Botanical illustration artists specialize in creating scientifically authentic depictions of plant life. This means that each botanical rendering must be accurate down to the minutest detail. Although the original intent of botanical artwork was to help in the positive identification of medicinal plants, the current use for botanical artwork has not deviated far from its original intent.
The oldest existing example of botanical art is found in a copy of De Materia Medica, which was an encyclopedia on medicinal plants. The five volume encyclopedia was written in the first century A.D. by a physician and botanist named Pedanius Dioscorides. The botanical encyclopedia was created out of a need for reliable identification of medicinal plants, for it is said many people became gravely ill, and some even died, after being given toxic plants.
Today, despite the advancements in photographic and computer technology, botanical art remains the most popular method of scientific illustration. This can be attributed to the fact that botanical artist are able to take greater liberties with their depictions without sacrificing accuracy. For instance, parts of botanical renderings can be magnified, reversed, turned inside out, and labeled much easier than any photograph.
But the work of botanical illustration artists is not the sole province of the scientific community. In the wake of a growing public interest in conservation and ecology, botanical artwork is gaining popularity as wall art. Additionally, organizations such as the American Society of Botanical Artists have been founded to advance the botanical arts.
Given the perpetual advancements in computer technology, the future of the botanical arts seems limitless. While it is impossible to foresee how the genre will grow, it is likely that computer technology deliver a higher level of understanding and creation to botanical artists, scientists, students, and plant hobbyists everywhere.