By Sean


Green leaves with many leaflets, and pink, puffball flowers.
Mimosa pudica leaves and flowers

During the summer of 2014, I went on a school trip to Costa Rica, a tropical paradise with an extremely diverse assortment of plants. During a trip to a local plantation, the guide pointed out an interesting plant that was growing on the ground next to the trail. When the guide encouraged us to run our finger along the stem, I was very confused. But after I did, I found my favorite plant that I have ever seen (or felt!).


When I ran my finger along the stem of the plant, the leaves on either side raised up and closed together. This very simple reaction from the plant amazed me because plants don’t have a brain, or instincts, or nerves to react like this plant did. I was told at the time that the plant was called a sensitive fern, and that it has a unique ability to close its leaves when they are touched. Because of the plant’s appearance, I didn’t question that it was a fern. I always thought ferns were pretty interesting, and this one seemed like most of the other ferns I was familiar with seeing. It had many long, rounded green leaves that spread out perpendicular to the stem. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I learned that the so-called “sensitive fern” was not a fern at all.


In 2017 I traveled to England with my family. While I was there, I visited an attraction called the Eden Project, a collection of massive “bubbles'' that had artificial Mediterranean and tropical biomes in them. While exploring the tropical forest, I noticed a small familiar plant alongside the path. Unlike my first encounter, this time the plant was accompanied by an informational sign. The plant that I had been so fascinated with was the sleepy plant/shame plant (Mimosa pudica). Rather than being classified as a fern, as I had previously thought, I discovered that it was actually a perennial plant from the same family as peas and legumes.


After some further research, I found out that the amazing ability of the sleepy plant to close its leaves is thought to have evolved as a mechanism to prevent water loss via evaporation, scare away insects that land on it, and as a way to appear less appealing to herbivores. It is able to perform this action through a complex reaction of kinetic energy, ions, and water movement.


The animal-like reaction of a plant is something that amazed me and drew my interest. Whenever I have come across this plant, I always have to spend a few minutes touching and studying it. I am disappointed that this species does not grow naturally in Colorado because the plant is very fun to toy around with and it could be a point of fascination for people of all ages. I would credit the sleepy plant with a significant involvement in getting me interested in plant biology.



Mimosa pudica video by Túllio F, and photo by Ferdous from Wikimedia Commons.

(And check out Mimosa the Musical!)

Sean is currently a student at the University of Colorado, Boulder studying Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.



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By Liquidambar

Sweetgum tree with red fall leaves along a path and lake

I spent time with my friend the sweetgum almost every day up till 4th grade when I moved to a new house. I climbed high into her branches and felt that she spoke to me as the wind blew and watched over me as I read books and swung on the rope that she held up. I went to the sweetgum when I was upset and sat in her branches. She was strong and consistent. I remember crying and hugging my dear tree friend the day we moved out; trees give us humans so much and ask for little in return.


As I grew up I continued to form strong relationships with trees and the forest as a whole, and it paid off. In high school, whirlwinds of emotions clouded my mind and life seemed pointless, but the quiet, steady wisdom of trees consistently brought me back to earth. They reminded me of the wonder of nature and how lucky we are to be a part of it. I am forever thankful for the solace I took in the small stand of oak-pine forest behind my house.

Currently, I still greet trees like old friends, calling them by name whenever possible.

I want to thank them for all the beauty and wonder they add to my life. We now know that trees do communicate with each other through mycorrhizal networks and airborne chemical signals. I think that humans can also communicate with trees, but through the way we treat the gifts nature has given us.


Brown spikey "gumball" fruit of the sweetgum tree

Liquidambar is a senior in college at North Carolina State University studying Animal Science and Plant Biology. She lives in Raleigh, North Carolina and is a frequent visitor of the southern Appalachian mountains.


Photo Credits: Jean-Pol GRANDMONT (top left) and Krzysztof Golik (bottom center). CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

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By Haley Forbes

Ever since I can remember, my grandfather would give my grandmother sunflowers. Whenever he saw sunflowers, he stopped what he was doing immediately to provide her with the flowers. It was their "thing" as some would say. Our whole family knew this would happen and we would delight in watching their love continue to bloom each time my grandfather gave my grandmother sunflowers.


My grandparents were married for 55 years before my grandmother passed away in 2011. She found out she was battling stage 3 melanoma, which had spread to her lungs and quickly became terminal. The first thing my grandfather did was bring her a bouquet of sunflowers. He was devastated, having been married so long, to now have to grieve his loving wife. No matter what the situation was, when my grandfather gifted sunflowers to my grandmother, it automatically made her feel better. But my grandmother continued to get sicker, and after only two weeks of knowing she was ill, my grandmother passed away peacefully.


The funeral was only a week later, but a devastating day for the family. Without telling anyone, my grandfather ordered an array of sunflowers to display at the funeral. The entire family walked in and cried because it was joyful to see her favorite flowers beautifully set up to commemorate my grandmother's life on a day of such sadness. As families do after a loved one passed, we grieved and continued to live our lives while always remembering my grandmother. About six months after her funeral, spring was blossoming, and the scenery of the earth looked beautiful. The whole family was outside at a barbeque to celebrate a birthday when my grandfather noticed a sunflower had grown in his backyard. He immediately started crying because he hadn't planted any, but one sunflower had coincidentally grown there. The weird part was that there was only one singular sunflower, and no one had planted the flower.


Whether you believe in spiritual powers or not, the family took it as a sign that my grandmother was okay. We all needed to know that our loving grandmother, who passed so quickly, was doing okay. Whether the sunflower grew there because a bird dropped a seed or a spiritual power, we will never know.

But one thing I do know is that every time a member of my family sees a sunflower, they are reminded of not only my grandmother but the love shared between my grandparents.

Sunflowers will forever bring my family peace and joy. Being surrounded by sunflowers brings on an enormous amount of serotonin and allowed my family to find positivity and happiness in a time of despair. Plants can bring on so much joy, whether it's a memory or simply because they are beautiful.

Haley is 18 and lives in Syracuse, New York. She currently attends SUNY Cortland and is a biology major.


Photo by Wolfgang Hasselmann on Unsplash

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