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By Niamh Greer, Ellie Kim and Adelaid Seigworth

Art by Keelin McKiernan

the silhouette of two children standing in front of a large holly bush.

Once upon a childhood

I had a secret place

Where I would go with my brother, talking face to face

In the bush of hardwood

Where we never stood

In our secret hideout, there was plenty of space

We could be ourselves, we didn’t keep a straight face

Life was all good

Holly grew into the house

So we had to cut her down

Remnants of all life were gone, even the life of a mouse

Growing out of childhood was a real put-down

Devoid of all life like a dollhouse

Until grass sprouted up and made a new, mini town


Ellie, Adaelaid, Keelin, and Niamh are all eighth graders at North Hills Middle School. This poem and associated artwork won Special Merit in the Plant Love Story Challenge hosted by the Phipps Conservatory and Botanic Gardens.

Congratulations to the team from your friends at Plant Love Stories!

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By Koa Reitz

author, smiling and holding a large yellow sycamore leaf she collected in the fall
The author can still find leaves larger than her head! Here, American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)

One of my earliest memories as a child is my friend finding a big leaf when we were at the park, and me bursting into tears because I wasn’t the one who found it. Fall was my favorite season because as I walked around, there were plenty of things for me to pick up! I was absolutely captivated by the leaves that fell off of the trees, and would pick up as many as I could. I don’t remember why I was so attached to these leaves–the dead part of the plants around me–but I would always end up with a stack of leaves when I got home.

I think a big part of my obsession with collecting leaves was their colors. But sometimes I would find a particularly big leaf and, as a small child, I was absolutely dumbfounded at the leaf bigger than my head. I had to have them. When I brought the leaves home however, I never kept them, they would sit outside for a while until they would eventually blow away or decompose in the yard. This wasn’t exactly an issue for my young self, as object permanence had yet to fully develop. And there were always more leaves to find!

As I grew up, I became less and less invested in picking up all of the leaves I saw. I think eventually I saw so many that it was hard to find a new color combination I had yet to see, so leaf searching had lost its allure. I would still stop to look at the leaves when there was a particularly vibrant red, or an exciting combination of green, yellow, and orange all in the same leaf, but I left the leaf where it stood. No more collecting for me.

the author standing in a narrow aisle lined by white cabinets full of herbarium records at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History
The author stands among the botanical collections at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History's herbarium in Pittsburgh, PA.

Until recently, I had no reason to think that collecting plants could have any purpose, scientific or otherwise. Contrary to my thinking, there is a vast and important process of collecting and storing plants, of all kinds, to be used for reference and scientific research. Herbaria are collections of preserved plants dating as far back as hundreds of years ago. These specimens can be used for a variety of things including taxonomic classifications (scientific naming systems), DNA sequencing, and phenological observations. Phenology is the study of the time when certain things in the life cycle of a plant happen. For example, phenology can look at the time in a flowering plant’s life that it begins growing new leaves, when it grows flowers, when it develops its fruit, or when leaves turn colors in the Fall. Phenological data from herbaria have been used to look into the past in ways that wouldn’t be possible without a collection of old, dead, plants. A group of scientists at Boston University used herbarium specimens to determine that a warmer climate led to earlier flowering times. This conclusion has various implications including evidence that a warming planet has concrete impacts on the natural environment and changes how we look at climate science overall. It is important to look to the past if we’re going to make informed decisions about the future, and herbaria are full of accessible and valuable information that can help develop scientific claims of all different kinds.

I am particularly interested in Herbaria because of my work in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s Herbarium. It was compelling to me to work with scads of cabinets full of dead plant specimens. Currently, I am working on a project where I look at digitized Chorispora tenella (purple mustard) specimens in the Carnegie Museum Herbarium, and herbaria from all over the US. Chorispora tenella is a plant that is invasive in parts of the Western US, and we are looking to see how the phenology has changed over the course of its invasion. There are endless questions about the timing of flowering or the spatial differences in flower or fruit number, just to name a few. I think I started to form a relationship with the plants, as I look at image after image and count the number of flower buds, flowers, and fruits, just as I had formed a relationship with the fallen leaves when I was young.

There’s so much to learn from these seemingly simple and still specimens. When I do this work, it brings me back to when I was a child and had the (not so permanent) leaf collections of my own. I think there was a part of me as a child that wished to observe what I gathered further, but I had no method or resources to preserve my collections. Now, with herbaria, there’s access to thousands of species of plants that span all over the world. They open up countless lines of study and things to learn and explore, all from dead plants in cabinets. I even find myself collecting and questioning things again, renewing my sense of exploration. And I still make time to find leaves bigger than my head.

Above: purple mustard (Chorispora tenella ) botanical specimens stored at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.**

Koa is an undergraduate student studying Ecology and Evolution at the University of Pittsburgh, and a research intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. She is particularly interested in plant ecology and how plants can shape ecosystems.

** To learn more about these natural history specimens, you can visit the Mid-Atlantic Herbaria Consortium. Specimens are as follows (left to right): CM356992 collected in 1989 in Oregon; CM448686 collected in 1939 in Idaho; CM288678 collected in 1981 in Colorado; and CM288281 collected in 1982 in Colorado.

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In case you haven't noticed, we (still very much) LOVE plants!

Plant Love Stories (PLS) began on February 14th, 2018 as a way to collect and share stories about the plants that shape our lives. To celebrate Valentine's Day and our fourth birthday, we bring you another year of original plant-y valentines, also known as #PlantHeartArt.

This year we are so excited to feature a new bouquet of plant artists. These artists are super-plant lovers who participated in a Plant Love Story Challenge hosted by the Phipps Conservatory and Botanic Gardens in Pittsburgh, PA this winter. The PLS Challenge asked students to tell a story–using prose or poetry–about a plant that has meaning to them or that has impacted their lives and attach an original photograph or piece of artwork depicting the plants. We have picked out some (but not all!) of our favorite pieces of original art to feature in this year’s #PlantHeartArt. Stay tuned and we will be sharing more of our favorite stories and submissions in the coming months as well. We want to thank Jennifer Torrance, the Science Education Coordinator at Phipps, for her vision and efforts to create the Plant Love Story Challenge as part of Phipp’s year-long Fairchild Challenge, as well as all the teachers and students who participated in this year’s challenge.

We hope these valentines make you smile, and we hope that you will share them with the people and plants in your life. And, because we know you have a lot of people to spread plant love to, we welcome you to go retro and also use our 2019, 2020, or 2021 valentines! To find printable PDFs of all the valentines, click here!

Happy Valentine's Day from Team PLS!

[Student art, stories, names, and grades used with permission.]

Artist: Sydney Maegle (grade 7)

You are berry fun to be around, Valentine

Bio: Sydney is a seventh grader at Keystone Oaks Middle School and this original artwork accompanied the story “The Strawberry Plant”. Sydney and Keystone teammates earned third place for their submission to the Plant Love Story Middle School Challenge.

Artist: Leela Norman (grade 5)

Valentine, you make me c-huckleberry much!

Bio: Leela is a fifth grader at Edgewood Elementary STEAM Academy and this original artwork accompanied the story “Huckleberries are Grrrrrrrrrrrate”. Leela and teammate Adelaide Scott (grade 2)--who submitted the story ‘My flower garden’--earned a Judge’s Choice prize for their submission to the Plant Love Story Elementary School Challenge.

Artist: Paul Everson (grade 3)

My tree fruits for you, Valentine

Bio: Paul is a third grader at Wilkins Elementary STEAM Academy and this original artwork accompanied the poem “Lots of fruit”. Paul’s submission earned a Judge’s Choice prize in the Plant Love Story Elementary School Challenge.

Artist: Adithri Pingali (grade 8)

Guava be my valentine

Bio: Adithri is an eighth grader at Penn Middle School. Adithri and teammates Caeley Simon and Ethan Goldsworthy (also both grade 8) earned second place for their submission to the Plant Love Story Middle School Challenge.

Artist: Kate Malley (grade 11)

Your love is Trilli-YUMMY

Bio: Kate is an eleventh grader at Penn-Trafford High School and this original artwork accompanied a story written by teammate Mark Harris (grade 11). Kate, Mark, and their teammates Kristina Heins and Delena Steimer (grade 11)--who drew artwork (Kristina) and wrote (Delena) the story ‘Austrocylindropuntia subulata f. cristata’--earned first place for their submission to the Plant Love Story High School Challenge.

Artist: Anthony Longo (grade 6)

Aloe-ve you so much!

Bio: Anthony is a sixth grader at Queen of Angels Catholic School and this original artwork accompanied the story “Aloe” that was submitted as part of the school’s submission to the Plant Love Story Middle School Challenge. Plant Love Stories wants to give Anthony a special PLS Shout Out for this adorable and loving aloe plant!

Artist: Adrienne Morgan (grade 3

We make a great ‘pear’

Bio: Adrienne is a third grader at Tenth Street School and this original artwork accompanied the story “Michigan Days”. Adrienne and teammate Riley Matson Graham (grade 3)--who submitted the story ‘The Woods So Beautiful--earned a Judge’s Choice prize for their submission to the Plant Love Story Elementary School Challenge.

Artist: Delaney Race (grade 7)

Holly cow, you’re cute!

Bio: Delaney is a seventh grader at Penn-Trafford High School and this original artwork accompanied a story written by teammate Addie M. Delaney, Addie, and their teammate Julianna Eshman (grade 7)--who submitted a poem about blueberries--earned a Special Merit for their submission to the Plant Love Story Middle School Challenge.

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