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Visualizing the Architecture of a Leaf

*Article first appears in Breakthroughs Magazine, April 2022:

By Mathew Burciaga

The way leaves and branches grow can reveal a lot about plants. How effective are they at transporting nutrients? Can they recover from harsh conditions? Are they resistant to damage?

For Benjamin Blonder, an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, the answer to these questions lies below the surface of the leaf. Visualizing the architecture of a leaf’s veins—whether they branch out or loop, and how larger pathways break out into smaller pathways—is central to understanding a plant’s needs and functions.


To bring the Blonder lab’s work to a wider audience, artist-scientist Juniper Harrower, BS ’06 Genetics & Plant Biology, created art based on their research and findings, as well as her interactions with members of Blonder’s lab. Harrower has a PhD in environmental studies with a focus in ecoart from UC Santa Cruz in 2019 and is a first-year master’s student in the Department of Art Practice at UC Berkeley.

Her exhibit, Botanical Entanglements, explored the role that plants play in constructing our identities and how our activities influence and shape their development.

A closing ceremony featuring lectures by Blonder and Harrower, and a performance by composer Marcus Norris and the South Side Symphony, was held March 18 at the UC Botanical Garden. Norris, who is pursuing his PhD in music composition at UCLA and is an inaugural composer-in-residence with the Chicago Philharmonic, debuted a new cello concerto that explores themes of resilience in human communities via inspiration from plants.


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