FilmPlant Pop

Mara Menahan: In-house Illustrator for the U.S. Botanic Garden

FilmPlant Pop
Mara Menahan: In-house Illustrator for the U.S. Botanic Garden

The minute detail of a seed pod or the intricate folds of a leaf can only be captured with the delicate flick of a pen or the strokes of a paint brush. For botanical illustrator, Mara Menahan the real joy is how her illustrations are used.

“Illustration is used in everything from children’s education up to adult education… they’re helping people see plants in a new way.”

From their use in an introductory guide for the National Garden to a 53-foot mural in the Mediterranean House at the U.S. Botanic Garden, Mara’s work has a profound impact on passersby wishing to learn more about the plants surrounding them.

For Mara, there has always been some kind of draw to nature. Whether it was hiking or a visit to her grandparents’ home, she was rarely without a notebook in which to sketch what she saw around her.

“Anytime I was outdoors, I was drawing from nature from a really young age.”

For her two years as the only in-house illustrator at the U.S. Botanic Garden, Mara could be found somewhere in the gardens or conservatory getting detailed illustrations of the greenery around her. When something really spectacular was happening, like the opening of the corpse flower in fall 2016, she was out with her easel documenting every moment of the process. Her version of the events were much more explanatory than any of the still photographs or even videos taken of the event.

“Here, I focus on illustrations that help people understand the plant world.”

One of the best privileges about being at the U.S. Botanic Garden was her proximity to so many exotic species. Normally, to have access to such specimens, she would need to travel around the world.

“I never have to work from photographs, that’s a really important part of my process.”

For more information about Mara, visit her website: