Missouri winter buds illustration

Inspired by nature

As an ecology technician, Erin O’Connell leads projects at Tyson Research Center, Washington University’s sprawling, 2,000-acre environmental field station. As an artist and illustrator, she brings new perspectives to her observations of the natural world.

At Tyson, O’Connell works with a lab led by Jonathan Myers, associate professor of biology. Their research site is part of the Smithsonian’s ForestGEO network, the largest, systematically studied network of forest-ecology plots in the world.

Enjoy a selection of O'Connell's illustrations inspired by fall at Tyson and the natural processes she studies.


Ten of the most common species in the ForestGEO research plot at Tyson Research Center (clockwise from top center): Red oak (Quercus rubra), paw paw (Asimina triloba), sassafras (Sassafras albidum), white ash (Fraxinus americana), slippery elm (Ulmus rubra), shagbark hickory (Carya ovata), Carolina buckthorn (Frangula caroliniana), red maple (Acer rubrum) flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), and downy serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea).
What does a plant eat for dinner? A healthy serving of thin air (carbon dioxide, represented by blue sweeping swirls) seasoned with nutrients and drizzled with sunlight (vertical yellow beams), and a tall glass of water (underground blue droplets) to wash it all down – or perhaps up.
In late fall at the Tyson Research Center ForestGEO plot, a forest dominated by oaks and hickories, most of the deciduous leaves have been shed and only the withering leaves of the oaks remain.