Befriending the land - Learning plant diversity

Updated: Jan 17

by Irene Teixidor-Toneu


Irene's plant art

What does it take to befriend a landscape? How can I get in touch and converse with a forest, meadow, or disturbed roadside? My personal answer has always been learning about its plants. When I was at university, studying biology, I took as many plant-related subjects I could: geobotany, plant diversity, lichens & algae, and vegetation cartography, and others. Nine in total, not a negligible sum after all. I found and still find plants utterly beautiful, attractive in their intricate detail and subtle movement.


Learning about them would slow me down, make me focus and observe the tiny differences that make a landscape rich, that make a landscape become familiar. Learning about plant diversity meant spending time outside, hiking, or just walking, with friends. Sometimes, actually often, pen and pencil would be instrumental support to learning through drawing. During this time, it was as if a microscope lens was being moved up and down until brought to focus. What I was observing was already there, but I had not been able to fully see it. 


A friend of mine once mentioned that she was able to see the forest through me, as I would point to all the different plant species that she would otherwise not notice. This was back home, on the northern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. I have lived in four different environments since and haven’t quite developed or nurtured this in-depth relationship with plants anywhere else. Not in the English mixed woods, the Moroccan high-altitude pastures, the Norwegian coastal shrublands, nor the Dutch dunes. I still go for walks, but the forests are blurry with a multitude of species in part undiscovered by me. Knowing many of the plants that grow in the oak-box wood or the thin-soil minuscule prairies next to the village where I grew up still roots me there. Calling a new land home will surely happen through getting to know and befriending its many plant species.


Irene Teixidor-Toneu is a postdoctoral researcher in ethnobotany based at the Natural History Museum, University of Oslo (Norway) with a special interest in the cultural evolution of people-plant relationships. Mother of a one-year-old and partner to a plant genomicist, mediocre gardener but avid plant lover. Find Irene on twitter @IreneToneu.

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