Free Articles

Zygote Quarterly website with covers of all the issues

In the last post, I presented a selection of books that are available for free download from the internet.  In this post, I’ll look at the article situation, which is also full of great opportunities.  There is an odd and wonderful online journal called Zygote Quarterly that can be accessed for free and is visually inspiring.  It often has articles about plants, biomimetics, and art inspired by the natural world.  The covers of all issues are displayed on a single webpage; just click on one and it opens in a viewer.  It’s like having a large visual box of candy to dip into.  I get an email when each issue is published so I won’t miss anything.  The same is true of Antennae.  Its latest issue is the first of three devoted to plants in art and culture.  The journal editor is Giovanni Aloi, author of such books as Lucian Freud Herbarium (2019) and Botanical Speculations (2018), is someone with the background to pull this off.

Many publications offer a sample issue, as with The Botanical Artist, the journal of the American Society of Botanical Artists.  For others, particular articles are also accessible.  Archives of Natural History is a great resource for those interested in botany and beyond.  The publisher, Edinburgh University Press, provides free access to virtual “themed collections,” which change over time.  Right now they are “Women in Natural Sciences”, “Voyages of Exploration” (Cook & Endeavour), and “Additional Voyages.”  If you are interested in any of these topics, take a look soon.  Each collection is quite substantial, so worth investigating.  The Journal of the History of Collecting from Oxford University Press also has thematic issues with the articles downloadable.  Early Steps in Natural History is my favorite.

Obviously university presses, like other publishers, need to at least break even, so the extent of their largess is limited.  It’s now common to find open access or free access articles in scholarly publications, which usually charge large fees per download.  This is often because the author has paid a fee to make free access possible.  It is in the author’s best interest, since more people are likely to read their work.  This is still another profit-making ploy from publishers, but researchers struggling to gain recognition may find it worth the price, and sometimes it’s covered by grants or their home institutions.

Many publishers allow authors to post proofs, often unedited proofs, on their websites or on academic social platforms like ResearchGate and; even if they don’t upload a copy, you can request one.  When I find a recent, or even not so recent, reference I’d like to read, I always do a Google search for it.  Yes, the journal where it’s published will pop up, but sometimes so will other sources including the home institution’s archives.  It happens often enough that I consider it worth a try, and I get a thrill when I download something that turns out to be a gem, a free gem.  One of my favorite authors on the visual in science is the astronomer Omar Nasim (2013).  In another approach to finding articles, I follow him on Academia and get an email when he uploads a new publication; it’s always a treat and usually sets me off on new thinking about how images influence scientific inquiry.

Then there are smaller publications produced by institutions rather than publishers.  In the herbarium world, The Plant Press is a great example of a freely available newsletter that has been published for years by the US National Herbarium at the Smithsonian Institution.   Each issue has a blend of items about current research being done by botanists at the Smithsonian, news about digitization projects, and usually one of Alice Tangerini’s latest botanical illustrations.  The Oxford University Herbaria also have a good newsletter with all issues posted online.  I particularly like it because the herbarium has a massive historical collection, and there’s always an article on one of its treasures, such as Mark Catesby’s plant specimens at Oxford or the herbarium of Jacob Bobart the Younger, the son of the first gardener at the Oxford Botanic Garden.

Recently, I found another great publication, Living Woods Magazine.  You can subscribe for free to get the latest issue, and earlier ones are available online.  It is published in Britain, so it has a different flavor than a US publication would, but I find that a plus, expanding my horizons.  In the Autumn issue there’s an article on coppicing, a technique practiced less in this country than in Europe.  This is followed by an article on making fences with branches grown from coppiced woods.  By cutting back the trees low to the ground, the growth of tender stems is encouraged, and these are pliable enough for weaving.  There’s also an article on ash dieback, a problem that unfortunately plagues both countries.

For the more taxonomically oriented, there is Phytokeys as well as the Botanical Society of America’s Applications in the Plant Sciences, open-access journals vital to the botanic community.  I am sure I am missing many other sources of articles, but I hope that at least one or two of the ones I’ve mentioned are new to you, and prove useful and enjoyable.


Aloi, G. (Ed.). (2018). Botanical Speculations. New Castle Upon Tyne, UK. Cambridge Scholars.

Aloi, G. (2019). Lucian Freud Herbarium. Munich: Prestel.

Nasim, O. W. (2013). Observing by Hand: Sketching the Nebulae in the Nineteenth Century. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.