Monocots and Eudicots are enormous groups, making up over 80% of plants on earth.  During a recent job, illustrating the Brecknockshire flora, I was commissioned to create two illustrations highlighting the most interesting, beautiful, and most locally important members of these groups.

Moncots vs Eudicots

There are several main differences between these two enormous groups.  The leaves of a monocot mostly have veins running parallel to each other, not branching or netted as they are in Eudicots.  They often spring from the base of the plant.  Vascular tissue in monocots is arranged in bundles, not rings, and doesn’t form wood.  The seedlings differ – monocots grow from a grain (or bulb) while eudicots grow from a two-sided seed.  Each side is known as a cotyledon (hence the name).  Monocot roots are fibrous and lack a main tap-root.  Flowering parts of monocots tend to be in multiples of three, not of four, five, or sevens (eudicots).  For more on telling monocot and eudicot plants apart, click here.

Seedlings: germination

As well as the plants, a seedling from each group needed to be drawn.  Amazingly, there’s very little good reference online to show the vital differences between Monocot and Eudicot seedlings.  Most of the images are so diagrammatical as to be meaningless, and photo references were blurry and unclear.

Only one thing to do.  Germinate my own.  So I put a pea and a maize grain on blotting paper to germinate, and indeed that’s what they did.  The maize grain seedling emerges from the grain, and sends out roots.  Its leaves are elongate and green with parallel veins

Germinating Maize grain

The Eudicot, the pea, looks very different.  it is perhaps more what one thinks of as a “typical seedling”.  there are two leaves, emerging opposite each other.  The seed is composed of two sides or cotelydons.  Again, roots grow away from the plant (unfortunately I’ve lost my photo of this).  With eudicots, there’s far more branching on the initial roots.

In both cases the roots grew sideways which I had to take into account at drawing.  This lateral growth was simply cause they were growing on wet paper on a solid surface, so were unable to send roots downwards.


Once the pencil drawings had been tweaked and given the go-ahead, I added colour.  Seedlings are a very specific bright shade of green.  Capturing this was difficult, but I think they came out ok.

Eudicot and monocot seedling comparison

Monocot variety

The commissioner gave me a list of different monocot plants I could choose from to include in the piece.  We agreed we wanted a grass species, a sedge, and a rush. (Of course I agreed, you know about my obsession with Grasses sedges and rushes!)

Botanical illustration form the Brecknockshire Flora

Sweet vernal grass sketch Anthoxanthum odoratum

One of the great things about working with the grasses and sedges is that you can manipulate their form a little more freely than with many plants.  For the composition, I needed three plants either side of the central portrait of a seedling.  The curve of the stem of the Mountain sedge was the perfect tool to frame the left side.

Botanical illustration for the Brecknockshire Flora

Mountain or soft leaved sedge sketch Carex montana

And finally, a rush.  The habit of this plant is less flexible, so I stuck it out on the end of the composition.

Botanical illustration for The Brecknockshire Flora

Wood rush sketch Luzula sylvatica

We also wanted to add a dash of colour.  The Bluebell and an Orchid would provide this.

Bluebell sketch Hyacinthoides non-scripta

The bluebell also has a drooping and curved flowering head.  Perfect for framing the other side of the monocot seedling.

Botanical Illustration from the Brecknockshire Flora

Fragrant orchid sketch Gymnadenia conopsea

Balancing the colour of the composition

As well as thinking about how the composition would frame the seedling, I also had to be sure that the colour flowed across the page.  The locally abundant monocot Autumn crocus was brilliant for this.  it echoed the pink of the orchid.

Autumn crocus or meadow saffron sketch Colchium autumnale

Other monocots which don’t grow wild in Brecknockshire include tulips, palms, lilies, and iris.

The completed monocot variety illustration looks like this:

Botanical illustration from the Breckncockshire Flora

Brecknockshire flora: Variety of monocots with seedling

But it’s not just an illustration of monocot variety.  It needs to be Monocot and Eudicot variety!

Eudicot variety

The variety of eudicots in astonishing.  It was really tough deciding what species to include.  We needed to show ones which are locally important, and also pretty ones.  We also wanted to suggest the variety, as we did with the monocots.  I angled to include some of my favourites, and the client put forward his.  Eventually we whittled it down to six.  Then came the difficulty of making the composition work.  Again, I needed the seedling framed by other plants, within a circle in the middle of the composition.

Botanical illustration from the Brecknockshire Flora

Eudicot plant variety with eudicot seedling

Individual Eudicots

There was the same issue of balancing the colours.  I was able to have yellow flowers flanking the composition on either end, and blueish flowers surrounding the seedling.

The Globe flower used to be abundant across the area, less so as a result of new farming practices.  It is rarely fully open, so this needed a tweak between initial pencil rough and final illustration, to close the petals around the stamens.

Botanical illustration from the Brecknockshire Flora

Globe flower sketch Trollius europaeus

Meadow saxifrage is another locally important wild flower.  I’ve seen it growing wild, and it’s very pretty.  Including white flowers at such a small scale was difficult so I left them outlined lightly in graphite (for more on painting white flowers check out my blog).

Botanical illustration from the Brecknockshire Flora

Meadow saxifrage sketch Saxifraga granulata

The next flower, Ivy-leaved Bellflower, was a gift.  Not only is it really important for Brecknockshire, but it also has little leaves and a sprawling habit or growth.  this allowed me to play with the leaves and to manafacture a frame of sorts on the left side of the seedling.  It’s a tricky blue to mix as there’s plenty of purple in it, but I was so pleased to include it as I have it growing in my garden.

Botanical illustration from the Brecknockshire Flora

Ivy-leaved Bellflower sketch Wahlenbergia hederacea

Other side of the seedling and we find a vetch.  This ends up forming the right hand side of the seedling’s frame, but it feels a touch artificial to me.  The botany is correct, but I feel I played a little too much with the lie of the leaves.  I did, however, love popping in the distinct white hairs where they overlap the shaded parts of the leaves.

Botanical illustration from The Brecknockshire Flora

Wood or Upright Bitter-vetch sketch Vicia orobus

The Welsh poppy was on both of our lists.  A Welsh species, a pretty flower, and it also has fabulous curved buds.  Including it was a no-brainer.  It also echoed the yellow of the Globe flower.

Botanical Illustration from the Brecknockshire flora

The last flower had to be a member of the dandelion family.  I can’t tell them apart, but luckily the guy who commissioned this illustration for the Brecknockshire flora, can.  He settled on one of the Hawkweeds and gave me plenty of pointers and ref to ensure I illustrated it correctly.

Botanical illustration for the Brecknock Flora

Hawkweed sketch Hieracium


So you can see that just within these two simple illustrations there’s a world of variety.  The format, long and thin, was pre-set and a bit challenging.  Seedlings had to be grown.  The species had to be whittled down.  Monocot and dicot variety needed be shown.  But the eventual result is a couple of illustrations I’m really pleased with.  And I also learned loads as I completed the images – perfect!

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