Updated: 2 days ago

by Melanie Sievers

In a black document box up on a top shelf, there is a little plastic bag containing three tiny black seeds from the mu mian hua, 木棉花, the cotton tree flower. It is beloved in Guangzhou, a city known as Flower City for its lush year-round flora. It is the official city tree, the logo of Southern China airlines, and my favorite flower. For the three happiest years of my life I lived in Guangzhou and watched the big, red, waxy flowers bloom each March on very tall trees, then cast their fluffy seedpods - like snow - all over town. When it was time to say goodbye to China, I bought three paintings of the mu mian hua and collected some seeds as souvenirs.

In early to mid-February, around the time of the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year), the buds begin to appear, blossoming as March approaches. All of Guangzhou is ablaze with a red canopy of beautiful flowers. Once in full bloom, each deep orange-red flower is about the size of my hand, pinky to thumb, over four inches in diameter. An individual flower is so heavy that when it falls to the ground, it makes a distinctly audible thud. The ground around each tree is littered in plentiful big red blossoms, each so robust and waxy that they are almost completely unblemished from their fall from great heights.

People hurry to gather the fallen flowers, easily amassing enough flowers to fill large baskets, which they then spread to dry in the sun for use as a tea or soup. Square patches of drying blossoms are spread all over town. With the passing of the gorgeous flowers comes an equally miraculous sight: the snowy white seed pods, that look like gigantic dandelion puffs, wafting in the breeze and settling on the ground in drifts. These seedpods are just as useful as the flowers. People hurry to gather the silky, soft puffs before they blow away to stuff into pillows and comforters. I loved the image of nestling into a cozy mu mian hua bed.

When I was told that I would be unable to renew my work visa, I took the bus to Wende Lu in Liwan District and searched every shop and stall for paintings of mu mian hua. I bought three and rolled them in a long plastic tube. They traveled with me on the long, long flight back to California. But I needn’t have bothered with souvenirs; the images of mu mian hua - in all its forms – along with all the sights, sounds, colors, and textures of my wonderful adopted home, Guangzhou, will blossom forever in my heart and in my mind. But just in case my memory fades, I have the seeds.

Melanie Sievers has retired from teaching three or four times, yet she is currently leading high school students through Oedipus and Macbeth in Stockton, CA. It seems you really can’t escape your destiny! In another life, she was an actress in NYC and has had many other lives in between. Melanie's best life so far was in Guangzhou, China where she taught high school Drama in a prestigious Chinese high school. Every so often she writes some poems, assembles some art pieces, and plays around creatively


Photographs of mu mian hua, 木棉花, cotton tree flower and tree by Mandy Wang 王黎.

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by Morgan Heinemann

Apple tree flower

I have lived in the same house my entire life. Twenty full years behind a 270 acre apple farm. Fishkill Farms has provided my local community with a slew of opportunities and family-friendly activities. Personally, this farm has given me the privilege of watching the beautiful life cycle of apple trees from my backyard. I am a witness to each stage of their life cycle. Watching the growth of these trees has been a consistent memory that occurred throughout my childhood and even in my young adult life.

The emergence of Spring means the budding of flowers. The slow warming of the weather allows for the flowers inside the buds to grow. The sweet smell of these flowers attracts bees for their pollinating capabilities. Their pollen helps the flowers grow into potential apples. The bees are unaware that they are providing a new beginning for these apple trees. You can’t help but feel hopeful for what is about to come after this stage of their life cycle.

Summer means being surrounded by the presence of apple blossoms. As the buds grow, I can watch the colors of the flowers change. Initially a soft pink and then the flower is consumed by a strong white coloring. The familiar look of the apples we eat begins to take place. The excitement for future apple picking endeavors and the opportunity for family time is ever-present.

The wait is finally over, Fall brings in full-blown apple trees just waiting to be picked and cherished. I head out to my backyard where I can hear the laughter and cheer from families apple picking in the near distance. Families from all over travel to this farm for the sweet and yummy apples it provides. The anticipation of this time of year is finally over; the trees have reached their fullest potential. Personally, apple picking has provided my family and I with a collection of memories that are heartwarming and genuine. Through these memories, apple trees have brought not only my family closer together but other families as well.

Just like that Winter blows in, for the last step of the apple tree life cycle. The trees can finally rest. They develop a protective layer of fuzz to protect them from the harsh weather that they are about to endure. As the weather gets colder, it feels like everything begins to slow down. I use this time to reflect on all the different stages that I have gone through during the year.

And then the cycle repeats itself.

Morgan is a 20 year old SUNY Cortland student. Her major is Early Childhood Education with a concentration in Environmental Studies.

Photo credit: Apple tree flower by Jonas Bergsten from Wikimedia commons.

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by Christina J

Mango fruits on a tree

Most of my memories as a kid consist of me being around my dad. My dad pretty much sleeps, eats, and breathes plants. He would always tell me stories of how as a kid in Haiti he would watch his father grow many plants and crops. My grandfather was known for his many gardens and he would allow my dad to help him take care of the plants.

As my dad got older, he kept the passion for plants going. He loves spending time outside in the backyard. When people ask me how many siblings I have, I always say about 1 million or maybe more. The way my father would care for his plants, I most definitely believe they were not just plants, but his children that he loves dearly.

I remember my first-time watering some of my dad’s plants. He had just had surgery and could not quite move around as much, so I volunteered to take on this responsibility. Laying in the bed and hearing the eagerness in my voice, he smiled so wide. “Do you even know how to take care of plants?” he asked. With my hands on both hips, I responded, “of course I do”. With his eyes closed and shoulders shrugged, he said “well, everything you need is out in the shed”.

A smile on my face, I rushed to the shed to grab everything I needed. I dragged the hose to the area I wanted to start watering.

The backyard was filled with many types of plants, flowers, and trees. My favorite was the mango tree of course, and second to that was the aloe vera plant. My father would always cut the aloes in half to give to my mom. She would scrape all the slimy parts into a bowl and massage it into my scalp to make my hair grow nice and healthy because it was rich with nutrients. My dad really loved the bush bean plants. He found it soothing to pull each bean out and he would even have a huge bowl filled with beans all from a single bush.

I opened up the water hose and gently passed it back and forth over the plants. I remembered my dad saying to never overwater the plants. “You need to have a good eye for the amount of water you need”, he would say, “not too much and not too little”. I kept watering till I reached the other side of the backyard. “Not too much, and not too little”, until I was satisfied with the way all the plants looked.

Dragging the hose back by the shed, I washed my hands to go back to my father’s room, but I saw him sitting on the porch instead. “Dad you are supposed to be in bed!”. He smiled down at me. “I know, I did not want to miss seeing this”. The joy in his eyes, and confidence in my new skill, I couldn’t wait till he was all better so we could do this together.

Christina is from Florida.

Photo credit: Mango tree (Mangifera indica) from Wikimedia commons

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