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Macrophytes in the emergent zone of Britain's fresh waters

Project Type

RHS Botanical Art and Photography Show 2023. Gold Medal and 'Best Botanical Art Exhibit' award.


May 2017 - May 2023


Studied at various river locations in Britain

Macrophytes are aquatic plants that are visible to the naked eye and found in freshwater habitats such as rivers, lakes, ponds and wetlands. They can be either submerged, floating, emergent or free-floating.

I chose to illustrate six water plants commonly found in the emergent zone of Britain's freshwater habitats. The water plants in this zone are called emergent macrophytes. Emergent macrophytes have leaves that emerge above the waterline with their lower parts submerged below the water's surface and rooted into the sediment. I have specifically chosen macrophytes in this zone as they are the most conspicuous and easy to access of the macrophyte types; being located in the shallow water margins.

The emergent macrophytes that I have chosen to illustrate are Iris pseudacorus (yellow flag iris), Butomus umbellatus (flowering rush), Typha latifolia (greater reedmace), Sparganium erectum (branched bur-reed), Sagittaria sagittifolia (arrowhead) and Alisma plantago-aquatica (common water-plantain). The latter two (Sagittaria and Alisma) are emergent broadleaves whereas the former all have emergent long narrow leaves. The paintings are intended to be in pairs, according to the growth form and the water lines made to match.

My aim is to produce educational paintings showing the key ID features and habitat of six emergent macrophyte species. As well as showing the emergent parts of the plants, each painting will show a cross section through the water and sediment to include the roots. It will also show the full habit either life size or in miniature to show how it grows in full. The water's surface is also painted.

My hope is that they could be used as a tool for identification in the field. I also wanted to raise awareness of macrophytes and their ecological importance in providing food and shelter, sediment stability, an increase in biodiversity, oxygenation of the root zone and filtering of pollution, as well as their role as indicators of river health.

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