Art & Botany: Vases of Roots

Art & Botany: Vases of Roots

November 1, 2012
Photo by: Diana Scherer

Photographer Diana Scherer's 'Nurture Studies' is beautiful evidence of the strength of a plant's root system. She looks beyond the flower to what happens below ground. Inspired by 17th century botanical encyclopedias whose plant profiles included detailed illustrations of the plant's various parts, Scherer's work similarly studies a plant as an entire entity, roots and all. Her plant portraits reveal the will of these roots—to expand their network and seek new sources of nutrients. In her work, the roots are portrayed as a support system for the flower—now, without a container, in more ways than one.

Scherer grew the flowers from seed over six-months, entirely confined within the corset of a vase. The vases are removed when the flower is teetering at the peak of its growth. This is when she takes out her camera—just when the roots are feeling the constraints of their container, and the flowers are up against their mortality. The leaves are tinged with brown, the petals are beginning to wilt, and the stems bend under the weight of growth. The roots, however, are still holding strong. 

Seeing Scherer's work reminded me of a recent study presented at the Society for Experimental Biology, in which scientists were also examining a potted plant's roots to determine patterns of growth (while the study perhaps raised more questions than it answered, it was determined that a plant will grow over 40% larger when its pot size is doubled). It's a nice example of artists and scientists pursuing the same inquiry, albeit with different tools and methods. To wit, Sherer, rather than use an MRI scanner to diagram the roots, simply shattered the vase. It's one way to do it, and it makes for a fantastic photograph.

Van Zoetandaal Publishers, a press in the Netherlands that focuses on letterpress and offset lithography, has designed a book of the 'Nurture Studies' photographs.


'Nurture Studies' (2012). Photo credit: Van Zoetandaal Publishers.

'Nurture Studies.' Photo credit: Diana Scherer.