To examine claims that the role of botanical art in systematic botany is diminishing because of advances in photography, this review considers relevant literature and includes a quantitative analysis of trends in modern journals, monographs and floras. Our focus is on southern hemisphere systematic botany because, relative to the northern hemisphere, this is poorly represented in modern reviews of botanical art and photography. An analysis of all digitally available papers in Nuytsia, the Journal of the Adelaide Botanic Garden, Muelleria, Telopea, Austrobaileya and Systematic Botany established that, although photographic illustrations have increased since 2000, botanical illustrations have not always diminished. The cause of these trends is unknown, but it is likely to be due to several factors, including sourcing funding for production of botanical illustration, editorial preference for the use of illustrations or photographs, author preference for either illustrations or photographs, and moving to online publication, with no charges for colour reproduction. Moreover, the inclusion of botanical artists as co-authors in some scientific publications signals an ongoing and important role. Botanical illustration brings sharp focus and meticulous attention to detail regarding form and structure of plants. Photography is useful at the macro-scale for habitat and whole-plant traits, as well as at the micro-scale for anatomical textures and ultrastructure. These complementary approaches can be important components of taxonomic discovery, with the potential for a new role in modern trait analysis in molecular phylogenies.