The LuEsther T. Mertz Library


A walk during this season is an opportunity to observe the bones of a garden, and to focus on form, texture, and bark. The occasional colors of red and mahogany and subtle shadings of other hues tend to stand out in winter and are more appreciated now, especially when lush, tender plants are not part of the vista.

Chimonanthus praecox (formerly Meratia fragrans) or commonly winter sweet, is a sweet-scented, winter-flowering compact shrub. Hamamelis species (witch hazel) can be handsome shrubs, with long-lasting fragrant blooms in colors ranging from yellow to copper-red. Helleborus niger (Christmas rose) is a perennial garden plant that blooms in winter despite its fragile appearance.

Ornamental grasses remain beautiful throughout this time as do broad-leaved evergreens such as holly (Ilex species) and the specimens in the conifer collection. Persistent berries, rose hips, and other fruit attract birds, and if you are still, you may watch the birds too.

Wooded areas are good places to look for the evergreen native fern, Polystichum acrostichoides (Christmas fern), and also lichens and mosses with countless variations of form and color. One may also discover wintergreen with its tiny, persistent bright red berries, and lycopodium (club moss).

"Pinus Cembra"
T.A. Bischoff
Hand-colored engraving
from Friedrich Alexander von Schlümbach (fl. 1810–1811)
Abbildung der Hauptsachlichsten in-und Auslandischen Nadelbäume
Nuremberg: Schlümbach, 1810–1811
Green conifers form an important part of the winter landscape. On mild days, in protected south-facing areas, one may see some insect activity. Friedrich Alexander von Schlümbach's rare two-volume work is on conifers and their insect pests. Bischoff depicts Pinus cembra and the various states in the life history of its moth pest, Phalaena noctua quadra, Linn., in the most delightful way.
"Ceder vom Libanon im Jardin de Plantes zu Paris"
Allgemeines teutsches Garten-Magazin…
Vol. I
Weimar: Im Verlage des Landes, 1804
This image of a man reading under a cedar of Lebanon tree, in Jardin des Plantes de Paris, is from an 1804 German horticultural periodical. Although Cedar of Lebanon, Cedrus libani, is native to the Middle East, many attractive forms can be grown in the Northeast.


"Meratia fragrans"
Pancrace Bessa
Hand-colored engraving
from Jean Claude Michel Mordant de Launay (1750–1816)
Herbier Général de l'amateur
Vol. 3
Paris: Audot, libraire, 1819
Wintersweet, a shrub from China, now known botanically as Chimonanthus praecox, was formerly called Meratia fragrans. The very fragrant blooms of this shrub open when the winter is mild, making a winter walk most pleasant and rewarding.

"Hypnum proliferum"

James Sowerby
Hand-colored engraving
from James Sowerby, F.L.S. (1757–1822)
English botany…
Vol. 21
London: R. Taylor and Co., 1805

Attractive mosses such as this feather moss are easily found in wooded and shaded areas in winter.James Sowerby was not only a naturalist but also a deft and prolific artist. He made the 2,592 drawings and plates for this 36-volume series entitled English Botany as well as those for several other major works. The original drawings for this series are in the Natural History Museum in London


       "Lichen islandicus"
James Sowerby
Hand-colored engraving
from William Woodville (1752–1805)
Medical botany
Vol. 3
London: printed and sold for the author, by J. Phillips, 1793
Lichens are more obvious in winter, and often found on rocks and on north-facing sides of tree trunks. Chemical air pollutants can prevent the growth of lichens, so they are a most welcome sight. Dr. William Woodville's work describes plants and their medicinal uses.
"Polystichum acrostichoides"
William Walworth Stilson
from Willard Nelson Clute (b. 1869)
Our Ferns in Their Haunts; a Guide to All the Native Species
New York, F.A. Stokes [1901]
Polystichum acrostichoides (Christmas fern), an evergreen fern endemic to the Northeast, stands out now. You may spot its deep green fronds in woods, rock crevices, and shaded swamps and thickets. When its new fronds uncoil in early spring, it is thickly covered with silky white scales that later turn brown. This fern can occasionally grow as high as three feet.


                                    "Wintergreen"                               "Club Moss"
                                         Gaultheria procumbens                        Lycopodium clavatum
                                                                                                      Lycopodium complanatum

Anne Ophelia Dowden (1907- ) is one America’s leading botanical artists. She started her career as a professional artist, teacher and textile designer, having studied painting and illustration at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh. Formerly a drawing instructor at the Pratt Institute and Chairman of the Art Department at Manhattanville College, she often sketched plants for the purpose of design, and soon began illustrating nature subjects for magazines such as Life, Audubon, House Beautiful, and Natural History.

Working from living plants, the artist provided detailed research paintings for all her finished illustrations. Displayed in this exhibition are eight of some 600 of her original research drawings deposited by the artist in The LuEsther T. Mertz Library.


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