Flora Illustrata was published in commemoration of the 125th anniversary of the New York Botanical Gardens. The book contains essays about various holdings of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library, part of the research center at the NYBG. Visually stunning illustrations are accompanied by eleven essays highlighting interesting parts of the library’s collections. These essays are informative and historically instructive. Budding botanists should head straight for the fascinating essay on Linnaeus and how his work laid the foundation for modern botany. Bibliophiles will learn so much from the essay on famous works in American gardening and horticulture. But it is the illustrations that will set the flower lover’s soul on fire.
The book is full of some of the loveliest flower illustrations I have ever seen. The Oriental poppy from Shirley Hibberd’s Familiar Garden Flowers is stunning in its simplicity. The dahlias in a nurseryman’s 1892 specimen book showcase natural perfection. And the goldband lily from the 1869 Descriptive Catalogue of a Choice Collection of Vegetable, Agricultural and Flower Seeds reminded me why lilies are so loved. Some illustrations have historic as well as aesthetic interest, like Flower Seeds from Miss C.H. Lippincott,containing images from a 1898 catalog from a Minneapolis-based seed purveyor. The illustrations of vintage seed boxes sent me directly to Ebay.
The preface states that Flora Illustrata was meant to introduce the public to many of the collection’s works. It does that just fine. The book has so much more to offer though. It holds a wealth of information as well as true beauty in its pages. Even if you don’t read a word in the book, the illustrations would more than justify its purchase.