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Updated: Jan 30, 2019

by Matt Candeias

The first time I saw lupine blooming in the wild, a blanket of purplish blue flowers swaying softly, covering an Indiana dune, I had to sit down. We had just come through a clearing in the trees, following a trail down to the lake front that allowed us to hike through 10,000 years of dune succession in a single afternoon. I saw the blue spikes off in the distance, but until I came to them I didn’t realize what I had been seeing. The view was stunning.

Wild lupine and I have a past. Lupines were the in-between step that led me from being an excited science-loving undergrad without a real plan to a botany graduate student today, and helped inspire my development of In Defense of Plants, a blog, podcast, and social media presence spreading plant love.

In college, I chose to major in biology because I loved biology, not because I was following a “career plan”. But as my four years were coming to a close, I realized I needed a plan. I had to put my degree to work - in order to start paying for it!

My final semester of college I took a restoration ecology course where everything began to fall into place. I caught a glimpse of what grad school in the sciences looked like. I realized that people can actually get jobs repairing ecosystems. That realization, and a friend in need changed my trajectory to become the botany lover (and defender) that I am today.

My friend was trying was to replace their position at a global mining company – one tasked with designing reclamation projects in former sand and gravel pit mines in western New York. I went on the interview and was surprised as I was brought into active mines, going down through tunnels and then back to a concrete room to discuss the goals of the project. In a typical mine reclamation, a retired strip mine is covered with topsoil and grass seed. But this project was special. The company wanted to do better – they had decided to focus on butterfly restoration through trying to restore the butterfly’s host plant, wild lupine. I knew lupine! I was familiar with the photo they showed me - what I had been convinced my grandmother grew at Easter (which I later learned were hyacinths) and was excited to jump in.

The project itself was small potatoes to the company, but at over 100 acres seemed huge in scale and budget to me. We started planting lupine seedlings into the ground that was dotted with grasses sprouting up from seeds It went as well as you may think it did… Most of the lupines we planted did not establish, but some did!

While we were expected to keep the project moving forward, we were also trying to figure out how to get more lupines to thrive. In a leap of faith, I reached out to a scientist who studied plants – I had never interacted with a scientist like that before – just to ask about the lupines. This was my hands-on introduction to plant science as a practice. Dr. Potts from SUNY Buffalo State was so incredibly helpful, walking through how to collect data, how to make things replicable, and how to write about science. Using data we collected, we figured out that some of the existing grasses were helping the lupines by creating microclimates that support their growth. We came up with a plan to test and evaluate our strategy. We finally had the missing pieces of the puzzle to move forward on making this a successful restoration project.

Years later, in a totally different habitat, I saw them again. In the Indiana Dunes wild lupine has been part of a major conservation effort for years. In the Great Lakes region, lupine restoration and conservation is linked to the federally listed Karner Blue butterfly. But as I have discovered, over-and-over again, no matter what aspect of the community we are trying to conserve, it can always be traced back to the plants.

Matt Candeias is a graduate student studying how herbaceous communities are structured in the southern Appalachian Mountains. He started In Defense of Plants back in 2012 to share his love of the botanical world! Check out the amazing site, podcast, videos, instagram, and twitter.

Matt's Plant Love Story was told to Rebecca Tonietto, 2015 Smith Fellow, Plant Love Stories co-founder and Assistant Professor at University of Michigan - Flint, and written collaboratively.

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Updated: Jul 23, 2019

by Mark Brunson

I love trees, but trees don’t always love me. The trouble is: I’m susceptible to pollen allergies, and those allergies are always worst in springtime when trees are the primary culprits.

Where I live in northern Utah, my allergy season begins in mid- to late March as the wind begins transmitting juniper pollen, and it ends around the third week of June when the American linden has finished blooming. My town is full of allergenic trees, and so is my yard.

A recent study I did found that the most commonly planted urban trees in our area include Norway maple, green ash, quaking aspen, and box elder – all of which are wind-pollinated, and thus send pollen granules hither and yon in search of another tree to bear their seed.

Of course some of that pollen ends up being inhaled by human nostrils. We bought our home in part because it had a mature, shade-filled landscape. This means sharing my life with serious pollen-generators like lilacs, maples, cottonwoods, aspens, spruce, and pines.

Being insect-pollinated and only moderately allergenic, I’m not entirely sure why the American linden (some call it basswood) has elicited my greatest ire over the years. Maybe it’s because by the time the linden blooms I’ve endured three months of sneezing and am at the height of my allergy frustration. Or maybe it’s the strong fragrance that makes lindens so difficult to ignore.

One tree in particular has drawn my antipathy over the years: a large and robust specimen in the courtyard of the Utah State University campus building next to mine. I called it the allergy tree. Not only did it made me sneeze, but also it was my pollen barometer. I knew that when its blossoms began to fade, I could gleefully put away my Claritin for the season.

Last week I heard chainsaws outside my building. I looked out to see men cutting down the allergy tree to make room for a renovation of the building next door. And I’m surprised to find that it makes me very sad. It wasn’t the tree’s fault that its pollen made me sneeze, and it wasn’t the tree’s fault that it grew so big and healthy that it got in the way of construction crews. I’ll surely find another linden to use as my barometer, but it won’t do the job as well. I guess that just means love of trees is as complicated as love of people.

Mark Brunson is a professor of Environment and Society at Utah State University, where he studies how people affect nature and how nature affects people.

Photo credits

Tilia americana photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Remains of "the allergy tree" photo by the author.

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by Lizz Waring

Lizz shares the story of learning to love plants on a school field trip...


This is Lizz Waring from Texas Tech and she is going to tell us her plant love story.

This is my plant Love Story involving a 19th century president and how he made me fall in love love with plants.

So when I was in Middle School I lived in Northwestern Ohio in a little tiny town called Oak Harbor, which was near the city of Fremont, which you’ve also probably never heard of. But Fremont's most famous resident, at least at this point in time, was Rutherford B Hayes. He was the 19th president of the United States. I think he was a general during the Civil War and shortly after that became president.

He has a presidential museum in Freemont and we used to have to go there all the time for school and I just didn’t enjoy it. Just going and walking around the house -- old stuff is cool it just wasn’t for me when I was 13.

But when I was 13 we got to do a project looking at different leaf types and so I got to go outside the house at the Rutherford B Hayes presidential library and that’s when I learned that he had all these trees from all over the world that were not native to Northwestern Ohio. I got to learn cool things about deciduous conifers, like Bald Cypress, that I never knew existed before. And that was really the beginning of my love affair with plants, and now I am a botanist and have a PhD.

It all started with Rutherford B. Hayes and his museum and presidential library.

Lizz Waring is a postdoctoral researcher at Texas Tech University. Carex sedges are her favorite plants. Lizz shared this story at ESA 2018 in New Orleans, LA.

Rutherford B. Hayes Library photo from Library Postcards.

Bald Cypress photo from Wikimedia Commons.

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