Flower Dissection Module  

Why do we Dissect Flowers?

We dissect flowers to reveal the internal reproductive structures which can  be difficult to see as they are usually hidden and are often very small. This is arguably the single most important part of a flowering plant (angiosperm) given that the purpose of of the flower is to attract pollinators for the purpose of reproduction.


How do we use Dissection Drawings? 

Dissections can simply be part of your research, to gain a better understanding of the plant or can be included as part of a larger botanical illustration, they can even work a stand alone illustrations. However you decide to use them, being able to dissect a flower and illustrate it is a skill that all botanical artists should have. 


Scaling Dissection Drawing and Plants Parts  

The aim of botanical illustration is clarity for the purpose of identificationt, therefore, it makes sense to enlarge small parts and dissections so that the viewer can clearly see the reproductive parts. There is no set formula regarding the scaling up of a part but the aim is to make it clear to see, so you need to use your judgement on 'how much' to enlarge. When small parts are removed from a flower, such as the stamens, they are usually enlarged more than in a dissection of a whole flower.  See Bauer's illustration below.


Dissection in colour and graphite by Polly and Dianne Sutherland, illustrated  x4. The dissection has to be cut to clearly show all parts and generally shows half if the flower structure. There are several ways of curing a flower depending on the flower structure. 


What Mediums Should Be used for Dissection 

We can use a variety of mediums and approaches for dissections and I've included examples in the gallery below.  Ink, graphite and watercolour are all acceptable, as long as the details are clear. This can be a simple line drawing in ink or graphite. Tone can be added by using stipple in ink or graphite. Continuous tone in graphite and watercolour or colour pencil if you wish to illustrate the dissection in colour.  


Simple line drawing in ink, showing a dissection of a bilateral flower, a Phaleonopsis orchid. Note parts are not normally labelled on an illustration as part of larger illustration. Only scale is given. by Polly Sutherland

Ferdinand Bauer's  Banksia coccinea 1813 Wikimedia Commons . This famous illustration shows all parts in detail 

Where to Start 

If you are new to dissection the first part to familiarise yourselves with is being able to make a clean dissection. Some flowers are more difficult than others to cut, so try to avoid very small flowers or ones that wilt very quickly. Lilies are usually good as are orchids. use a hand lens to view. Always check on whether a plant is poisonous or an irritant before dissecting and where gloves if needed. Just Google search the plant to check for toxicity, also look to see if there are any other dissection illustrations nor photographs of the particular flower as this can be very useful. 

Dissection Part 1

Begin this module by making dissections of a number of different flowers and making preliminary line drawings before moving on to scaling and illustrating using different mediums in Part 2. Use the videos and supporting documents throughout to guide you. For part 1 of dissection there is a document to describe the process of dissection and making basic line drawings in pencil and you may make a selection of line drawing to submit for assessment. 


Dissection Part 2 

Exercise 1 

In this second part of this module you will make an enlarged dissection using line drawing in ink.

Measure and scale as instructed, preparatory work should be in graphite and the final drawing in ink. A fine line pen can be used such as a Mitsubishi Hi Uni .05 or 01  or the Pigma Micron equivalent. Rotring pens can also be used, (Isograph or Rapidograph) but the fibre pans are sufficient for the purpose here because they are easier to use and not subject to blocked nibs. Only use Rotring pens if you intend to carry out a lot of ink drawing or if you do purchase them, make sure that you use them regularly. 

Use the video for instruction. The first video shows a different type of dissection as an example,  a quince flower that has been cut and opened rather than cut in half. This is an alternative method of dissection is often used when stamens are attached to a corolla or to the calyx or if the petals are fused. You have to learn about each flower in order to decide what is the best visual representation of the flower. Don't try to learn too much at once, instead learn about each flower on a needs basis.

Exercise 2

You will  produce 3 dissection  illustrations using different mediums as follows:

  • Ink, using stipple

  • Graphite, using continuous tone

  • Watercolour


You may use the same flower for each method as I have done in the video examples.

In the example shown I have scaled up the flower by x 3.5, so that you can see it on screen. Scale your flower by an appropriate amount for clarity. To scale up simple measure the height and width overall and multiply by the required amount, do the same for all internal parts.


The videos on the right hand side of the page, show the approach to illustration of the same subject using 3 different, methods. Some of these methods can be mixed full illustration, so for example a watercolour illustration of the plant might be accompanied with watercolour or graphite dissections, however stipple is generally only used on a botanical illustration using the same medium for all parts. 

Dissection Part 3 Adding Scale Bars

Begin this module by making further dissections line drawings and this time use the measurements to scale up and down but this time add scale bars to your drawing. Download the Drawing Scale Bar Document to guide you.


Exercise 1  

Produce enlarged line drawing dissection of a flower and of the individual plant reproductive parts. You may use pencil or ink for this exercise.


To do this, remove the male part of the flower, the stamens, which comprise anther and filament and make an enlarged drawing by scaling up the parts as shown.

Repeat for the female parts, the pistil, including stigma, style and ovary, If the ovary is large enough, dissect and illustrate the ovules inside.


This can be completed with the same flower as used in the previous exercise or a different one.  

Scale them up in size by an appropriate amount adding a suitably sized scale bar for each enlargement. try to choose flowers that are not too small initially, to make the task easier, use either a hand lens or magnifier so that you can see all parts clearly. For very small flowers a dissecting microscope may be useful.  


Exercise 2

Take a larger subject such as a large leaf or branch and scale down in size and add a suitable scale bar. 

Note that you can use proportional dividers to help with scaling but initially it is important to understand scaling. 

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Video Tutorials Click the video to open in You Tube. Remember to use the cog icon to view at high resolution, use 1080 HD for best quality video.