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TOPOPHYTE    

Concept study for the San Francisco Bay Trail.  2012

 
 

 By merging the features of the individual plant species in a given habitat into a single imaginary meta-plant, a composite portrait of the habitat is produced - a kind of pictorial ecotope. This is done in a way that is not just an arbitrary botanical collage but is instead a precise transect or biogeographic map that reflects the spatial distribution as well as the species composition of the habitat. The result can be thought of as kind of visual “topophyte” - place plant, or “cartophyte” - map plant.

 
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The semi-natural landscapes that arise around transit routes, commercial zones, residential developments, and urban centers are usually populated with introduced plant species that thrive in the biologically challenging conditions of human-engineered infrastructure. These weedy parawilds are often regarded as mundane and uninteresting or seen as regrettable “subnatures” - the unintended and undesirable byproducts of human landscape alteration. 

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Closer examination reveals complex, highly adaptive ecologies that reflect the diverse topography, soils, watersheds, and microclimates arising in these new and rapidly proliferating  melds of anthrogenic and natural terrain . Playing off the binaries of exotic/mundane, real/imaginary, ordinary/ extraordinary, the topophyte concept functions as a taxonomic entry point into a more animated botanical understanding of these hybrid environments. 

 
 
 

In the example shown, the topophyte illustration is composed of three broadleaf herbaceous plants of Mediterranean origin: Black Mustard, Bristly Ox Tongue, and Red Valerian. It also includes a native species: California Mugwort. Images of the leaves of each plant are arranged along a stem axis in the same sequential order as they occur in a given botanical habitat, creating a spatial plant identification transect.

 
 
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Topophyte illustration, plant identification guides, and trail maps can be connected to specific botanical transects through the use of embedded geodetic survey markers in a trail marking system that link sites to digital or print media.

 
 
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