March 21, 2018

Black needlerush (Juncus roemerianus) is the dominant plant species in the wide, flat marshes that surround the Pamlico Sound in Eastern North Carolina, where I found myself working a few years ago, as well as much of the US southeastern and gulf coasts.

And yet, the vast majority of marsh ecology takes place in cordgrass-dominated marshes. This could be due to the high concentration of research universities in New England and California, where cordgrass marshes prevail. Or it could be because cordgrass marshes are generally home to more species, take more beatings from waves, and are considered a more iconic landscape.

But we, The Juncus People, have an alternate hypothesis: black needlerush is just a pain in the ass.

In its marshes, black needlerush persists in dense monocultures of around 400 live leaves per square meter and just as many dead. The leaves are stiff, fibrous rods rising up over a meter from the mud beneath. At the tip of each tall leaf sits the plant’s namesake, a needle...

March 14, 2018

I will share an embarrassing secret with Plant Love Stories. One of my favorite movies is How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. My love for this RomCom is in part nostalgic; my college roommates and I watched this film too many times to admit in writing. It is in part because I adore Kate Hudson; she is charming and funny and beautiful. And, it is in part because you sometimes just need a movie with a "silly premise and predictable script" (Critics' Consensus at Rotten

Most important to this story, however, is that How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days gave the world the term "love fern." For those of you unfamiliar with the premise of the film, it revolves around a classic comedic plot device: the mix-up. The protagonist (Kate Hudson) spends most of the film attempting to sabotage her new relationship as research for her upcoming "How To…" column. Conversely, her new beau, (Matthew McConaughey) is attempting to make Hudson fall in love with him to demonstrate to his colleagues that he is...

March 7, 2018

I’m telling you he was throwing sticks at me and wouldn’t stop. So I did what any little sister would do when verbal communication fails to bring about a change in your older brother’s behavior: give them a little shove. That’ll get their attention. And it sure did.

It was August 1995, think President (Bill) Clinton, Toy Story and Garth Brooks. I was 11 and my brother, Tim, was 13. (The photos at left were taken in ~1987 and 2016.) We had been climbing trees together all our lives in western Pennsylvania. That day we were up in the silver maple tree in what is now our dad’s backyard. At the time this was a house my parents rented out. The tree was (and still is) a fine specimen of good old Acer saccharinum: DBH (diameter at breast height) about 1.5 feet, nearly two stories tall, at the edge of the yard next to a small creek, and a beautiful show of color in the fall. Sounds so tranquil, doesn’t it?

Well not that day. When I shoved Tim to get him to stop throwing sticks at me it was never...

February 28, 2018

I fell in love with alpine plants at the bottom of the mountain. In college I worked as an environmental educator at a backcountry hut in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Many of these huts are “high mountain,” perched just at treeline for beautiful hikes through alpine communities with Sound-of-Music-style panoramic views of open summits.

My hut, Zealand Falls, was not a high mountain hut. Our elevation was 2700’ and we were surrounded by lowland trees like paper birch and striped maple. But, Zealand Falls had waterfalls. During the lull of midday — the post-breakfast quiet when all of last night’s guests had hiked on to higher peaks, and that night’s guests were still trudging up the trail — I spent hours wading up the Zealand River, lounging in the rills, climbing the falls.

Little clumps of butter-cup-yellow flowers clung to the moss-covered rocks in the middle of the falls: mountain avens. In New Hampshire, mountain avens belong to much higher elevations; this rare plant with a trul...

February 17, 2018

Both of my grandmothers lived with me growing up. My parents were immigrants and soon after they established themselves they arranged to bring their parents over to the US. They immigrated from the Soviet Union, and for a period of time we had all four grandparents under our roof. Both of my grandmothers loved plants. They nurtured them. They'd teach me which leaves to pluck out of the fields outside my school to treat warts, and which berries to eat, and where the best mulberry trees were, and which mushrooms to pick and which to leave. We'd have family mushroom hunting afternoons and spend the evenings frying up and marinating mushrooms.

My paternal grandmother treated most things with aloe. Burn? Aloe. Cold? Aloe. It weirded me out. It was snotty and runny and goopy and tasted bad. She passed away a few years ago. When she was getting worse she had to move out of her apartment and we had to distribute her belongings.

I took the two huge aloe plants in their large terracotta planters....

February 14, 2018

My parents became two opposite people every time we traveled to Bangalore, both trying to cram everything they missed about India into one month. They seemed to revert back into their adolescent selves, each staying with a set of grandparents three blocks away from each other, my father eating six meals a day to keep both his father and his mother-in-law happy.

He would pick me up from my maternal grandparents’ house and take me in an auto-rickshaw to Gandhi Bazaar, a chaotic market filled with all varieties of snacks, spices, and trinkets. I loved these trips. My father seemed a rogue, eating the seductive forbidden street snacks and smoking cigarettes while I drank my grandmother’s specially prepared boiled, filtered water from a bottle.

It was in the middle of Gandhi Bazaar, I saw him do something baffling for the first time. From a street vendor, he picked up a luscious, fragrant tomato and bit into it, like an apple. “DAD!!! That’s a TOMATO! You can’t eat it like that!” He shook his...

February 14, 2018

Many of my plant love stories are actually stories about teachers that helped me see the world in a new way. High school biology class was maybe the first time I started thinking about plants as really, truly alive (and now I’m a botanist, so I guess we all grow up). My teacher had taught us about transpiration --  the flow of water up from the roots of a plant all the way up to the leaves --  against gravity and driven by evaporation. On the way home from school, picturing the single, unbroken chain of water droplets, I looked at the trees with a new appreciation for the secrets within them. 

In college I took a class on the flora of New Jersey. It was the first time I worked to identify the species of plants around me. To create my “natural history collection” for a class assignment, I ran around campus, in the rain, with my brand new plant identification book, collecting sticky pine cones, mushy walnut fruits, and spiky sweetgum balls. I took the specimens back to my dorm r...

February 12, 2018

This is your plant love story.

We want to hear about you and plants. Here are some prompts to get you started. What is your favorite plant? How has a plant impacted your life? Do you have a special memory of a plant?  Has a plant ever helped you? What is your earliest plant-y memory? Did a plant help you fall in love? 

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