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Botanical Graffiti

When an authority authorizes art on an outdoor wall, we call it a mural. When a person expresses him/herself with art upon a wall, without legal permission, we call it graffiti. When we see planted ivy growing upon the hallowed walls of institutions like Penn, we call it horticulture. So, when we see plant life – which nobody authorized, nobody planted– adorning the wall of some random building, what should we call this? I think but one term applies: botanical graffiti (or, in common parlance, plant graffiti).

Now that this pressing issue has been settled, more interesting questions to ponder are such musings as: Which is more aesthetically appealing – ivy deliberately planted upon the side of a building, or spontaneously emerging plant life establishing itself on an exterior wall? Which supports more wildlife? Which is better or worse for the structural well-being of the facade?

On a deeper note, which is most suitable for a particular building facade: commissioned mural art, graffiti, horticulture, or plant graffiti?

Before jumping to an answer, remember that all four types of wall adornment are expressions of living organisms. (For example, check out the expressiveness of grape ivy claiming the walls of an abandoned West Philly building in the accompanying pictures). Is a professionally drawn mural always a superior choice for a wall adjacent to a forlorn vacant lot? What would you think of an unauthorized drawing or message that captures the thoughts and feelings of the local community? And at an Ivy League school like Penn, might not a few walls of wild vegetation provide some ecological and aesthetic pizazz to the highly ordered campus landscape?

Regardless of your wall leanings, vivid fall colors and fall skies make now an opportune time to look up a bit more when you’re out and about. Take in some vertical sights. Perhaps you’ll be moved to flex a paintbrush or scatter some wild seeds.

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