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The Grace of Growing

by Tanisha Williams

Young girl standing in front of a house in braids, a white dress and shoes
The future Dr. Williams posing in front of her house in her Sunday best.

My earliest memories of plants are the beautiful African violets (Streptocarpus sect. Saintpaulia) my great-grandmother grew all over our two-story rowhouse in Northeast, Washington, DC. Behind the bars and security system, our little home boomed with life, love, wisdom, and flowers.

My great-grandmother, Grace Alice Hawkins, taught me just about everything and the love for plants and nature was no different. She not only showed me the wonders of plants through taking care of them in our home, we would also buy fruits, veggies, and plants from the Stadium Armory farmer’s market. My great-grandmother had a ‘green-thumb’, and would also talk and sing to her plants (smile)! I used to think that was the key to her success, but what I later learned (and why my favorite childhood foods have never tasted as good) it was her love and grace.

The author as a child sits on her great-grandmother's lab, with Christmas decorations
Tanisha and great-grandmother Grace at a neighbor's home for Christmas

My great-grandmother loved, cared for, and nurtured us all. Her African violets bloomed year-round, a constant reminder of her unwavering love. Another reminder of her love is me, the nerdy girl who loved reading, science (especially museums!), history, and plants!

That nerdy girl grew up to become the nerdy woman who completed a PhD, which I made a promise to my granny that I would do.

I now study plants from around the world for a living! I have recently settled down for a few years and decided my house needed my first-ever African violet. Wow, is it magnificent! It constantly blooms, despite my singing (smile), reminding me of the life and love my great-grandmother gave to me and so many others. I miss her dearly, but continue to feel connected to her through all the plants around me!

Tanisha with her mother and great-grandmother

Dr. Tanisha M. Williams is a botanist and plant ecologist. She is the David Burpee Postdoc Fellow in Botany at Bucknell University. She is currently using population genomics methods to understand how biogeographic barriers impact plant populations throughout the Top End of Australia and using similar methods to update the conservation status of threatened plants across Pennsylvania. She also studies how plants respond to climate change. Dr. Williams enjoys traveling, hiking, playing with her two cats, Monte and Carlo, and loves taking care of her succulent and vegetable plants. Check out Tanisha's website and follow her on twitter, @T_Marie_Wms!

Dr. Williams also launched #Black Botanists Week (website: here)! Here's an article about the campaign by Marcia Moore for The Daily Item.


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