.

Fast forward 150 years…a group of botanical artists, including me, have a project, Beckler’s Botanical Bounty, to locate, identify, collect (with permission) and then paint these 120 plants. In fact a couple of weeks earlier I had been in Menindee for our annual collection and painting trip.

So, when I saw the sign I knew that this had to have been one of the plants on Beckler’s list. One that we needed to paint. Even that would have been exciting, but it was even better. I will let you read the rest of the sign.

Spiny daisy Acanthocladium dockeri (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2014)
Spiny daisy Acanthocladium dockeri (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2014

Oh wow! Believed to be extinct, but 4 sites were discovered in South Australia!! I did some detective work, thanks to the internet. This is from the Australian Government’s  Species Profile and Threats Database

The Spiny Everlasting was first recorded in NSW near the Darling River by Dr H Beckler during the Burke and Wills expedition in 1860. The species was not recorded again until 1910, when herbarium specimens were collected at Overland Corner on the Murray River in South Australia. By 1992 the Spiny Everlasting was believed to be extinct, as extensive searches in its general known localities failed to locate it (Davies 1992).

In 1999, a population of Spiny Everlasting was discovered near Laura, in the mid-north of South Australia; a further four populations have since been located in the region, with the latest population discovered in January 2007.

So yes, it was on Beckler’s list. Even more importantly, it is not extinct. Hanging on by the wispiest of roots, but still there, enhancing our world. It is still critically endangered, especially from these threats outlined in the Species Profile and Threats Database:

  • Habitat Fragmentation, Population Isolation and Low Genetic Variability
    The grassland habitat in which Spiny Everlasting occurs has been heavily fragmented and selectively cleared for agriculture in the Southern Lofty Ranges [South Australia] (Davies 1982, 2000), with the result that all remaining subpopulations are isolated from each other. The five known subpopulations represent five quite distinct genetic clones (Jusaitis & Adams 2005, Jusaitis 2007).
  • Pollen Viability and Seedling Recruitment
    Trials have found low levels of seed set as a result of low pollen viability. In the field, plants have only been observed reproducing vegetatively by suckering from roots and shoots. In the laboratory, seedlings have only been successfully raised by tissue culture, indicating low seedling vigour (Jusaitis & Adams 2005; Robertson 2002a). …….Lack of successful sexual reproduction threatens Spiny Everlasting in the longer term, as it prevents maintenance of genetic diversity through recombination.
  • Herbivory by Snails 
    The introduced common White or Vineyard Snail Cernuella virgata has a dramatic impact on individuals of Spiny Everlasting during the wetter months. Trials have shown that the snails actively graze on both stems and leaves of the plant during winter and spring (Jusaitis, cited in Robertson 2002a). This removes the outer tissue layers, resulting in weakening or ringbarking of the stems, death of leaves and often death of complete shoots above the site of injury. Plants may resprout below, or occasionally above, the injury (Robertson 2002a). These snails have been in the Laura district for only about 10 years and their impact may be increasing. They are found at the sites of all Spiny Everlasting subpopulations (Robertson 2002a, b, c, d, e). If snail numbers continue to increase, their impact is likely to become increasingly severe, making the subpopulations more vulnerable to other factors.
  • Grazing of Habitat by Vertebrates
    The Spiny Everlasting has apparently become extinct along the Murray and Darling Rivers. Davies (1992) and Robertson (2002a) hypothesise that one contributing factor was degradation of its former habitats by rabbits and sheep grazing.

There is a plan in place, including five translocation sites that have been established for education awareness in public gardens. These are at the Laura Parklands, the Arid Lands Botanic Gardens in Port Augusta, Hart Field Day Site, the Mid-North Plant Diversity Nursery in Blyth, and the Australian National Botanic Gardens in Canberra.

Another three translocations have been established to provide back-up for the natural extant subpopulations.

The Beckler’s Botanical Bounty Project will not be able to collect any specimens of the Spiny Everlasting Daisy, but perhaps we will be able to go to one of the translocation sites and paint this amazing plant. That would be another great story to add to Project.

There is another personal layer to this too. After we left Port Augusta we camped for a few nights at Melrose, at the foot of Mt Remarkable. Somewhere close to Melrose is one of the sites where the daisy was rediscovered. We had coffee in the Laura bakery. I was that close to seeing it in the wild, but I didn’t know until I had passed on by. I am not sure that I would have gone looking for it. A species that is critically endangered needs to be treasured and supported, not tramped over. I am just happy that it is still in our world.

Beckler's Botanical Bounty Plants Travels

On to the next thing

Life has been very busy lately.

Not only have I organised my painting for the Exhibition , but I have been organising another exhibition.

You will remember that I am a member of a group of botanical artists who, each year, go up to the small town of Menindee in the arid outback of New South Wales. We go there to collect and paint the plants that Dr Hermann Beckler collected while he was at the supply camp of the Burke and Wills Expedition. You can read more about it here, and you might like to visit our blog

(My Cullen pallidum painting, that I have been raving telling you about in recent posts, was part of that project. But this is a different exhibition.)

The project a fascinating meeting of history, art and science. We have always intended to have an exhibition of our work and this one is a smaller version, a practice run! It is being held up at Menindee. There is a little gallery in the Information Centre and our 30 works should fit in very nicely. We decided to exhibit prints of our originals, which we are donating to the community at the end of the exhibition. They will be there for people to use as they need.

I have had fun doing the work, but it has been a steep learning curve! Fortunately John, the curator up at the gallery, has been holding my hand via emails and phone calls.

For example I had to put together the plant names for the catalogue. Unfortunately it is not enough to just say “daisy” or “saltbush”. The scientific names are needed. Boy, are some of those Latin spellings tricky! Also, botanic convention means that there is a precise way of writing them, italicised in the right way, commas at the right place, capitals and non-capitals, etc.

I have also been talking to media people in Broken Hill, the biggest town in the area. I am not good at ringing up people, especially people I don’t know. Emails, texts, even blogs, no worries; phone calls make me quite anxious. But I did it, and found lovely helpful people at the other end, just like I knew I would.

So, just incase you should happen to be passing through Menindee in September and October drop into the exhibition. If you are in Broken Hill or Mildura, make a detour. And if you can’t be there in person check out our Beckler Blog or wait for me to post some photos here. The details, for those of you lucky enough to be up in that marvellous part of the world, are

Monday 22nd September to Sunday 12th October 2014 (inclusive)
Darling River Art Gallery
Menindee Visitor Information Centre
49 Yartla St Menindee
Open daily, 10 am to 2 pm

I will leave you with some photos of us collecting and painting over the last few years.