Florida, Selby Plants Artistically Diagrammed In New Exhibit

Philadelphia artist MF Cardamone interprets native Florida plants in a whimsical way at Selby Gardens.

If you've ever flipped through those science textbooks in school looking at the diagrams of plants and flowers, maybe you thought they could use a little life.

Philadelphia artist MF Cardamone has taken these diagrams used for ages and decided to infuse them with art, personal connections and history and her latest collection features plants and specimens from Marie Selby Botanical Gardens and native Florida plants.

"I'm always interested in learning about new plant species, and it was very exciting for me to get this opportunity to document different plants from Florida—from the collection of epiphytes and the collection of native plants, which I'm very interested in," Cardamone tells Patch. "

The exhibit, Florida Fantastica, is displayed at Selby Gardens' Museum of Botany and the Arts through March 3 and is open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily. Admission is included with tickets to the gardens.

Take a look at her work and you'll see plenty of inspiration on these mixed media pieces. Take "Arbol de la Vida," for instance, which is a diagram of Florida's Tree of Life, explaining the three functions of these leaves: photosynthesis, respiration and transportation.

What makes up the tree includes a star fish, a cigar wrapper, a flamingo, orange, Mickey Mouse ears, a fishing reel and a state map branching off from a tree featuring parts of native plants.

"I'm trying to connect the dots, and I love just to put down the things that are ecological, spiritual, the historical aspects so it's sort of like visual puzzles," Cardamone said. "I love to juxtapose to evoke this sense of mystery—what is this?"

Another piece, "Mangrove With Shoe" has a designer shoe at the base of a mangrove with a backhoe and rocket branching out.

"I'm very influenced with what has happened in the past, and I really wanted to reinvent the genre of botanical illustration and make it new and inventive and expand on the idea of what a plant artist is," Cardamone said. "To me, it's part of the bigger picture than just the anatomy of a plant—it's the spiritual, the medicinal, the ecological."

Cardamone didn't flip through textbooks as a kid fascinated with these diagrams. The lifelong visual artist actually became inspired when she went back to school to study horticulture 10 years ago, she said.

"It was to be a better gardener," she said about the three-year program. At the reception Cardamone said she was asked if was a little crazy for embarking on taking that program for a garden.

"Probably, but I really wanted a deeper knowledge of plant biology and ecology," she said.

While she did gain ideas for new art, her garden hasn't changed all that much, she admitted, but it didn't really need to change.

"I'm a lazy gardener," she said. "I plant ecologically, so the maintenance is low and the appreciation and enjoyment is high."

Cardamone became connected with Selby through an exhibit in Philadelphia's Academy of Natural Arts and Sciences two years ago where Perales discovered her work. That led to Cardamone visiting Selby to collect plants and specimens.

When it was time to explore Selby, she fell in love with the so-called "air plants" or the epiphytes, which are non-parasitic plants that attach to other plants in tropical and sub-tropical climates.

"I found it so fascinating with how different someone thinks of a plant when it can just survive on atmospheric humidity, and all the different strategies plants develop to survive," Cardamone said. 

Cardamone worked with Selby's Botany Director Bruce Holst, Education Director Jeannie Perales and Horticulture Director Mike McLaughlin to develop a list of plant samples from Selby Gardens and Florida. The designs also celebrate the state's 500th anniversary.

After the Selby exhibit, Cardamone is off to the Amazon working to collect specimens and plants there, working with the ACEER Foundation, or Amazon Center for Environmental Education Research over the next two years.


Florida Fantastica

Through March 3, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, 900 S. Palm Ave.

Selby Gardens Admission: $17 for ages 12 and up; $6 for ages 6 to 11; Free for 5 and under

Call 941-366-5731 for more information


Special Programming for Florida Fantastica

Associates' Luncheon Lecture by Jeannie Perales at Mattison's Forty-One—11:30 a.m. Jan. 21

"The Art of Plants" at Plant & Garden Festival, Selby Gardens—10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Feb. 23 and 24

Free Noon Lecture: Of Plants & People with Dr. Matthew Mclendon—Noon, Feb. 26

Call 941-366-5731 for more information



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