It stands to reason that people who work at Selby Gardens would be inordinately attached to flowers and plants. In fact, some even have their favorite botanical specimens permanently etched on their bodies. Botanical tattoos allow them to carry their passion wherever they go, while also tuning into a trend. While roses and daisies have always been popular subjects for tattoos, in recent years tattoo artists have expanded their offerings to include a wide variety of flowers, ferns and other plants.
The New York Times Style magazine noted that “(Tattoo) Artists across North America and Europe are specializing in botanical tattoos: delicate, nostalgic flowers and plants, inked with the precision of nature illustrations.”
For some at Selby Gardens, the flowers and plants captured in their tattoo designs have special significance. For example, Research Botanist Sally Chambers’ upper right thigh carries an Aya, an Adinkra symbol created by the Asante people of Ghana.
“The symbol is translated to mean fern, and indicates endurance and resourcefulness,” Chambers says. “Pretty fitting given the fact that I study ferns and love long distance running,” she says of the tattoo she got while in college a decade ago. “I guess my career path and love of running inspired me to get this tattoo.”
A lotus tattoo covers her left rib cage. “I was inspired to get this tattoo because of what the lotus represents,” Chambers says, “making something positive out of something negative and growing from the uncomfortable experiences in one’s life.”
A multifaceted tattoo on her right arm includes perhaps the most meaningful symbol – a lily surrounded by a geometric design and roseaceae flowers.
“The lily was added after my grandmother passed away. Her name was Lillian Dawson, and she meant a great deal to me,” Chambers says. “She loved to travel, loved plants and loved learning and reading. She was always excited to hear about my new adventures and encouraged me to be the person I am today.”
For 18 years, Director of Glasshouse Collections Angel Lara has had tribal fern fiddleheads adorning his upper arms. “The fern fiddleheads represented new beginnings to me,” he says.
About six months ago he added several botanical illustrations to his right forearm: Humata tyermanii (white rabbit’s foot fern), Brassavola cucullata (daddy long-legs orchid) and Elaphaglossum peltatum (peltate tongue fern).
“I wanted to cover my lower arms with botanical images of my all-time favorite plants that I have admired since I was young and have been growing most of my career,” Lara says.
Still to come, images of more favorite plants to be tattooed on his left forearm. Lara is thinking of adding Cananga odorata (Ylang Ylang tree flower cluster), Edanoya diformis (a tiny fern), Ophioglossum reticuatum (adder’s tongue fern) and Ophioglossum pendulum (old world adder’s tongue).
Director of Special Projects Roger Capote’s right arm has featured an orchid, hibiscus, tulips and peonies for four years.
“I have always had a passion for flowers and nature,” Capote says. “I started my sleeve when I owned my design studio. With my career path taking me through event design, floral design and now botanical gardens, it is fitting that this has been my choice for artwork.”
A decade ago, greenhouse horticulturist Antone Jones chose his favorite plant, the epiphyte Dischidia cochleata, for a tattoo on his upper back and right shoulder.
“My passion for growing plants of the genus really led me to fall in love with this plant and its very unique flowers and foliage,” Jones says. “I brought (the tattoo artist) a photo I found online and she made a drawing of it. It’s fairly accurate, but her style is ‘traditional’ so it certainly has a bit of an artist’s touch to it.”
Joel Frank, another greenhouse horticulturist, has a Buttonwood bonsai tree tattoo covering his back. The image is of a bonsai tree that his teacher collected and has styled for the past seven years. It is a style of bonsai known as Literati, or bunjin, where the trunk line flows or twists through several curves.
Two years after getting the tattoo, Frank is ready to add onto it. “I have plans to get a skull underneath the tree with the roots going into the top of the skull,” he says.
But it is the life represented by the tree rather than the image of death that inspires him.
“I like this tree because it has natural deadwood, which shows that despite the struggles that life brings, it continues to live on,” he says.