A Homage to Sacred Plants of the Americas

Jill Pflugheber & Steven F. White


Confocal microscopy, also known as confocal laser scanning microscopy, is a specialized optical imaging technique that provides contact-free, non-destructive measurements of three-dimensional objects.

For this website, plants considered sacred by indigenous groups of the Americas were scanned at St. Lawrence University’s Microscopy and Imaging Center.

The procedure gathers information from a narrow depth of field, while simultaneously eliminating out-of-focus glare and creating optical sections through layers of biological samples. Images are built over time by gathering photons emitted from fluorescent chemical compounds naturally contained within the plants themselves, creating a vivid and precise colorimetric display.

To pay homage to sacred plants revered by indigenous groups throughout the Americas is a way of honoring the entire world in a time of environmental emergency. The website—at the juncture of art, technology, and science—magnifies life in ways that may alter how humans perceive other living entities from our shared and threatened biosphere in more egalitarian terms. 

The plants reveal themselves as 21st-century extensions of biomorphic forms that were the genesis of abstract works by artists such as Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee one hundred years ago. 

Some of the plants contain the most potent psychoactive agents on the planet and serve as intermediaries that have enabled native communities to communicate with their ancestors, wage war on the enemies of their land and their traditions, conceptualize entire cosmogonies, and maintain a nearly impossible ecological equilibrium.

Each stoma, each trichome, each patterned fragment of xylem and vascular tissue, as well as each grain of pollen in these vital portraits is not only a way into previously unseen vegetal realms, but also a potential way out of our collective crisis.