Beyond the Seed: Hidden Connections (2014)

Beyond the Seed (installation detail), 2015, donna davis, mixed media installation @ Richard Randall Studio, Brisbane Botanic Gardens, Mt Coot-tha. Photo credit: Greg Harm
Beyond the Seed, 2015, donna davis, mixed media installation. (Installation detail: Amanita luteolovelata, Amanita pyramidfera, Boletellus emodensis). Photo credit: Greg Harm 
Beyond the Seed, 2015, donna davis, (Installation detail), mixed media installation. Photo credit: Greg Harm
Beyond the Seed (installation detail - Amanita pyramidfera), 2015, donna davis, mixed media installation. Photo credit: Greg Harm
Beyond the Seed (installation detail - M.irbyana seed), 2015, donna davis, mixed media installation. Photo credit: Greg Harm
Beyond the Seed (installation detail), 2015, donna davis, mixed media installation. Photo credit: Greg Harm
Beyond the seed (installation detail), 2015, donna davis, mixed media installation. Photo credit: Greg Harm

Beyond the Seed - Exhibition opens Saturday 21st March  and runs until Sunday 29th March @ Richard Randall Studio, Brisbane Botanic Gardens, Mt Coot-tha

Untitled (Beyond the Seed Project), 2014, donna davis, pigment print. Image courtesy of the artist.
This exhibition is a result of a 12 month artist-in-residency at the Brisbane Botanic Gardens, Mount Coot-tha wherein I began to look at the symbiotic relationships between native plants and fungi.

Artist Statement:

What happens when a plant species becomes extinct in the wild?

We may have its seed saved in a 'Seed Bank', but is this enough to repopulate a wild species? What other factors are required for successful reintroduction and conservation of plant species?

These were just some of the questions that I had when I began my residency in the Brisbane Botanic Gardens, Mount Coot-tha in 2014.

As an artist I am intrigued with the idea of connection and so I began to investigate hidden connections beneath our feet that impact soil, and in turn, germination and plant health.  I began to explore the fascinating world of fungi with their mycelium networks and mycorrhizal associations that support soil health and provide vital networks of nutrient exchange between plants and fungi.  I was intrigued.....

Beyond the Seed is an exhibition that creatively explores these interconnected symbiotic relationships between native plants and fungi; reflecting on the importance of fungi in maintaining a healthy and balanced biosphere.

Boletellus emodensis (detail), 2015, donna davis, soft sculpture, 160 x 100 x 100cm. Photo credit: Greg Harm

The exhibition includes large scale soft sculptures of fungi species that come from known mycorrhizal families and like to grow in similar conditions to the native plant species that had been the focus on my previous project entitled "The Plant Room".  

Fungi species represented in the exhibition include: Boletellus emodensis, Amanita pyramidfera, Amanita luteolovelata, and Clavaria miniata.  I have made large scale soft sculptures of each of these species in order to highlight the importance of the often unseen and ephemeral world of fungi.

Beyond the Seed, 2015, donna davis, pigment print. Image courtesy of the artist.
The exhibition also includes Large format digital images in both print and projection together with small sculptural elements representing native seeds.

Beyond the Seed - project update - November 2014

I am an artist who has only recently been introduced to the incredible world of fungi; my introduction came through a project that I worked on in 2013, The Plant Room, which involved endangered plant species.  It was through this project that my current interest in fungi evolved, I thought it might be nice to share the story of my introduction to fungi and artworks associated with my initial investigations.

Firstly, a bit about me….I am currently the artist-in-residence at the Brisbane Botanic Gardens, Mount Coot-tha, a position which I have held since 2013.  As an artist I like to explore new ways of working with scientific data in order to develop works that capture and create sites of ecological observation. (Which basically means I try to visually articulate a variety of ecological and biological concepts in the artworks I create!). I work across a range of media including assemblage, installation and digital media to explore connections and relationships with the natural world.

My practice explores the nexus between art and science, with a particular interest in ecology.  I believe that the art/science field provides a powerful catalyst to challenge our discourse, raise environmental awareness, promote conservation and empower individual stewardship of our ecology; by providing new ways of ‘seeing’ and creating new ‘connections’ in the mind of the viewer.

My 2013 project, The Plant Room investigated five (5) endangered plant species from South East Queensland.  The resulting artwork, an installation piece, explored these plants as ‘living powerhouses’, referencing some of the vital functions plants play in the biosphere.

Whilst researching these plant species it quickly became apparent that there are many negative factors that influence why particular plant species are currently listed as endangered. So I decided to reflect on some positive factors that could help save and / or conserve these species. 

Seed saving is a great example.  The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership is a program that partners with 80 countries to collect and save seeds from wild plant species, with one of their partners being the Queensland Seeds for Life Partnership (Q-SFL).  Accordingly, I embarked on discussions with the Q-SFL based at the Brisbane Botanic Gardens, Mount Coot-tha, to see whether any of the species from The Plant Room project could be included onto the 2014 Q-SFL collection priority.  I was very pleased to have two (2) of the plant species from my project selected for the program and was lucky enough to be involved in both the collection and processing of the seeds.

Through this experience I began to consider what other elements would be beneficial for seed germination, ie: if we lost a species in the wild and had to access the seed from the seed bank for propagation.

This lead me to consider soil health, so I began to do some further research and made many visits to the Queensland Herbarium.  During this phase I met Megan Prance a passionate fungi advocate, who quickly educated me on the important and fascinating world of fungi!  Aesthetically fungi are amazing, coming in a vast variety of shapes, forms and colours, some even glow in the dark!  But I soon learned this was only the beginning of their unique and fascinating realm…. I was intrigued to learn about mycelium networks and mycorrhizal associations that exist right beneath our feet, supporting soil health and providing vital networks of nutrient exchange between plants and fungi.  As an artist I began to have immediate creative and conceptual ideas to develop a new body of work based around fungi.

I decided to investigate potential mycorrhizal associations between seed, root and fungi; exploring the interconnected world of symbiotic relationships to reveal the ‘unseen’ through art.

Being a total novice I mistakenly thought that all mycorrhizal fungi was micro-fungi (with their fruiting bodies only able to be seen under a microscope).  So I was very excited to find that there are a number of macro-fungi that are also thought to be mycorrhizal – this was an exciting breakthrough for me as this meant that I could observe fungi fruiting in the wild without the need for microscopic examination. 

During my seed collection missions with the Q-SFL I began to look for fungi that was growing in the vicinity of the endangered plant species from the Plant Room project – I took images and tried to identify them, and also sent this information onto the Queensland Herbarium for their records.  From this experience I decided that I should continue these observations to document and collect data about fungi occurrences and possible mycorrhizal associations with these plant species.  I joined the Queensland Mycological Society (QMS), learnt the correct process for collecting fungi and applied for a permit to do so.  I also asked for two additional locations to be listed on the approved QMS collection site list.

Not really knowing what I was looking for, I began to research fungi families that were known to be mycorrhizal in order to learn more about shapes, forms and characteristics of these families.  Some of the families I found included: Clavariaceae, Russulaceae, Boletaceae, Inocybaceae, Sclerodermataceae, Amanitaceae, Cortinariaceae and Cantharellaceae, by no means a comphrensive list.  I then began to look at which of these families had species that occur in South East Queensland.  I narrowed the search further by only selecting species that grow in similar habitats to the five endangered plants from The Plant Room project.

I decided to focus on ten (10) fungi species, so I was not too overwhelmed.  In order to learn more about these fungi I began to do some pencil drawings to become familiar with each fungi, this also acted as a great creative outlet and as a learning tool (I am a tactile learner!).  I created mini factsheets for each species and then began to link fungi species with plant species according to habitat information.  This then formed my creative hypothesis for further research in 2015 where I hope to collect fungi data from two locations to see whether any of my thoughts can be proved or disproved….it is very exciting to see what I might find.

Image courtesy of donna davis.

I recently held a ‘works in progress’ exhibition at the Brisbane Botanic Gardens where my hypothesis was displayed in a ‘crime scene’ type of visual aesthetic with different coloured ribbons connecting plants to fungi.   This attracted lots of comments and interest – with many visitors noting that they had seen similar types of fungi growing around their suburbs.  It was also great to be able to talk about how approximately 80% of the worlds plants form mycorrhizal associations with fungi and discuss the importance of these interactions for both plant and fungi.  As education plays an important part in the artworks I create, it was very interesting to talk to the general public about fungi, its importance in our ecosystems.

Drawings, sculptures and digital images that have formed part of my research also formed part of this display.  This helped me to consolidate my creative investigations by allowing me to see how my research and artworks have developed over the year. It was great to fuse the new discoveries I have learned, the inspiration I have found and the new creative connections I have made together in preparation for my major exhibition in 2015.

I am now back in the studio working on my final artworks for the project that will form the Beyond the Seed exhibition, to be displayed in March 2015 at the Richard Randall Studio, Brisbane Botanic Gardens, Mount Coot-tha.   I am very excited to see how the works evolve.  To find out more about my work you can visit

New Work from Beyond the Seed project....

Every individual plant forms part of a vital interconnected network of living life support systems for our planet, without which humans could not survive.  

In the work the specimen appears to hang in suspended animation in a state of ambiguity awaiting some form of intervention....

Ipswich plants selected to have their seed ‘saved’ in the UK

As discussed in my previous posts I was hoping that seeds from some of the 5 plants I have been exploring could be included into the Queensland Seeds for Life: 1000 Species Project (Q-SFL), based at the Brisbane Botanic Gardens.  

Well I am happy to say that seeds from the endangered Swamp Tea-tree and the Plectranthus habrophyllus will be collected from wild populations in the Ipswich area during April this year as part of the Q-SFL 2014 seed collection priority.  I will accompany Jason Halford from the Q-SFL on the seed collecting missions to photographically document the process.

See below for an excerpt from the Media Release:

Donna, currently the artist-in-resident at the Brisbane Botanic Gardens, first met the team at Q-SFL in 2013 while researching endangered plants to the Ipswich area during her “Plant Room” project. Donna said that she was inspired and encouraged to learn about the important work being done here in Brisbane and overseas to conserve endangered plant species and enquired with Q-SFL to see whether any of the seeds from her “Plant Room” project could be included in the program.  The Q-SFL agreed to research this further and advised that 2 out of the 5 plants that had been the focus of Donna’s 2013 project could be included into the seed saving program.

Philip Cameron, Senior Botanical Officer and Seed Bank Manager, Brisbane Botanic Gardens said that “the ‘1,000 species Project’ aims to collect and store 1,000 species of seed germplasm from native Australian plants that have either endemic, economic or endangered status. It is great that we can include 2 endangered species from Donna’s project that are from the Ipswich area”.

Once the seeds have been collected and processed at the Brisbane Botanic Gardens Conservation  Seed Bank Lab, they will undergo seed morphology imaging and germination trials.  They will then be prepared and packaged for storage at both the Brisbane Botanic Gardens Conservation  Seed Bank and the Millennium Seed Bank in the United Kingdom.  Donna will also photographically document these processes to use as inspiration for a new series of artworks based on seed collection and germination.

Philip said that “this will greatly benefit the ‘1,000 species Project’ by not only the addition of these 2 endangered species to our collection, but also helping to explore the ecological and morphological aspects of their biology.”  He also noted that, “bringing an artist’s perspective to the project would bring a fresh and novel approach to the work of science.”
Donna said that “it was a perfect fit for the plants that I had been researching to be included into the seed saving project for 2014.  I am so glad that the seeds will be collected and saved at both Brisbane Botanic Gardens Conservation Seed Bank (Q-SFL) and at the Millennium Seed Bank in the UK, and that I can be a part of the whole process!  

This is a great example of how art can provide outcomes beyond that of the traditional gallery space and assist in environmental change and conservation and I am extremely proud and excited to be a part of it.”


Works - these are still very conceptual at the moment, however will be focusing on inspiration from the Mycorrhiza - its web of connections and fragility.  It will most likely form an ephemeral installation.

Mycorrhiza - After viewing many images in books and online I hope to view some images of mycorrhiza in real time using a light microscope and staining.  It will be interesting to view this fascinating micro fungi and gather inspiration for some sculptural works.

Saving seeds - unfortunately this was aspect was a little more complex than I anticipated.  After discussions with the QLD Seedbank I have found out that the seeds of the Planchonella eerwah and Gossia gonoclada could not be collected due to the fact that they are unorthodox seeds (also known as recalcitrant seeds).   

What is an unorthodox (recalcitrant) seed?
Well basically  it means that the seeds cannot be dried.  Seeds in the Seedbank are frozen in order to be stored for extended periods of time, however, seeds can only be frozen after they have been dried.  

For more information on the Seedbank and recalcitrant seeds visit:

The seed from the Notelaea ipsviciensis can not be collected either, due to the small amount of remaining specimens left in the wild.  In circumstances like this it is better to allow the remaining wild specimens to self seed.

I am still discussing the collection of seed from both the Melaleuca irbyana and Plectranthus habrophyllus, however these are most likely to form part of the 2014 SEQ collection, so that is wonderful news. 

Thanks to the wonderful staff at the Queensland Herbarium I have begun my research on the fascinating world of Mycorrhiza.  I have also been researching macro fungi and am excited to see what lay ahead.  The National Fungi Festival is being held in Brisbane this April and will see top fungi scientists from Australia and overseas come together to discuss the amazing world of Mycology so this is a great opportunity for me to learn and gather inspiration and ideas for my work.  For more information on the fungi festival visit: QLD Fungi Festival 2014

I have also been taking images of the plants which will be used to create artworks and as a data reference.

Image courtesy of the artist.
Saving the Seeds
Working in collaboration with the '1000 Species Project' I aim to collect and save the seeds from each of the (5) endangered plants - ensuring a living legacy for these species. Research and permissions will form part of this project to identify which of the (5) seeds will be viable for collection, storage and then saving at both Seeds for Life Project, Brisbane Botanic Gardens, Mt Coot-tha and the Millennium Seed Bank, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Proposed work in 2014
Continuing my work from ‘The Plant Room’ project, I aim develop a new experimental viewer-powered interactive body of work in collaboration with two botanists and a mechanical engineer, with the resulting work being a carbon neutral artwork/event that explores the idea of connection.
The collaboration with botanists will investigate seed collection and germination of flora species with reference to potential mycorrhizal associations between seed, root and fungi to gather inspiration, visual data and research to be used as the basis of new artworks.
The collaboration with the mechanical engineer will explore the mechanics necessary to create and build a user-powered system to power the artworks. 
These collaborations will be entirely experimental from their inception, with no predicable results, all experiments will add a level of anticipation and chance, which in-turn will inform the creation of new works.  
Fascinated by the idea of connection I am excited by the prospect to explore hidden connections between seed, root and fungi.  Developing these results into an artwork where the viewer has to connect to the artwork in a physical way to power the work itself ties into the idea of connection and whilst also supporting my ecological philosophy in relation to sustainable systems and reducing our carbon footprint.

The project will continue to focus on the five (5) endangered plants selected from the Plant Room Project 2013.

1. Notelaea ipsviciensis
2. Melaleuca irbyana
3. Planchonella eerwah
4. Plectranthus habrophyllus
5. Gossia gonoclada

All currently listed as endangered under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, 1999.

What is a Mycorrhiza?

The word mycorrhiza literally means fungus-root and is a term that was first used by German biologist Albert Bernhard Frank in 1885.

“Mycorrhizal fungi are critical to the health of the majority of plants, assisting with the uptake of inorganic nutrients and helping alleviate stresses such as pathogen attack, drought and salinity.”   Dr John Dearnaley, Senior Lecturer in Cellular and Molecular Biology, School of Agriculture, Computing and Enviornmental Sciences, University of Southern Queensland.

Brundrett MC. 2008. Mycorrhizal Associations: The Web Resource. Accessed 2 October 2013, ‹›.

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