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A Plant Tour of Rashid Johnson’s The Bruising

Close up of Rashid Johnson installation

Artist Rashid Johnson combines influences of art, architecture, and nature in a new installation now on view in the North Forest: The Bruising: For Jules, The Bird, Jack and Leni. This unique, midnight-blue, 20 x 20 x 20-foot living greenhouse features a collection of native and non-native plants, in addition to everyday objects.

The museum’s Trails and Grounds team worked with Johnson to identify plants to be used. Here, we take a tour of the plants currently inhabiting the sculpture. Read about them, then head out to the North Forest to see them all for yourself!

African milk tree

African Milk Tree (Euphorbia trigona) 

African milk tree is native to eastern Africa. It is a large plant that can grow head high without pruning or can easily be maintained to lower heights. It has a tree-like structure with all triangular stems. When its stems are broken, it bleeds a milky sap, resulting in its name.


Philodendrons are native to tropical regions of the Americas. In the wild, they can climb trees and reach heights of 10-20 feet. We grow them here in pots or greenhouses for the dramatically large and shiny foliage. 

Photo by Ironside Photography / Stephen Ironside.
Photo by Ironside Photography / Stephen Ironside.


Yuccas (including Spanish Bayonet/Yucca smalliana, soapweed/Y. glauca, Arkansas yucca/Y. arkansana) have semi-evergreen foliage and a rigid form. Some years, yucca sends up a 2-3-foot flowering stalk in late spring with white, bell-shaped flowers. Native varieties of these plants are often found on old homesteads or rocky hillsides.

Ponytail Palm (Beaucarnea recurvata)

Ponytail palm is native to Central America and really isn’t a palm. It is a small, tree-sized succulent that uses its wide base to store water. In our climate, we keep this in a pot, reducing its growth to a few feet at most.

Ponytail palm
majestic palm
Photo by Ironside Photography / Stephen Ironside.

Majestic Palm (Ravenea rivularis) 

Majestic palm is native to Madagascar and can grow up to 80 feet where it is found along river banks. This tree likes wet conditions and grows to a few feet in a container, mostly consisting of frond-like tropical foliage extending out in all directions.

Monstera (Monstera deliciosa)

Monstera is a tropical vine that can be found growing up the sides of trees in Panama and southern Mexico. There are a few theories about why monsteras have holes in the leaves. Some say it is to let light through to lower leaves, while others think that the holes allow wind and water to pass through, minimizing damage to the plant from tropical storms. Here in Northwest Arkansas, we grow monstera in pots or greenhouses, and they still amaze us with leaves that can reach two feet across.

Christmas fern

Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)

Christmas fern are most happy and beautiful in cool winter weather. They are extremely hardy, and a common plant in healthy Ozark forests. The waxy deep green leaves offer glimpses of green in the winter landscape.

Elephant Ears (Alocasia and Colocasia) 

Elephant ears come from tropical regions in Asia. One species, taro, is cultivated for its starchy root. In the US, they are grown for their leaves and have become favored houseplants.

Elephant ears
Spicebush and Loblolly Pine

Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) (foreground) and Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda) (background)

Spicebush is a native understory shrub found throughout the grounds. Host to the spicebush swallowtail butterfly, it has yellow flowers in spring, makes red berries, and leaves are bright yellow in the fall. All parts of the plant are fragrant. 

Loblolly pine is the state tree of Arkansas and grows in pine forests in the southern region of the state. It is fast-growing and evergreen with long needles and a shaggy texture.

Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana)

Eastern red cedar is a native evergreen common to roadsides and recently cleared woods. The Grey Owl variety is a low-growing, dense evergreen with blueish-green foliage. It requires lots of sun.

eastern red cedar
Photo by Ironside Photography / Stephen Ironside.

Holly (Ilex sp.) 

These small hollies are the cultivar “Nelly Stevens.” This evergreen has red berries in the winter that are a food source for songbirds.

‘Everillo’ Sedge (Carex oshimensis) 

Lastly, let us direct your attention to the floor of the installation. Everillo sedge is a strong performer at Crystal Bridges. It has big volume and bright yellow-green foliage that provides contrast, especially as we move into the fall and winter landscape. 

The sedge with the bluish hue is called Blue Zinger (Carex flacca), which is a drought tolerant, low-growing sedge.

Everillo sedge
Photo by Ironside Photography / Stephen Ironside.

The Bruising: For Jules, The Bird, Jack and Leni is sponsored by Airways Freight Corp.

Special thanks to Joanna Mentzer, landscape grounds technician, Crystal Bridges Trails & Grounds.