Panda oleosa

UBC Botanical Garden’s Randal Mindell is the author of today’s entry (thank you!). As an aside, Eric La Fountaine will be organizing entries / sending out the notifications for the next week or so while I’m away. Randal writes:

Today we take a diversion into the world of botanical illustration and learn of a rare, photosynthetic Panda. Die Naturlichen Pflanzenfamilien was originally published in 23 volumes between 1887 and 1915. Co-edited by Adolf Engler and Karl von Prantl, the series was extremely broad in scope, covering all genera of all families of all photosynthetic organisms, as well as fungi and an assortment of “protozoa”. While the exhaustive Latin descriptions and German elaborations are remarkable enough, the scope of the illustration work is often underplayed. More than 30,000 unique drawings in Die Naturlichen Pflanzenfamilien were engraved by the same illustrator, Josef Pohl. The scope and quality of these technical illustrations proved invaluable when many of the type specimens (i.e., the herbarium specimen that the name and published description are based upon) used for these illustrations went up in flames during the bombing of Berlin in World War II. As such, many illustrations remain as the only record of type material.

As demonstrated here in Figure 1, Volume 19 in the second edition of the series (public domain image used here), the illustration style was exhaustive, covering the stems, leaves, inflorescences, flowers, pollen, fruits and seeds of most genera, often times in both external form and internal anatomy (J,K,L,N,O,P). Descriptions and figures of this extent are rare elsewhere in the literature, so this work remains a relevant reference for fundamental botanical information long after its original publication.

Nuts of Panda oleosa (illustrated in the figure) are actually a common food for one of our closest living relatives. Chimpanzees in Africa have been observed to use primitive tools to smash open the nuts (PDF) and extract seed tissue.

Panda oleosa

12 responses to “Panda oleosa”

  1. Troy Mullens

    It is almost unimaginable that Josef Pohl could do that many illustrations in one lifetime. I have done some scientific illustration and I can tell you that it would take me 50 lifetimes to do that many illustrations.
    Astounding, and the work is not hurried, sketchy, or incomplete. These are masterpieces.
    Thanks for sharing this wonderful post.

  2. ej

    Illustrator Keeps Artistic Vision Despite Eye Injury
    An interesting story about a botanical illustrator
    Alice Tangerini got her job illustrating plants for the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History straight out of college in 1972. Her boss, botanist Warren Wagner, thinks she’s now the best botanical illustrator in the U.S. — even with just one good eye.

  3. Behty H.

    This is gorgeous! I always love seeing these botanical drawings – they draw us back to a different era, thanks for sending this out.

  4. He Who Lives With Yankees

    A lost art.

  5. phillip

    ….green with envy…i can’t draw a circle or a square…lol
    amazing what a person can do… when they love what they do

  6. annie Morgan

    Beautiful drawings – and I couldn’t find a colour photo of the plant anywhere on Google.
    Phillip – I can’t even draw stick people.

  7. Sue in Bremerton

    Totally awesome illustration. A thousand years ago when I was in high school, my Biology class was instructed to draw an amoeba. I looked, and my illustration looked rather like a lima bean. The teacher thought it was wonderful. She said that during her education she had mostly failed at illustrating.
    I so appreciate such detail. I used to read old catalogues and they were filled with illustrations, as the photographic era had not quite come into perfection yet.
    Thank goodness for illustrators. Having been a draftsman in my profession, I still wonder in awe at such a detailed drawing as we see today. I envy those with such an eye for detail, whatever field those drawings come in.
    Thanks for such a lovely reminder of the pre-camera, but highly specific times. This was a wonderful entry, that not many will ever have a chance to see again.

  8. Sarah in Reading, UK

    It’s interesting how much easier it is to identify plants in the field from line drawings, rather than photographs. Botanical illustrations, with their clarity and honesty, have a transcendence that photographs, and even other art forms, don’t have for me. What first drew you to plants? For me it was Keble Martin.

  9. brian

    i love this comment about the seeds of Panda oleosa….” The large seeds of Panda oleosa are exclusively dispersed by elephants”
    [Flowering Plant Families of the World, VH Heywood et al, 2007]

  10. Mary Ann, in Toronto

    Great illustrations and information.
    Annie, above, mentions not being able to find photos. I, too, spent quite some time (while I should have been working ;o) looking for photos of this tree/plant, and I couldn’t find any either. If anyone can provide a link to a photo, I’d love to see one.
    While searching, I came across numerous, very interesting references to chimps and tool use, one being in a book about animal consciousness.

  11. elizabeth a airhart

    this is one of my favorites
    early botanical drawings
    before all the modern means we now use
    before electric lights super markets
    cars and computers earning but little
    if with out a sponser fuchs and matthioli
    women of flowers is a fine book
    i have also tried a search so far i have not
    come up with a picture surely one must exist

  12. Carolyn Liesy

    The compositions on the page of these engravings is absolutely lovely. The fact that they are engravings is truly amazing.

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