My stepmother is a painter. Mostly she paints plants, especially hydrangeas. When she and Dad married (he was 87), a large potted hydrangea occupied their bay window. It became one of Dad’s chores to carry this awkwardly sprawling houseplant outdoors in springtime and back outside each autumn. Dad passed away two winters ago. A neighbor helped carry the hydrangea out and back. That fall, for the first time, scales infested the hydrangea. I got a frantic call, helped talk my stepmom through the treatment process. The plant has healed now. I like to think it symbolizes the fading of grief.
When I first heard about Plant Love Stories, I had one thought. Must follow! I am a plant nut. Everyone who knows me knows it, and I can’t even try to hide it. I wanted to contribute, but I had a huge dilemma. Which plant love story do I tell?! I have so many, and when it comes to plants, my love travels far and wide.
So I narrowed it down to tell the tale of my current love affair. Here is my love story with the one, the only, Amargosa niterwort (Nitrophila mohavensis). The Amargosa niterwort is a rare plant in the goosefoot family (Chenopodiaceae) and it has a lot of special requirements. It lives on salt flats near Death Valley, in one of the hottest driest places on earth, but the niterwort is a water loving plant. It lives in an area with a high groundwater table that is relatively salty, but the niterwort doesn’t like it too salty.
[The Amargosa niterwort]
This plant has very specific habitat requirements and that means a couple of things that relate to its rarity: 1) Its habi...
I don’t know when I first began to really know trees. As a youngster, I was literally a snake-in-my-pocket sort of kid. Yeah, could not get enough snakes in my life. I was blooming as a broader young naturalist in my later elementary years, and I do remember leading a walk for a small group of people on some open land near where I grew up north of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. On that walk I remember being asked the identity of a smooth, light grey barked tree in the forest. I didn’t know the answer, but I told them it was paper birch. But in fact it was American beech. Occasionally you have to watch out for what naturalists are telling you, as they will make up facts to make for a good hike. I continue to apologize to American beech trees to this day.
By the time I was a high school freshman it was clear that I was falling in love. My new love was especially beautiful in spring and fall. A member of rich, moist, climax for...
My grandmother, Grammy, was a back-to-the-earth hippie decades before the actual movement started in the 1960s. She and my grandfather, Grampy (Grumpy may have been more apt), moved to their cottage in Western Pennsylvania each year on Memorial Day. They lived there until Labor Day when they reluctantly headed back to the Locust Street house in town.
The cabin was small and rustic. A well on the hill above the cabin provided cold water to the kitchen faucet. The walls of the kitchen were covered in newsprint and the cast iron wood stove was used for cooking, regardless of outside temperature. There was no bathroom. Instead, the outhouse served that purpose and was located a good walk away from the cabin, past the shed, the garden, and the beehive. Rhododendron flanked the front porch. Stone steps led to the springhouse next door and the stone fish pond beyond that where water lilies floated above the imported carp of many colors.
Ever since I was a young Girl Scout, I’ve loved trees and flowers, but working and raising a family kept me too busy to study them in depth.
After I retired, I earned my Certificate in Botany from the New York Botanical Garden. Now, I share my interest by giving botanical tours, writing botanical blogs, and teaching local classes for seniors in my community.
I have a somewhat unique perspective in that I love plant names as much as I love plants themselves! For instance, take Catharanthus roseus. “Cathar” means pure (shoutout to all of us Catharines of various spelling permutations !), “anthus” means flowered and “roseus” means rose–colored. The common name is also endearing: rosy periwinkle.
The alkaloids of this plant are the source of the powerful anti-cancer drugs, vincristine and vinblastine; the drugs derive the “vin” in their names from Vinca rosea, a synonym for Catharanthus roseus.
Learning the meanings behind the names of the plants helps me to remember the special traits of the...
I was first introduced to cloudberries via the name of a man-made structure. This structure was a slowly dilapidating bed-and-breakfast called The Cloudberry, located in Fairbanks, Alaska, and its wooden turrets rose up like an enchanted castle above the stunted boreal black spruce forest.
It was used as field housing in the rainy summer of 2014 when I received my first botany technician job. Little did I know, the Cloudberry would recur in my life, over and over — but in the form of a small plant.
The cloudberry; Rubus chamaemorus; bakeapple; salmonberry; is widespread across the arctic. It is a sweet, soft, dreamsicle berry, with a muted taste reminiscent of oranges, cream, tart fruit and a hint of salmon. When ripe, it fades from a bright pink to a translucent creamy orange that smears apart on your taste buds.
During work hours, I found myself in the bogs, fens, and tussock tundra where this tasty, low-lying forb is found. It was after work hours, in the quirky, self-sufficient, woods...
I met the [botanic] love of my life around fifteen years ago, at the greenhouse of my local garden store. I always loved visiting greenhouses, with the lush leaves in all shades of green and the delicious scent of plants, earth, and fertilizer; the whirring fans and the huge variety of plants.
I had just moved into an apartment with my future husband, and was always on the lookout for new houseplants to adopt and bring home to furnish our nest. A small shelf of plants labeled “prayer plants” caught my eye, with their lovely herringbone patterns and reddish stripes. I knew very little about plants in general, although I was aware of the prayer plant’s tendency to fold up its leaves at night and thought it would be a charming friend. About to rummage around the pots to select the perfect prayer plant, I noticed a couple of pots of something else nearby. They had no label, but were colorful like the prayer plants, with silvery-green leaves and a darker green edge. There was a pinkish blush...
Looking back, my whole childhood was a plant and nature love story, complete with a 20 acre playground. Growing up on a show rabbit farm in Northeastern Indiana allowed me to explore, dream, and get dirty. I made little moats in the mud of my mom's garden to water her bedding plants, picked fruits out of our orchard, and jumped into our pond on a hot day to gather pond weed and algae for an impromptu Loch Ness monster costume.
As a nerdy kid who loved to read, I would take my books and climb the white cedar by my house to curl up on a branch and escape to another world. The white cedar was planted when my grandmother was a girl, and years later was given the inspired name of "Mr. Tree" by my brother and myself. Its branches were perfect for dreaming and reading with a barn cat in your lap. In addition to a reading nook, Mr. Tree was the deck of the USS Enterprise (both the naval and the spaceship), a castle, a fortress, an island, and a sanctuary.
The first time I remember receiving roses it was in the traditional dozen red bouquet. At the time I was touched, I loved the old-fashioned meaning behind the elegant flowers. I pointedly chose to ignore that the bouquet was an apology masked in love.
I didn’t like roses for a long while after that.
But I had no objection to the wild roses that appeared in the brambles, hardy and pink, with delicious rosehips in the fall. Over time I grew fond of these roses, their tenacious nature and their simplicity. The wild roses of the Pacific Northwest, where I live, are quite adaptable to their environment and are bold in their presence.
They don’t need much to be so much.
Years later I was proposed to in a Rose Garden, in the winter when everything was dormant yet full of potential. The name of the Rose was to be my own--mine and my husband’s. We are not elegant tea roses, that’s a fact! Rather I feel like this name change reflects my nature at heart, especially when I hear my sister comment; ‘Yo...
When I worked for the City Of Portland, Urban Forestry, I was part of a team, including many, many volunteers, identifying all the public right-of-way trees in the city. It was a fantastic summer, walking every street, identifying, measuring, and taking pictures of trees. In the fall, my sister, Rose, visited me. My co-workers, Rose, and I piled into a van to go out to eat. One of my co-workers was driving and constantly getting backseat directions, but we still reached our destination. By the end of the drive, Rose burst out laughing. You see, we hadn’t said the name of a single street, we gave directions such as “turn left after the elm tree,” or “after the line of cottonwoods, keep right,” and “park in front of those red maples.” Rose was amazed and amused at how we knew the city. It hadn’t occurred to me until that moment just how far I had come -- even in the middle of a bustling city, we could only see the trees!
Lily (left) with her friend, Karen Baumann (right), in Portland, OR...
“Can you remember a time when you experienced awe?”, asked my friend.
My heart jumped: “yes, of course.” The sunflowers.
As if on replay, my mind formed the image: my mother in her garden, her short frame delicate against towering sunflowers; their big bobble heads bouncing against the late summer sky. I was a kid and I was mesmerized.
These weren’t just plants — they were giants. There was a village of giants in my backyard, and my mother was their overall-clad keeper. It was a ragtag group of characters. There was a clique of perfect sunflowers with great posture (the snobs), a thicket of ragged and lumpy ones (the ogres), a lion with a big yellow mane (Simba from the Lion King), and a small peeking meerkat (Timon, his friend). My favourite was dumpy and stooped but had real character — a late era Marlon Brando, charming as ever.
Yellow, orange, lean, thick; I was in awe of them all. I would trace the spirals of their seeds and ponder how things so small could ever get so big.
The first time I saw lupine blooming in the wild, a blanket of purplish blue flowers swaying softly, covering an Indiana dune, I had to sit down. We had just come through a clearing in the trees, following a trail down to the lake front that allowed us to hike through 10,000 years of dune succession in a single afternoon. I saw the blue spikes off in the distance, but until I came to them I didn’t realize what I had been seeing. The view was stunning.
Wild lupine and I have a past. Lupines were the in-between step that led me from being an excited science-loving undergrad without a real plan to a botany graduate student today, and helped inspire my development of In Defense of Plants, a blog, podcast, and social media presence spreading plant love.
In college, I chose to major in biology because I loved biology, not because I was following a “career plan”. But as my four years were coming to a close, I realized I needed a plan. I had to put my degree to work - in order to start pay...