NonWest by North: Marianne North and William Colenso’s responses to plantlife and the classification of economic botany

Khadija Carroll

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What is at stake in traditional botany and how has it historically swept aside even the most eminent of botanical artists such as Marianne North (1830–1890)? In three sections, this article explores themes of plant sexuality, colonisation and the relationships between botany at the metropolitan centre and at the empire’s peripheries. Marianne North and Julia Margaret Cameron’s amateur science and experimentation are the subject of the first section. Charles Darwin (1809–1882) and North’s views of relationality rather than Malthusian conflict are addressed in the second. Finally, as two amateur botanists and important plant specimen collectors for Kew, William Colenso (1811–1899) together with Marianne North provide case studies for the complexities of colonial classification.

To what has been written about contemporary ‘botanical conflicts’, this article adds an analysis of the historical legacies of colonial science’s systems of control, against which indigenous and feminist botanical painters, as well as those interested in plant sentience and other forms of radical environmental art, continue to struggle. It is an anachronistic reinterpretation of Marianne North’s interest in Charles Darwin’s theories of conflict in relationships between species in On the Origin of Species (1895) that reassesses the relationships of power, contest and sexualities with reference to the ‘plant turn’ in philosophy and critical theory (as theorised by Natasha Myers, Carla Hustak, Michael Marder, Michael Pollan, et al), as well as contemporary art. This article is about the conflict between central patriarchies and peripheral establishments of natural science, between Indigenous and colonial botany and its artistic representations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)290-310
Number of pages21
JournalThird Text
Issue number2-3
Publication statusPublished - 25 Sept 2018


  • Khadija von Zinnenburg Carroll
  • Marianne North
  • Margaret Cameron
  • William Colenso
  • Darwin
  • Natasha Myers
  • Carla Hustak
  • Michael Marder
  • Michael Pollan
  • art
  • botany
  • colonialism
  • indigenous knowledge


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