Arctium Lappa, Burdock

Elizabeth Wharton and Margaret Wharton1793/1811

Oak Spring Garden Foundation

Oak Spring Garden Foundation
Upperville, Virginia, United States

An upper class woman, Elizabeth Wharton and her sister Margaret together produced four volumes of botanical works dating from 1792 to 1827, illustrating British seaweeds, grasses, and flowers. Most specimens are labeled with their respective binomial nomenclature, suggesting some interest in scientific pursuit rather than merely artistic pursuit. For the most part, it seems that Elizabeth created art while Margaret contributed her work intermittently. Elizabeth’s sight degenerated and her arms became paralyzed as she grew older, something attributed to an injury during her childhood.
Part of the Wharton sisters’ first of two volumes on British flowers, Elizabeth Wharton’s Arctium Lappa, Burdock typifies the style and attention to detail that the two sisters offered to their subject matter. In the foreground, a fully colored illustration dominates the page, with smaller detailed anatomical drawings in the bottom left hand corner, and a drawing of the species’ leaf in the background which prominently features its base, midrib, and veins. Anatomical drawings were not uncommon in the Wharton sisters’ work, nor was the inclusion of large-scale uncolored drawings, yet they were not customary. These additions seem evidence of heightened attention to this specific species.
Arctium Lappa, commonly referred to as Great Burdock, is a European weed, and modern-day invasive weed species of North America. A biennial plant, the Great Burdock often grows quite tall, anywhere from three to ten feet high. Fittingly, it has countless medicinal uses, as many of the Wharton sisters’ subjects did. This specific work, signed by Elizabeth Wharton, is enlivened by the typical purplish color of the flowers. It captures the papery-thin nature of the Great Burdock’s leaves and the deeply furrowed petiole, the stalk that attaches a leaf to the plant stem.


  • Title: Arctium Lappa, Burdock
  • Creator: Elizabeth Wharton, Margaret Wharton
  • Date Created: 1793/1811

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