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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stand of rainbow eucalyptus trees in Maui, Hawai'i. Tree bark is blue, green, red and gray.

By Mar

I first traveled to the Hawai’ian Islands when I was seven years old. It was the first time I had a say in the family trip destination and my then obsession with the movie Lilo and Stitch prompted me to beg my parents to visit Hawai’i. Luckily enough my parents loved the idea and quickly booked a cruise around the main islands. We immediately fell in love.

Although I was so young and most of the trip is now a blur, I very vividly remember seeing my first Eucalyptus deglupta, more commonly known as the rainbow eucalyptus. We were walking through an arboretum on the Garden Isle of Kauai when we came across what seemed like an enchanted forest -- that’s the only way I can explain it. I was speechless. We were surrounded by trees taller than 100 feet and as colorful as one could imagine. The tree trunks resembled a painter’s palette, full of strokes of purples, yellows, and oranges! The beauty of these trees was overpowering and other-wordly, truly making me feel like the storybook fairy Tinkerbell. These trees were the highlight of my trip and they were all I talked about when asked about Hawai’i upon my homecoming.

Bark and plant label at the Garden of Eden Keanae, Maui, Hawai'i.

The second time I came to Hawai’i was when I was 15 years old, now much more adventurous and with a real list of things to do! It’s safe to say the top of my list was Maui’s rainbow eucalyptus forest. Again, I was completely taken aback by the immensity and majesty of these trees. That feeling of being a fairy came right back to me and I felt even more connected to the trees. All their different and vibrant colored patterns gave them a certain character and life that cannot be put into words. On this trip I officially declared the rainbow eucalyptus as my favorite tree and made it very clear to my family that when I die, I want a rainbow eucalyptus planted in my name.

Three years later, when I was 18, I moved to the island of Oahu for school. I lived on Oahu for a year and frequently visited the rainbow eucalyptus trees planted in front of the Dole Plantation on the North Shore. Sometimes I’d sit under them and do homework, other times for a picnic, and occasionally for a nap in the shade. This became my safe space and a little vortex of sorts. Here, I felt like I was on another planet.

With a heavy heart I ended up moving home for a year, dreaming of returning to the islands as soon as I graduated college. However, as crazy as it sounds, 2020 brought me a wonderful serendipity. I had booked a trip to Oahu for the summer 2020 to visit my friends and was lucky enough to not have it ruined by the pandemic. Somehow, six weeks turned into six months. Now, six months is turning into one year, and we’ll see just how long I can stay on this beautiful rock! I’ve been going back to my little eucalyptus vortex almost every week.

As you can imagine, there are a million reasons why one would want to live in Hawai’i, but these trees are undoubtedly a big part of what keeps bringing me back. In my dreams, I have a farm on the North Shore of Kauai with my very own rainbow eucalyptus forest to get lost in whenever I want. Until then, I’ll continue to claim my spot in front of the Dole Plantation and admire these giants all day long. And as people say, “count your blessings,” I like to say, “count your rainbows,” as rainbows and these trees remind me of just how magical this Earth really is.


Mar is 20 and lives on Oahu, Hawai'i.

Photo Credits: (top) Janine Sprout, CC BY 4.0

<>, via Wikimedia Commons; (bottom) Forest & Kim Starr, CC BY 3.0 US <>, via Wikimedia Commons

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By Jessica Ullyott

A cluster of plumeria flowers. The flowers have 5 petals which are bright pink, with orange bases.

A plant possessing all the qualities of tropical romance, peace and beauty makes a 2,500 mile journey across the Pacific Ocean. In the summer of 1981, my in-laws were celebrating their honeymoon on The Big Island of Hawaii. To commemorate these happy memories they brought back a souvenir. A cutting of a plumeria plant they bought at a shop. They would go on to plant this small cutting in the backyard of their first house and over time it grew to an enormous tree. Wherever they moved, they would take cuttings from the original and plant it at their new home until eventually they gave my husband and me a cutting to plant at our first home.

I was never someone who was very fond of plumerias, but soon began to hear about groups of enthusiasts who share a deep love for them such as the Southern California Plumeria Society. During my first year as a plumeria parent, I thought I had killed it because all the leaves had fallen off. I quickly started asking questions to my newfound community, who calmly explained to me that this was a natural process during the winter months and in the spring I was happy to see new green sprouts popping out of the seemingly dead branches and brilliant pink flowers following a few months later. I was also surprised to find out that they are native to Central and South America. Because they are such robust plants, they thrive in many environments including tropical Hawaii.

Unfortunately, my mother-in-law suffered a life-threatening stroke on Memorial Day and was airlifted to a hospital for an emergency surgery. Though she survived, she suffered severe brain damage and is struggling to adjust to her new normal. Right now my plumeria is blooming with lovely flowers that are attracting every type of pollinator and filling my yard with life. I have always loved to tell this story of a plant that has represented such a beautiful love story, though now it also reminds me of times shared with a very special person—a woman who raised my amazing husband, loved my children and continues to fight through a difficult time. This plant will endure and continue to tell our story into the future.

Jessica Ullyott is a wife and mother of two currently residing in San Diego, California. She is also a graduate student studying biology at Miami University in Ohio in partnership with San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance.

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