In the Flesh
People get tattoos for lots of reasons: to document important times in their lives, to commemorate loved ones living and passed, to express themselves and their identities to the world. They tie us to places, people and experiences that are close to our hearts — so close we want them to be part of our actual bodies. Legendary tattoo artist Don Ed Hardy expressed this notion well when he said tattoos are “not simply visual, but visceral,” an expression of bodily freedom and ownership. Tattoos tell a story about who we are and what we find important. For many, that supremely important thing — the thing that warrants permanent documentation on their skin — is a native plant, or even a whole collection of them. With that in mind, we reached out to eight people with native plant tattoos and asked them to share their stories.
PHOTOS Sarah Lim
FROM: Waco, Texas
CURRENTLY LIVES IN: Austin, Texas
OCCUPATION: Motorcycle Mechanic, Welder, Artist
TATTOO ARTIST: Chris “Olaf” Bryan – Atomic Tattoo, Austin, Texas
IN HIS TATTOO: Indian paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa)
“I’m a Texan and very proud to be from here. I wanted something that represented my home state without screaming, “HEY, LOOK, I’M FROM TEXAS!” like most Texas-themed tattoos. The first thing that came to mind was an Indian paintbrush. I was lucky to have been able to travel a lot as a kid with my parents. We would go on road trips all the time (mainly to go race motorcycles) while the bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes were blooming. I always really enjoyed looking for the bright red in a sea of blue.”
Maggie Faircloth-Gresham & Lucinda Lady Bird Gresham
AGES: 36 (Maggie) and 8 months (Lucinda)
FROM: We moved around, but most recently Chicago
CURRENTLY LIVE IN: Austin, Texas
OCCUPATION: Art Buyer
TATTOO ARTIST: Darryl Hanna – Golden Age Tattoo, Austin, Texas
IN MAGGIE’S TATTOO: Maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum), big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) and Agave sp.
“Each [plant] is native to a state I’ve lived in — big bluestem from Kansas, maidenhair fern from Illinois and an agave from Texas. Each place has shaped who I am — I identify these landscapes as home.
“I met my husband in Kansas, and he showed me parts of the state that I grew to love. The grasses of the Flint Hills are so peaceful. Sometimes you have to leave a place to really appreciate it.
“He first introduced me to native plants while doing plant restoration at Lincoln Park in Chicago. Ten years later, we moved to Austin and I fell in love with the desert. West Texas is such a dream.
“We do our best to be stewards of the land we live on. We named our daughter in honor of the Wildflower Center’s founder to instill those same values into her and beyond.”
FROM: San Angelo, Texas
CURRENTLY LIVES IN: Leander, Texas
OCCUPATION: Content Manager
TATTOO ARTIST: Danny Mack – Black Heart Tattoo Collective, Harker Heights, Texas
IN HER TATTOO: Texas bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis), Indian paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa), firewheel (Gaillardia pulchella), monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus), ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris), Texas horned lizard (or horny toad, Phrynosoma cornutum) and American bumblebee (Bombus pensylvanicus)
“I grew up in San Angelo. Back in the ’70s and ’80s when I was a kid, horny toads were plentiful. As a child, I used to catch and play with them all the time. I always knew I wanted a horny toad tattoo. The three wildflowers represent my son, my husband and myself. My son is a seventh-generation Texan from my husband’s side, and Texas is a big part of our lives. I knew I wanted more ink, and the rest of the critter collection was born. My son helped me pick the remaining additions. Maybe a roadrunner will be next.”
Dawn Ashley & Lyndia Renee
AGES: 35 (Dawn) and 6 (Lydia)
CURRENTLY LIVE IN: Austin, Texas
OCCUPATION: Local Government
TATTOO ARTIST: Alex Citrone – Golden Age Tattoo, Austin, Texas
IN DAWN’S TATTOO: Texas bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis), common sunflower (Helianthus annuus), Indian paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa) and a fox (Vulpes sp.)
“Sunflowers represent my dad who survived a heart attack and quadruple bypass a few weeks before I got the tattoo (he’s a master gardener and has always grown beautiful sunflowers). Also, I did my thesis research on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, which is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. There were sunflowers everywhere! The ladybug on the sunflower represents my daughter. We call her ‘Liddy Bug.’
“My daughter was born here, so Texas is extra special to me. I was blown away my first spring in Texas when bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes popped up everywhere. I had never seen anything like it in my life. Lady Bird Johnson is a huge hero of mine, and I couldn’t imagine a more incredible legacy.
“Foxes are my and my daughter’s favorite animal. They are mysterious and playful and smart and wily — everyone has a cool and special story about a fox. To me, the flowers and fox symbolize growth and renewal and my appreciation for the people and places in Texas that I love so much and who helped me get through a difficult period in my life.”
FROM: Illinois / Bryan-College Station, Texas / Austin, Texas
CURRENTLY LIVES IN: Austin, Texas
OCCUPATION: Program Coordinator for TreeFolks
TATTOO ARTIST: David Poe – Moon Tattoo, Austin, Texas
IN HER TATTOO: Gayfeather (Liatris sp.), purple coneflower (Echinacea
purpurea) and little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)
“I wanted a snapshot of species that could be seen on almost any roadside in Texas. I studied rangeland ecology and soil science in college and learned how few (native) prairies we have left. Prairies and their soils have fed us and continue to feed us. They are seriously degraded and not as respected or as well-loved as a forest or large trees. They support an incredible diversity of life. They rely on fire. They build soil, sequester carbon dioxide and clean water like nobody’s business. Grasses look cool in the wind and setting sun. Prairies are often the underdogs and much forgotten. People think grasses are for mowing, but they are capable of so much more.”
Sara Elizabeth Greenwright
FROM: Briggs, Texas
CURRENTLY LIVES IN: Liberty Hill, Texas
OCCUPATION: 911 Center Manager
TATTOO ARTIST: Tony Colón – Black Mass Tattoo, Austin, Texas
IN HER TATTOO: Fall aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium) and common buckeye (Junonia coenia)
“The common buckeye reminds me of my granny. Everything in her house was all those ’70s interior decorating colors: orange, brown, gold, some odd green shade — what’d they call it? Avocado? The common buckeye is all of those colors and more. It’s called ‘common’ — like my granny, I suppose — but it’s so beautiful that the name seems somehow like a mistake.
“Fall aster is one of my favorite wildflowers. My parents run Wright’s Texas Nursery outside of Briggs. I’ve spent the last 20 years or so since they started the nursery learning more and more about our native flora and fauna. I have a long way to go. This tattoo is a reminder to me of the beauty all around us in the natural world — all we have to do is see it.”
FROM: Fort Worth, Texas
CURRENTLY LIVES IN: Taylor, Texas
TATTOO ARTIST: Danny Vasquez – Death and Taxes Tattoos, Lubbock, Texas
IN HER TATTOO (WHICH SHE DREW HERSELF): Texas bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), Indian paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa), pink evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa), Mexican gold poppy (Eschscholzia californica ssp.
mexicana) and Mrs. Johnson’s quote: “Where flowers bloom, so does hope.”
“I’ve seen Mrs. Johnson’s quote several times and just feel a connection to it. I especially loved it after the hurricane and flooding at my job. Even though there had been flooding and damage everywhere, there were little yellow wildflowers popping up within days. I love the strength and resiliency that I believe wildflowers represent. I work in a juvenile prison, and Lady Bird Johnson’s quote describes exactly how I feel when I see wildflowers on the grounds of the prison.
FROM: Austin, Texas
CURRENTLY LIVES IN: Plano,Texas
OCCUPATION: Library Assistant
TATTOO ARTIST: Michael Williams – Triple Crown Tattoo Parlour, Austin, Texas
IN HER TATTOO: Texas bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis), common sunflower (Helianthus annuus), red pricklypoppy (Argemone sanguinea)
“Sunflowers are my all-time favorite flower; they are bright and happy and have a simplistic beauty that I’ve always loved. The bluebonnet is just classic Texas, and the red pricklypoppies were chosen to round out the tattoo. These are all flowers you can see growing on the side of the road, and I love that they just grow freely and bring such a unique beauty to our landscape. In my eyes, this bouquet of wildflowers is a beautiful expression of my Texas pride.”