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by Dennis

Peanut butter and jelly sandwich with grape jelly on white bread.

Growing up as a Vietnamese-American child along with my twin sister and younger brother, we were exposed to many different foods. Both my parents immigrated here to the United States of America in 1996 and they brought with them the traditional foods and culture that they had back in the motherland. Of course for many of the foods we ate, we had Vietnamese classics such as Pho and spring rolls. But as an Asian-American, I was also introduced to American cuisine as well, especially sweets. Because of this, I often found myself enjoying berry flavored food. I was always fascinated by the taste that berries had and I will always remember the first time I tried one.

In my second year of elementary school, I was part of a reading group that had just recently completed a school project. As a reward, we were given the opportunity to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I remember thinking to myself at that moment, “What the heck is this thing?” But as I lathered spreads on their respective pieces of bread, I was intrigued by the look of the dark purple jelly. I sank my teeth into this sandwich and immediately the sweetness of the grapes within the jelly along with the creamy peanut butter enveloped my mouth. I was amazed by the creation that I consumed. It was my first time ever eating a berry and after that day, I was hooked onto eating more.

Since then, I have always been infatuated with berries. Whether they are grapes, blueberries, raspberries*, strawberries*, or whatever other berry, they will always be special to me. To me, berries are the perfect fruit because they have a mild sweetness, a nice tartness, and a wonderful fragrance to them. They are so versatile and I have eaten so many dishes with berries in them. Comparing American desserts to Vietnamese desserts, they are so much sweeter!

Perhaps the most interesting thing I learned about berries is the use of cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving turkey! It still amazes me that berries are able to be used as an ingredient for so many different dishes. Even though I am growing older and am not able to indulge my sweet tooth as much, I still eat berries everyday! I learned over time that berries have very good nutritional value and to this day, I enjoy eating them in my breakfast. They provide vitamins and minerals, as well as antioxidants that help to fuel me for my long days. I love putting them in my oatmeal and greek yogurt! Berries will always and forever be an essential part of my diet, as they have been since the day that I first discovered them.

*Plant Love Stories Science note: Berry is a scientific term in addition to a common-use term. A berry is a fleshy fruit that is derived from a single ovary of an individual flower. Some of the things we commonly think of as berries - like strawberries and raspberries, aren’t botanical berries - these fruits arise from multiple ovaries, not a single ovary… On the other hand, some things we don’t think of as berries ARE botanical berries, like grapes, cucumbers, and bananas! In this story, grapes, blueberries, cranberries, are botanical berries but strawberries and raspberries are not.

If you’d like to read more about botanical berries and non-berries check out these articles: Bananas are Berries?, by Greta Lorge and Bananas are Berries. Raspberries are Not, by Ada Mcvean and Cassandra Lee.

Dennis is a student studying Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at The University of Colorado at Boulder.

Peanut butter and jelly sandwich photo by Evan Amos from Wikimedia.

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by Lindsay Harmon

Purple flower with purple leaves
Tradescantia pallida, purple heart spiderwort

It all started the day I left home. It was cold outside, but I felt hot with excitement and determination to find something new. It seemed like every minute was lasting another lifetime and I may never find the comfort to grow roots again. My purple leaves give off the impression that I might be royalty or luxurious, but I couldn’t fake that if I tried. With my roots ripped clean off, I had ambition running through my xylem and nothing else.

The hands that held me were shaking and it seemed they were radiating the anxiety that perhaps I should’ve been feeling myself, however I always tend to be a bit too distracted by the future to worry about resources in the current moment. Why worry about such frivolous things? When you worry, you suffer twice.

There was a sense of trust and hope that attached me to these hands, which was odd. These hands felt foreign to my skin, no chance we are made of the same stuff, but something seemed oddly familiar at the same time. It seemed like we could be experiencing all the same feelings but manifest them so vastly differently. They felt distant in that sense, because I knew that these hands would never know precisely what my emotions felt like, but that’s okay.

Really, it’s okay. It’s a funny thing when you feel alone. All of those months I had spent attached at the stem to my family and friends, I felt like none of them really knew me. Like I couldn’t even begin to tell them the truth about myself, even though we were right there next to each other. They looked at me all day long, but never actually saw me. How is that even possible? Well there I was in the hands of a complete stranger, of a different kind, that saw me instantly. They understood my will, without really needing to know where I had been or who I came from. Like it didn’t even matter to them.

They brought me to a special place that had just the most perfect energy. The sun was the perfect distance from my leaves, and it seemed so intentional. Intentional. That’s another thing. Back home they never even thought about the things they did. Not for long enough to really consider more than what we needed to survive. “There’s more sunlight over there. Our parents told us to follow sources of sunlight. Everyone lean that way.” End of story. No room to expand. No reason to question. No reason to try and live somewhere where there’s a chance of failure. The constant worry of survival kept them trapped in this bubble. So what we’re surviving? When the hell are we gonna start to live?

Sorry, we were in the middle of my story. I’ll return from my tangent if I must. I was placed in a glass of cool water by the other plants in the room and told to make myself at home. I began to take the air in and out and do just what I was programmed to do. Some days I would lean to the right, some to the left. Some days I would be tired and lay my leaves down low.

The hands returned when this would happen and give me what I needed to become energized. After a while they moved me to a bigger pot of soil. Some days the hands felt wet at the tips. I would pull my leaves up high and respire quickly to try and make the air nicer for the hands. I think it worked, but who really knows. We grew together and helped each other through the hard times. Some days the hands came close and brought with them a face and a mouth. The air would feel wonderful on these days. Warm. Simple. Easy. At first, I didn’t know what I was feeling. All I knew was that without those hands I would be nothing. When they came into the room, my flesh relaxed, but stayed firm. A warm blanket seemed to cover me and protect me from anything bad. I could lose the sun, the water, the air right in those moments and I could live simply in the presence of these hands for the rest of my life and be satisfied forever.

Months went by and our connection only grew deeper. I started to sense when I needed to breath harder, because the hands were having a bad day and needed some extra help. I sensed when I needed to save some extra water, because they might not come back to water me for a few days. But they always came back. Always. Because they loved me, and I loved them too. They don’t come around much anymore, and I’ve started to lose some of my purple color, but without those hands, I am nothing anyways. So, with that, I reflect on the happiness that I was able to bring into and receive from this world, and I wait patiently for what will come in my next world I live in. I can’t help but think about how the greatest love of my life came from those foreign hands that never spoke one word to me but knew me better than any plant I’ve ever known.

Lindsay Harmon is a 21 year old college student studying Environmental Biology. You can find her on Instagram @lindsay_harmon.

Photo by Delince from Wikimedia Commons.

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by Brooklynn Newberry

Aspen trees in fall

It was Spring of 2004 and I just woke up from a short nap. I rub my eyes and stumble over to the kitchen where my mom is stirring cooked mac n cheese. She turns her head to see me making my way down the hallway. Before I could even say hello, mother was rushing to my side to grab my arm. "I have a surprise for you", she exclaimed. My heart started beating 1,000 mph and chills ran down my spine. At the age of 6, surprises were my favorite and I couldn't be more excited to find out what kind of gift she had for me. Mother pulled my arm and drug me to the garage.

My little legs could barely keep up with her swift pace. Once we arrived at our dark, dusty garage, I began to question my mother. "What are we doing in here, mom?", I asked "It's dark and scary and makes me sneezy!". She quickly directed my attention to a bag on the counter near the far corner of the garage. I couldn't see exactly what was in the bag, so I slowly moved closer. I had to watch each step carefully in order to avoid piercing my foot on a rusty nail. Once I arrived at the bag, I could see it. A tiny goldfish was looking up at me, that I would go on to name Stanley.

Stanley and I bonded instantly. I had never had something to take care of before and I couldn't be happier. Every day, I would watch him swim and play a game where he would chase my finger around the bowl. It was nice to have someone to play with considering my parents lived in the middle of Roxborough National Park.

A goldfish (not Stanley)

Stanley's life was short. He passed away not too long after we first got him. I was devastated. As I walked to the bus stop with tears in my eyes, my father looked down at me and grabbed my hand, tight. He knelt down to be eye-level with me. Father took his other hand and wiped my tears with his thumb. He said, "Listen Boo, sometimes when one life ends, another one begins. I'll bury him outside next to the pond, so you can see what I mean when you get home from school". Father stood up and watched as I boarded the bus and rode away.

When I got home from school, I walked to the backyard where my pond was. My father was standing there with a shovel. I ran over and tightly grabbed his leg. "Dad? Is Stanley here?" I asked. He peeled my body off of him and pointed to the ground. "Look!", he said. I rubbed my eyes and followed his hand. Right before me, there it was! There was a tiny aspen tree about as tall as I was. I was confused at first, but then I remembered what my dad had said before I left this morning. When one life ends, another begins. Could this be true? Did my Stanley grow into a little tree? I smiled from ear to ear as tears kept streaming down my cheeks. I looked up at my dad and thanked him for burying Stanley because now he is a tree and I can still see him grow in a new life.

The tree became my new friend. I watched as it grew taller each year. Aspen trees grow about 25 inches each year, which is an incredibly fast rate for a tree. The tree will start changing colors in October as the temperature cools down. The leaves would be a beautiful yellow and orange color. I'd watch as they fell during late October and came back in the spring. During winter, I'd make sure Stanley's tree was always the brightest by wrapping the prettiest lights on his tree. I would take my books outside and read aloud next to the pond, hoping Stanley may still hear.

All through middle school and high school I did my homework next to that tree. I'd notice each change and smile at remembering my little fish, Stanley. As I grew up, so did my tree. Time never seems to slow down but, with older age also comes knowledge. I returned from college after a year of studying for summer break. As I pulled into the driveway, I noticed my dad out of the corner of my eye. He was next to Stanley's tree, working on the pond. I sprung out of my car and ran over to surprise him. He glanced up and immediately smiled. "Hey, what are you working on?", I asked. "Just pulling some weeds", he responded.

I looked up at the tree and noticed how big it's gotten. I started remembering the tree when it was the same size as me. "Remember when this tree appeared here right after you buried Stanley?", I asked my dad. There was a long moment of silence. My father dropped his tools and looked up at me. I couldn't tell what he was doing. He looked nervous. I quickly asked, "what is wrong?". That was the moment that my dad told me the real story about the Stanley tree. When he got home from the bus stop that day, he flushed Stanley down the toilet and planted a tree next to the pond (as he planned to do all week). When Stanley died, he didn't have the heart to tell me that Stanley was gone. He knew how much I loved my fish and seeing me sad broke his heart. He also told me, he didn't want me to find the fish bones because it would have made it worse. So, Stanley had a first-class ticket to the sewer system. Father kept this secret for years. Although Stanley did not turn into a tree, I will still always call my tree The Stanley Tree.


When I returned to school for my second year, I changed my major to Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. I began to have a deep interest in the environment and plants in the Rocky Mountains. I've continued to grow an interest in aspen trees and think of Stanley whenever passing through colorful aspen forests. Recently I visited my tree at my parent's house. Now that I study Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, I've had a better understanding of the environment. I noticed that the Stanley Tree didn't have many leaves on it. Some Branches were empty while other branches thrived. I realized that this is due to our hot summers and droughts near the national park. When aspen trees are exposed to hot or dry conditions, it makes it difficult for them to get the nutrients they need. Through climate change, Colorado has turned into a drier state. The lack of water is affecting aspen trees state-wide. When I was younger, I was able to closely watch the aspen tree grow. I noticed many changing details including growth patterns. I believe it is important to pay attention to the environment because it is quickly changing. We need to learn to grow with the world around us just as I grew up with my tree.

Brooklyn is a student at the University of Colorado Boulder, studying Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. She is 22 years old and live in Superior, CO. Learn more about Brooklyn's work at her website, Brooklyn's Biology.

Photos of Aspen by Doug Dolde and goldfish by Bjwebb at Wikimedia.

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