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By Abby Dean

Seventeen years. I’ve lived seventeen years without my father in my life. I was only three years old at the time, but I still remember the influx of sympathy flowers crowding around our kitchen sink after his funeral. Flashes of memory were all I had left of him: whispers of his voice singing to me until I fell asleep, an orange beard tickling my cheek when he kissed me goodnight, his form bent over a flower bed in the spring, planting away to make our new house a welcoming home.

It is that vision of him planting flowers that I reminisce on most. He planted orange lilies that bloomed in the summer, warming our yard with tiny bursts of sun. Those orange lilies were his favorite flower, and quickly grew to become mine as well. Their bright orange color always reminded me of his hair, and whenever they were in sight, it was like a reminder that he was with me.

The beauty of the lilies he planted is that they still come up, year after year, not in the spring, but in the summer. After everything else has bloomed and died, these lilies emerge from nothing and persevere. It is a reminder that when it seems like you’ve hit the end of your rope, there is more beauty left to uncover when you least expect it. That has always been my outlook on life in the wake of losing my father; living life to the fullest, even if it seems like everyone else has already bloomed - there is always more waiting for you, so make the best of the time you have.

Flowers are often an image that people decorate their bodies with through tattoos and art, which stands as a testament to their symbolism in our lives. In almost every important milestone in our lives, we can find flowers: weddings, anniversaries, funerals, graduations, performances - you name it. Flowers have embedded themselves into our culture in very personal and deeply meaningful ways.

These lilies hold a special meaning that only my family can see, and they have found a very meaningful place in our hearts. My sister and I both want to immortalize the sentiment we feel about the tenacity of these beautiful summer-blooming lilies by getting small matching tattoos of an orange lily together. Though I will not have my dad to walk me down the aisle during my wedding, I’ll be comforted by the orange lilies that will adorn my bouquet. Even though it has been 17 years since I saw my dad smile, the triumph of the flowers in my yard growing every year helps to bring a smile to my face and remember him fondly. Plants, like people, will come and go in this world, so make sure you take a moment to stop and smell the flowers every once in a while.


Abby is 20 years old and a third-year biology major at the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. She originally hails from West Chester, Pennsylvania.

Photos courtesy the author.

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by Trezalka Budinsky

Every summer brilliant blue ribbons would hug the roads and sidewalks of my hometown Bratislava, Slovakia. That iridescent blue sprouting out of the hot, gravelly soil and mirroring the clear sky above was no other than the chicory flower (Cichorium intybus). Every sunny morning from June to October the blue flowers would accompany me on all of my walks. Besides its obvious beauty, the flower stood out to me because of a story my mother told me when I was very young, which I will attempt to paraphrase here:

A beautiful, young maiden with Nordic blue eyes had to bid farewell to her beau who had gone off to war. Every morning she would walk out to the spot by the road where she last saw him and wait for his return. Months turned to years with her beau nowhere in sight. Exhausted and overwhelmed by sadness she finally sunk to the ground on that very spot by the road, doomed to forever wait for her love in the form of a blue flower. That flower was given the Czechoslovak name ‘čakanka’ (the root word ‘čakať’ means ‘to wait’ in English).

Much later I found out there were multiple versions to the origin legend of chicory, but most of them involve a girl, usually by the roadside.

After I moved away from my hometown to Pennsylvania to start university, I looked for things that would bring me constancy and continuity—as one away from home does. I was surprised to find there was no lack of the European-native chicory in the Eastern U.S. In fact, chicory is widespread in all 48 mainland U.S. states and Canada. And just like in Bratislava, its favorite place to grow is by the roadside. The origin legend does a great job of teaching us where chicory likes to grow, but why does it thrive in these inhospitable environments?

Chicory thrives on gravelly roadsides with full sun exposure for a few reasons. First, the roadside is inhospitable to many plants. So, by growing on roadsides, chicory avoids intense competition for resources with other plants. Chicory is also a plant that has been found to grow best in soils covered with rocks or lumps of clay, like those on the sides of roads. Rocky soils benefit chicory because the areas beneath the rocks retain moisture and provide a safe place for it to grow and establish its roots (see a full study about this). Although chicory is non-native in the U.S., only a handful of states recognize it as an invasive weed. That may be because it’s not a strong competitor and usually grows in scattered populations rather than taking over large areas for itself.

On my quest to get to know this resilient and stunning plant, I was surprised to find that chicory has been used as a crop and ground cover for centuries, if not millennia. The whole plant is edible by humans and livestock, including its roots, leaves, and flowers. In fact, chicory was most likely brought to North America on purpose because it was such a beloved crop. One of its most common uses was as a substitute or additive to coffee. Chicory’s roasted and ground-up roots make a drink very similar to coffee in taste and color but without the caffeine. This discovery unlocked a childhood memory for me: a casual morning at my grandma’s with a warm cup of “kid coffee,” as she liked to call it. It was something she’d buy for me every time I stayed over so I wouldn’t feel left out when she drank her morning cup. Sure enough, after some web scouring, I found that the “kid coffee” was chicory coffee.

Even though I have conflicting feelings about invasive plants, I’m glad that chicory is here in the U.S. with me, every summer growing along roads and footpaths, reminding me of my Slovak roots. And now, more than ever, I can’t wait for next fall to collect some chicory roots and drink a cup of my childhood (click here to make your own chicory coffee).


Trezalka is 22 and a senior at the University of Pittsburgh (graduating summer 2022) majoring in Ecology and Evolution.

Photos :

Alvesgaspar, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

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by Grant Wright

A person with blonde hair tends to plants in an aquaponics setup.

Back in high school I was having a lot of trouble in the regular scholastic environment so my parents sent me off to an alternative high school called Iowa Big. This school was based on project based learning and had multiple community projects that covered core subjects for learning.

I told the teachers my interests and the science teacher introduced me to their aquaponics project, which was partnered with a local non-profit to provide natural grown fresh food for veterans and homeless people.

However, what I was brought to by the previous years teams were large goldfish in a 55 gallon barrel and a sheet of foam in some water, no plants, or any real place to start other than the system being "present". This is called a stagnant water bed and has some benefits such as heat, and holding on to nutrients longer. However it caused more problems than it fixed so at the end of the year we tore it out.

As I started working more and more on this project it started to become like my child and I found myself there everyday, whether I had class or not to check on my little growers. I was spending extra time to do research and rebuild our system so that it could be efficient as possible. We grew mostly lettuce and leafy foods like kale and cabbage, however as we were testing more plants we ended up growing microgreens and even cherry tomatoes! The fish sadly ended up being pulled out of the project and we switched to a hydroponic system due to the weather conditions in my hometown.

Then my senior year I eventually rebuilt the entire system with my team and we upped the efficiency of plants produced by around 500%! The food was donated to a local salad shop and the Feed Iowa First Non-Profit. This started my love of plants and I still cherish every minute with that container and project.

Grant is 20 years old and an environmental science major starting Junior year at Carthage College.

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