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1927 Map of the Arboretum

Meaningful Beauty: The Vibrant Vocabulary of Honeysuckles

Jun 03 - Jul 25, 2022

Multimedia Exhibition at the Arnold Arboretum

Honeysuckle Walk with co-creator Wendy Clement: Friday, June 3, 10:30am–12:00pm

Reception with the creators Wendy Clement and Chris Ault: Friday, June 3, 2:00–4:00pm

This exhibition, in our Hunnewell Building’s lecture hall exhibition space, explores the ways in which we see beauty in plants using many forms spanning from artistic illustrations to large scale animation to scientific diagrams. While many subtle characteristics of plants that surround us may be overlooked, unique features such as flower color and leaf arrangement communicate important information to the insects and animals in their environment. The many varieties of honeysuckle (Lonicera) highlighted in the exhibition clearly illustrate adaptations that are both visually striking and essential to the plants’ success.

Funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, the project builds on innovative research from collaborating scientists at The College of New Jersey, Yale University, and St. John’s University. This group has partnered with the Arnold Arboretum, which within its landscape has an unprecedented honeysuckle collection representing nearly 40 species that would otherwise span the northern hemisphere. The exhibition inspired by these research efforts was designed and produced by a team of nearly 50 students and faculty at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ), marking the culmination of a year-long collaborative effort between TCNJ’s School of Arts and Communications and School of Science. The exhibition was first on view in The College of New Jersey Art Gallery during the spring of 2022.

Bright up close flowers on a shrub
Lonicera sempervirons, trumpet honeysuckle, photo by Wendy Clement

Honeysuckles are the focus of the exhibition and related research, because they so effectively demonstrate how plants use fusion to change their form, which can lead to new ways to communicate with their surroundings. These innovations are clearly seen in honeysuckle flowers, fruits, and leaves—structures which in some species have evolved to fuse together and can affect interactions with the insects and animals that pollinate their flowers and disperse their seeds. Under the guidance of Dr. Wendy Clement, students in TCNJ’s Biology department have been directly involved in investigating the evolution of fusion and honeysuckle diversity using genomics and studies of plant morphology from living plants and museum specimens.

“Undergraduate students have played a key role in all facets of our work on honeysuckle biology leading to new discoveries and a deeper understanding of the evolution of plant diversity. The development of this exhibition was also strongly influenced by students’ ideas and perspectives. Collaboratively, we have worked to create an experience we hope will have visitors seeing plants in a new way.”

Dr. Wendy Clement, Associate Professor, The College of New Jersey

Flower on branch
Lonicera standishii, winter honeysuckle, photo by Ming Li

In a course led by Professor Chris Ault, students in TCNJ’s Interactive Multimedia major workshopped concepts, developed prototypes, and produced the diverse content of the exhibition, mixing more traditional forms such as illustration with digital elements including animation, 3D models, data visualization, and augmented reality.

“It’s been really gratifying to be a part of such a diverse collaboration between Botany and Interactive Multimedia, between students and faculty, between TCNJ and the Arnold Arboretum. We’ve all informed each other’s ideas and perspectives in interesting, unexpected ways. And the result, I think, is a fascinating blend between the experience of an art gallery and a science museum.”

Chris Ault, Associate Professor, The College of New Jersey

This exhibition was made possible by the support of the National Science Foundation (DEB-1929670), the TCNJ Art Gallery, the TCNJ Cultural and Intellectual Community Council, and the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University.