Metro Weekly

Gallery: ‘Beautiful but Deadly’ at the Athenaeum

A showcase of the pretty but poisonous world of houseplants, wildflowers, and hothouse blooms

Beautiful but Deadly, Athenaeum, plants

Marsha Ogden: Angel Trumpets

“Enter the exhibit at your peril,” the Athenaeum cautions about its latest offering, a chance for visitors to journey “down a twisted path into a shadowy world.”

One of the first local galleries to reopen last month, the stately Greek revival structure in Old Town currently showcases the pretty but poisonous world of houseplants, wildflowers, and hothouse blooms, in selections from the Botanical Art Society of the National Capital Region, a nonprofit consisting of professional and semi-professional artists and illustrators who specialize in botanical depictions both scientifically precise and aesthetically appealing.

Lara Call Gastinger and Elena Balmaseda Scherer served as jurors for the exhibition, selecting 32 works from 16 member artists along with a handout detailing the specific properties that make the featured plants dangerous if not poisonous.

The display includes watercolors by Marsha Ogden and Ann Lesciotto focused on tulips, the bulbs of which have occasionally been mistaken for onions, while all parts save for the petals contain toxic compounds that can cause skin irritation, dizziness, sweating, abdominal pain, heart palpitation, sometimes even convulsions and death.

Also featured in the exhibition, which can be viewed in full on the Athenaeum’s website, is Pamela Mason’s colored pencil drawing of the most poisonous common plant, the ornamental Castor Bean (Ricinus communis), whose seeds are deadly to humans; a watercolor from Mary Page Hickey of Holly berries, which can cause diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration, and drowsiness if ingested by humans; and Esther Carpi’s “Citrus Trilogy,” watercolor/colored pencil depictions of a pink grapefruit, tangerine, and “Filipo Lime,” all of which are nutritious and high in vitamin C for humans but contain oils and compounds toxic to many varieties of human pets including cats and dogs.

On display during regular gallery hours, Thursdays through Sundays from noon to 4 p.m., through Sept. 6. Located at 201 Prince St., in Alexandria. Call 703-548-0035 or visit

Judy Thomas: Caladium bicolor

Paula Tobenfeld: Lily Told Bud

Lee D’Zmura: Amaryllis ‘Susan’

Lee D’Zmura: Toad Lily

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Doug Rule covers the arts, theater, music, food, nightlife and culture as contributing editor for Metro Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @ruleonwriting.

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