By Kaitlin Stack Whitney

White clover along a roadside

Over the past century, a vast network of highways has been built and expanded across North America. In the United States alone, there are 4 million miles of roads and most of the US is within 1km of a road. Roads are everywhere. Roads are designed for efficient, fast, and safe car and truck travel, to carry people and goods. In a lot of places, commuting, communities, and the landscape are now shaped by – even organized around – roads. But road development has not been as positive for wildlife. Roads have long been considered barriers to animal movement and a direct mortality threat to wildlife through collisions.

So what about for plants? Well, the establishment of highway systems inadvertently created an entirely new place: the roadside right of way.

Highway roadsides emerged as physically distinct ecosystems to manage – not simply the line between road and other. And some plants, including ones sometimes labeled “bad” (e.g. introduced species or endemic but “noxious”) thrive in this unique environment.

Trifolium repens, white clover, is one of those. White clover lives on this edge, in the verge. It’s a creeping, herbaceous legume, perennial in much of its global range and thriving in disturbed roadsides. Originally found in Europe, now it’s everywhere – and often planted on purpose in roadside seeding mixes, that’s how well suited it is.

Historically, white clover was used to purify and cleanse the blood. Perhaps now white clover will purify and cleanse our transportation arteries.

According to global monitoring data, there has been a steep decline in invertebrate populations over the past 40 years. White clover provides food and habitat for many livestock and wild animals in grassland areas, but in roadside edges it does something else. White clover there mostly serves invertebrates, like insects. Its leaves, stems, flowers, and seed pods are edible. White clover requires insect pollination as the flowers are self-sterile, and the flowers are attractive to many bees.

Sit and watch it sometime, you may be amazed what stops by. And that’s why I love white clover. It’s life on the edge, life finding a way, poking through concrete or pavement or the lone forb in a sea of grass. White clover is an integral part of imagining and ensuring roads as connector instead of barrier.

Dr. Kaitlin Stack Whitney is an insect ecologist and animal studies scholar, which means she’s also developed an appreciation for plants. She is an Assistant Professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology in the Science, Technology & Society Department. Visit the SWEET Col(LAB)orative on the web at, and follow Kaitlin on twitter at @kstackwhitney

By Madeline Bueno

Moss growing on a cedar tree

How do we live in a world that’s so beautiful and wondrous and yet take it for granted?

A couple days ago, I was in my room thinking back on my Fall semester and I remembered how happy I was surrounded by all my friends at school.

I had recently learned what a bryophyte was. Before that, all I knew was that bryophytes had to do with plants. Then, I learned that mosses are bryophytes. I was shocked that I never knew this before because mosses are some of my favorite plants. Mosses are such beautiful, green flourishes on the forest floor. I always did enjoy the different variations of green that they depict, and I love how mosses carpet the ground and the trees.

The day I learned about mosses being bryophytes I thought “I wish we, humans, could be more like mosses and bryophytes.” I was not wishing that we were all literal mosses growing from the ground, or that we should be green and covered with small spores. I just wish that, like bryophytes, we could all come together. Mosses are rarely alone. I usually find them in big groups and it’s amazingly beautiful when their greenish meadow fills a forest.

So, why can’t we be like bryophytes and come together to fight this current situation?

While we cannot literally come together right now, we can only follow the new “normal” and continue to stay safe inside our homes. So, why can’t we be inspired by these bryophytes to follow our new norms to get to greener days?

Madeline Bueno is 21 years and lives in NYC majoring in biology at Utica college. She truly enjoys all things nature.

Photo from Wikimedia.

Learn more about bryophytes from the Australian National Botanic Gardens.

By Violet

My grandfather kept a small garden when I was a child. He grew tomatoes and yellow peppers. We made a trip of going to the garden center each spring to gather soil and fertilizer. We would wait until each Mother's Day to plant the seeds. I grew so accustomed to this routine that I assumed that was the actual purpose of Mother’s Day. When I was 8, I woke up on planting day and ran down the stairs exclaiming “It’s tomato day! It’s tomato day!” My family never lets me forget that.

As the plants grew, I would be responsible for collecting the ripe fruit. However, I ended up eating most of the cherry tomatoes right off the vine. My family pretended to be upset, but now I know they found it quite amusing.

As the years passed, my grandfather grew worn and sad. He stopped tending his garden and the patch became infertile. He lost his oldest daughter to the opioid crisis in the spring of 2015. He spent the next year in a deep depression. I was very worried about him. He stopped doing things he enjoyed. His health fell. His patience became short. The weight of grief was killing him.

The following spring, years after our last tomato garden, I decided to restart to tradition. In secret, with the help of my other family members, we tilled the old growing patch, planted seeds, and cared for them until they grew tall enough to surprise my grandfather. He was very quiet when he first saw the new garden. We then presented him with a small stone, engraved with his late daughter's name. He placed it next to the tallest plant, which already began to grow green buds.

That summer he went out to care for the garden almost every day. He even let me eat the first ripe one. The next year, on Mother’s Day, my grandfather came down the stairs in the morning, and asked me if I wanted to help him plant more tomatoes.

Violet is a 20 year old studying Natural Resource Management in Pittsburgh Pa.

Photo by Michal Klajban from Wikimedia Commons.