Levon Biss photographs tiny seeds, magnified a thousand times


Levon Biss’ photography is an elegant fusion of art and science. In his latest project, “The Hidden Beauty of Seeds and Fruits,” he uses a specialized process he calls microsculpture to reveal the secrets and mysteries of plants in exquisite detail. Each photograph is in fact an amalgamation of thousands of micro-images, resulting in a sharper and more precise image. Biss’s photograph first gained attention with an exhibit of luminescent insects, which premiered at the University of Oxford’s Natural History Museum in Oxford, England, in 2016 and made the world Tour.


The seeds of the needle feather bush are dispersed by the wind, but the seed heads of this species are unusual in that they do not release their seeds until after a fire. They are highly adapted to the unique habitat of the fynbos, which can be found in the Cape provinces of South Africa.

David Harris, curator at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, Scotland, saw Biss’s splendid insect display and was captivated. He realized that Biss’s unique and nature-conscious vision could be harnessed to document the organization’s herbarium plant species. A herbarium is an archive housing specimens of dried plants, collected over the centuries across the world. The Edinburgh Herbarium Carpology – Plant Collection – has 3 million specimens.


The most widely cultivated species of loofah are cultivated for their fruits, which are either eaten raw or left to dry to their fibrous interior, to be used as bath sponges. This example is Luffa sepium, which is native to tropical South America.

Initially, Harris wasn’t sure Biss would see any photographic potential in the dried plants. They weren’t colorful like the insects. He didn’t need to worry. What plants lacked in dynamism, they more than made up for in their shape and texture. Biss rose to the challenge, dedicating six months of hard work to the project. As Harris writes in his introduction to the book, “[Biss] examined the collection with remarkable intensity. It is this fascination that we hope to share. “


The tree from which this seed was taken is one of several species of Banksia that have adapted to survive the bushfires that occur naturally in their Australian habitat and are necessary for their regeneration.

Readers of the book will find dozens of close-ups of seeds or fruits of various species, from American Bigleaf Maple to Chinese Sweet Gum. Each is accompanied by engaging traditions.

Biss writes in the author’s note that the book “was an extremely rewarding project to create, and it opened my eyes to the ingenuity and diversity of nature.”


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