We found out more about Kew Gardens' 'Plants of the Quran' exhibition

6/9/2023 9:14 PM

When Shahina Ghazanfar first became enthralled by the plant world, it was a fascination born out of childhood memories and paternal influence. With a father deeply entrenched in nature, the process of understanding the minutiae of a plant's characteristics was an enchanting experience to the young Shahina growing up in Pakistan. 


Today, as senior botanist at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew amongst some of her accolades, Shahina explores the flora of the Middle East with a scientist's precision.


Meanwhile, in Africa, a young Sue Wickison developed a profound love for plants fostered by her botanist father. Her work is deeply rooted in her West African upbringing, where she collected plants in the bush with her father, nurturing an eye for detail and a deep respect for nature.

The duo's shared passion was the catalyst for a unique project currently exhiniting at the Royal Botanic Gardens. Kew - Plants of the Quran. 


With Shahina's botanical expertise and Sue's artistic prowess, they embarked on an exploration of Quranic plants.


Unearthing the Quran's botanical references proved to be a complex task. The ancient text used plant names no longer in use, and some were mentioned just once, making identification challenging. Shahina had to delve deep into the context of these mentions, tracing their roots through different languages and understanding their historical significance.


The project's challenges were balanced by its surprises. One such surprise for Sue was a seemingly unremarkable desert plant discovered in Sharjah. What initially appeared as a series of twig-like structures revealed tiny, one-millimeter flowers under the microscope. Blowing up these microscopic treasures for illustration brought to light a beauty that would otherwise remain unseen.


The collective energy of those involved was a testament to the unifying power of nature and art. Shahina and Sue's endeavour serves as a reminder of the beauty hidden in plain sight and the value of meticulous research. 


Their journey reinforces the belief that there is always something beautiful to look at, always something to learn, and it's worth the effort to uncover it.


The Plants of the Quran exhibition will be at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew until 17 September 2023. Catch Sue and Shahina on Saturday, 17 June for a book signing session 10.30am-12.30pm.