Perennials · Plant Choices

Heath Rush – Lizzie Harper

Once I’d decided I wanted to enter a botanical illustration for the British Botanical Art Exhibition it was a matter of deciding what illustration(s) to enter.  I’m a full-time freelance botanical illustrator, so had quite a few completed illustrations to mull over.

My first thought was to submit a Sphagnum moss illustration as I’d recently been working on a beautiful crimson-red species that had driven me almost to despair, but which had also absorbed me completely.  Alas, mosses were not In Stace ( so I had to choose another species.


I’ve always been a sucker for sedges and grasses, and I quite liked the idea of submitting an illustration of a plant which was far removed from the showier, more conventionally “pretty” British wildflowers.  I’d recently completed a whole list of grasses and sedges for the Field Studies Council, and decided to choose a plant that had appeared on the Heaths & Mires Phase 1 habitat survey chart (


I settled on the Heath rush because it’s such a pretty and unusual plant.  It’s unobtrusive, but has a very elegant, tightly clustered flowering seed head, and I just fell for its basal rosette of leaves.  Unlike lots of other rushes, these leaves all spread out from the base of the plant.  They’re wiry, and have deep channels, and you can see whole series of these little brush-like rosettes forming from the plant’s creeping rhizomes.

I’d been lucky enough to find a patch of these rushes in a nearby village, Craswall, up on the acidic moorland tops.  When I was gathering reference and doing research for the FSC job, I spent a happy (if rather damp and windy) afternoon re-locating it and taking a specimen home to draw.


I tend to just draw straight onto my watercolour paper in pencil when I work; it saves time and is the easiest way for me to capture the feel of the plant before it starts to wilt.  This sturdy little rush hung around for a good long time in the studio, which helped enormously when it came to getting the colour on once the pencil rough had been approved.


It’s a small painting, A5-ish, but I like it because I’m fond of the plant, and feel my illustration might have captured a little something of the elegance of the rush. I’ll admit to being surprised and delighted when my Heath rush was chosen for inclusion in the exhibition; and my joy was compounded by the knowledge that I’m managed to get a member of the grasses, sedges, and rushes families into such a prestigious and important collection of botanical illustrations of British wild plant species.

If we’re lucky enough to have another ABBA exhibition in the future, I’m very much hoping I’ll be able to submit more representatives of these beautiful families, and hopefully share some of my passion for these frequently overlooked British wild flowering plants.



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