New Plant Evolution Mural Unveiled!

January 7, 2016:

The Botanic Garden is proud to showcase its new 60-foot mural, consisting of eight panels depicting great moments in plant evolution. While there are numerous depictions of animal evolution, many of which do, of necessity, include plants, until now there has been no mural devoted specifically to the evolution of plants. Seeing this opportunity, the Botanic Garden of Smith College stepped in to fill the void. The renovated Lyman Plant Conservatory presented us with a perfect setting to let visitors strolling through our greenhouses learn about the history of plants on Earth.

Earth began some 4.6 billion years ago and remained an inhospitable planet for an enormous amount of time, but there has been vast change over the course of the planet’s history.  Since the appearance of photosynthesis in cyanobacteria about 3.5 billion years ago and the  evolution of algae with photosynthesizing chloroplasts about 1.4 billion years ago, plants have  had a rich and interesting history on Planet Earth. Beginning with the first algae in aquatic  environments, plants have evolved, diversified, and developed into more complex organisms,  colonizing terrestrial habitats and becoming ubiquitous. Today, scientists estimate that there are  somewhere in the range of 300,000 to 400,000 distinct species. How these plants came to be is a  fascinating story, one that have never before been told in a mural of this scale.

The stunning mural was painted by muralist Robert Evans. With a specialty in natural history, history, and ethnography, his work can be found at the Smithsonian, Mount Vernon, and  numerous museums, zoos, and aquaria. This is his first installation at a botanical garden.

The plant evolution story begins with the first panel, set in the late Archaean Eon, 3,500- 1,250 million years ago (Ma), portraying the age of stromatolites, fossilized remains of photosynthesizing cyanobacterial mats. We have devoted the next three panels to a very important time in botanical history, the Devonian period, which was characterized by the rapid appearance of many new plant species (the Devonian Explosion). The second panel illustrates Flora of the Rhynie Chert, in the early Devonian period, about 400 Ma, reconstructing what we know of the flora near the present day Scottish village of Rhynie: primitive vascular plants just beginning to move to terrestrial environments. The rise of land flora in the early and middle Devonian, 416–385 Ma, is featured in panel three. The Late Devonian, 385-360 Ma, is the setting for panel four, which depicts the first forests, composed of non-seed bearing plants with more advanced vascular systems and refined reproductive structures. Panel five portrays the lush coal swamp forests of the late Carboniferous Period, 323-300 Ma. The subject of panel six is the age of gymnosperms in the Triassic Period through early Cretaceous Period, 250–130 Ma, and panel 7 highlights the Rise of flowering plants 130–65 Ma, during the Cretaceous Period. The rise of human civilization in the Holocene Epoch over the last 11,500 years and the impact on the world’s flora is the final chapter in this story.

Plant Life Through the Ages will be on permanent display at the Lyman Plant House inthe hallway going from the Church Exhibition Gallery to the Palm House.

The Botanic Garden is wheelchair accessible.