In 1917, pioneering ecologist E. Lucy Braun, who fought to preserve natural areas in Ohio and protect unique geological sites like the Red River Gorge in Kentucky, led the charge to establish the Cincinnati Wild Flower Preservation Society.
Dedicated to conserving native wild plant life, early Wild Flower Preservation Society members promoted “Enjoy — Not Destroy” and battled to keep the human footprint of logging, farming and real estate development in check. “Shall we preserve this beauty for future generations to enjoy, or shall we, through our thoughtlessness, destroy within a short period what man can never replace?” they asked.
The Cincinnati Wild Flower Preservation Society is now celebrating its 100th anniversary by joining the Lloyd Library and Museum and the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden to explore the region’s native plants in the exhibit Wild About Wildflowers.
The exhibition, located at downtown’s Lloyd Library, showcases historic art, manuscripts and artifacts from the library and the society, and features wildflower photography by the zoo’s native plant manager Brian Jorg.
“This is a wonderful opportunity to bring together our collections and highlight the role Lucy Braun played in preservation,” says Patricia Van Skaik, the Lloyd Library’s executive director. “A lot of what you hear nationally about conservation today came directly from Lucy or was the result of her work.”
The exhibit also presents rare illustrations from the oldest botanical garden in London, England — the Chelsea Physic Garden. Christoph Jacob Trew, a German physician and botanist, worked with Chelsea artists Elizabeth Blackwell and Georg Dionysius Ehret in the 1700s to illustrate his botanical medicine texts, which are housed in the Lloyd Library’s collection.
To emphasize the differences — and similarities — in wildflowers over time, archival artwork is placed next to Jorg’s modern photographs of the same plant in the Wild About Wildflowers exhibit.
Jorg, an avid naturalist, has been capturing images of plants since he was 10 years old. “My biggest fascination is with the native orchid,” he says. “There are a number of orchids in Ohio, some right here in Hamilton County, and for me, going out and finding them in bloom is always a challenge.”
He says his tasks — which include discovering where a rare, wild specimen might be hiding and determining the day it will blossom — pale to ones early illustrators faced.
“When I look at the botanical plates, I realize the artist had to capture every little nuance, every subtle difference of plants that, in some cases, had never before been documented,” he says. “A phenomenal amount of work went into that — not just the drawing, but the cataloguing and descriptions, too.”
The images on display at the Lloyd Library were curated by Jorg and Lloyd librarian Erin Campbell. “We chose them to tell people something they might not know, like the fact that we have native cacti and carnivorous plants in our region,” Campbell says.
Complementing Wild About Wildflowers is a series of programs about native plants and conservation that include a performance at the zoo by author Alice Jones about Lucy Braun and her sister Annette; botanical poetry writing workshop at the library, and a wildflower nature hike at the C.G. Lloyd Wildlife Management Area, a preserve established by library co-founder Curtis Gates Lloyd in Crittenden, Ky.
But why do wildflowers matter?
“Native wildflowers tie together the whole ecosystem,” says Christine Hadley, current president of the Cincinnati Wild Flower Preservation Society. “They support everything — the insects, the birds, the mammals. It seems obvious, but people don’t think about it. If you don’t support native wildflowers, you don’t support native wildlife.”
That’s why, a century later, the society still upholds Lucy Braun’s commitment to conservation. “When I look back in our archives, I see what our founders were concerned about,” Hadley says. “They saw logging and habitat destruction 100 years ago. Today, we’re fighting against the same things. We have the same feelings.”
WILD ABOUT WILDFLOWERS is on display at the Lloyd Library and Museum (917 Plum St., Downtown) through Nov. 18. More info on programs tied to the exhibit: lloydlibrary.org.