Monash University Publishing, $39.95 pb, 261 pp, 9781922235800
In March 2006, botanical illustrator Celia Rosser travelled to a remote station in Western Australia to witness and draw the first-ever recorded flowering of Banksia Rosserae. The spiky yellow spheres appear only after rain, which, in this arid part of the continent, can be years in the coming. The Australian plant had only been discovered four years earlier, by botanists Peter Olde and Neil Marriott, who were exploring an area of Mulga south of Mount Magnet. It is the only banksia to grow entirely within the arid zone and one of approximately 170 species of the banksia genus, a member of the proteaceae family.
There was never any doubt that Rosser, then seventy-six, would under-take the arduous journey; alongside the fact that this plant was named after her, a singular honour, its discovery was a fascinating addition to a career spanning more than twenty-five years studying and painting every known banksia species. The culmination of that dedication, the three-volume florilegium The Banksias, which combines Rosser’s illustrations with botanist Alex George’s text, is one of the greatest botanical publishing achievements of the twentieth century, the only complete painting of such a large plant genus.