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Updated: Jul 23, 2019

by Rebecca Tonietto

Hi! 👋 My name is Rebecca Tonietto and I am one of the founding members of Plant Love Stories - which is why it may come as a surprise that I am completely breaking the rules in this post and not writing about an actual plant. Rather, a community of plants – I am a community ecologist, so bear with me.

Had you told the me of yesteryear, picking ticks out of my hair and scraping tens of hundreds of Desmodium seeds off my clothes, cursing the buckthorn thickets as I crashed through to reach my field sites, that I would find myself missing – no - longing, for the prairie, I would have laughed in your face.

"But it is literally 110 degrees out!" I would have said. "There is inherently NO SHADE in a prairie!" I would have said. "And coyotes!" "And it is like walking through water!" "And you cannot see anything! You CAN GET LOST walking in a straight line!!!" I would have said all those things.

And more.

Yet, it has now been five years since I have done field work in real prairies. I miss them. I cannot believe I am saying this, but I do. It is palpable. Especially now in the fall, when the prairie comes ALIVE. The bursts of purples and yellows leaping out between the swaying grasses, waving in the crisp autumn breeze. The smell of Prairie Dropseed – that can’t-quite-explain-it, sweet-but-spicy just beginning of a scent that seems to disappear just as you are about to be able to describe it.

Can you say you get just a glimpse of a scent? It's like that.

I am back in southeastern Michigan now and live within a mile of my childhood home. I have a job I love and am beyond thrilled to be here. I feel so incredibly lucky that my kids can grow up around family, like I did. Which is why it feels weird (and even incredibly selfish) to say how much I miss something I didn’t even know I cared so much about.

When I left Michigan for the first time, nearly 15 years ago, I desperately missed the trees. In Chicago I had to pick a neighborhood that had them – lots and lots of them. I missed the forests I grew up around and felt at home in. I used to describe them as my "natural habitat."

One of the scientists at the Chicago Botanic Garden (where I did my graduate work) had an email signature that said something along the lines of "anyone can love the mountains, but it takes soul to love the prairie." The prairie can sneak up on you. I didn’t really realize how much I had fallen in love until it was no longer all around me.

Don’t worry about me, though. I still work with wonderful

friends, old and new, on a prairie plot project and have a chance to introduce my students to a new ecosystem. I’m getting to plant native gardens in neighborhoods around Flint, Michigan and meeting wonderful people doing amazing things for their communities. I even have a “prairie” of sorts in my front yard – for when I just need to see a darn coneflower. Or a Baptisia pod. Or some other thing that somehow now signifies fall or spring or summer to me.

I also get my fix from the fantastic prairie folk I follow on Twitter – here a few, check them out if you want to see and hear more about the awesome work (art and science) they do!

Please feel free to also break rules in your submissions to us. My real Plant Love Story – the one about one species – is too tough for me to write right now. I’ll be back when I can do it. Until then, please keep ‘em coming. 🌻🌾❤️

Rebecca Tonietto, PhD is an assistant professor of biology at the University of Michigan-Flint, a 2015 Smith Fellow, and co-founder of Plant Love Stories interested in native bee conservation in urban and restored systems.

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Updated: Jan 30, 2019

by Jeremie Fant


That I chose a species I once hated for my first “Plant love Story” was a surprise even to me. However, given the thin line which separates love from hate, maybe it was to be expected. Yet it was clear as I was thinking of a subject for this story, the one image I keep returning to was a small tree growing in the thin strip of garden which separated our driveway from our neighbor’s. This tree stood around 40 feet tall, straddling the two sides of the property. It was unfazed by the harsh concrete environment that surrounded it. You would think I would admire the stamina and resilience of such a tree. Yet, the more this young botanist uncovered new fascinating aspects of the plant world, the more I found this tree (Callistemon citrinus, or crimson bottlebrush), planted on almost every street corner in Australia, to be overly vulgaris – common, and therefore unworthy of my affections.

I was not the only one who disliked this tree. My neighbor, who was after the non-existent award for the cleanest driveway, spent many hours in vain, sweeping all the dead leaves and seedpods that spilled onto his side. Yet the ones whose passion-fueled fury exceed both of ours was the pandemonium of parrots which descended on its branches annually. Every year for a couple of months, the tree was filled with gaudy red flowers that clashed with the light blue Australian sky. It taunted these small green parrots, like a flag to a bull and filled them with rage. Heralding their arrival with a deafening battle cry, they would gather en masse before they tore at the tree, shredding the flowers, sucking up nectar, and sending debris in all directions. They would work for hours, crying out with their ear piercing cries as they attacked the tree. Once the flowering ended, the parrots would leave, and the ravaged tree, now flowerless, would stand tall, and proud as always, and continue to grow a little more, building its reserves to do it all again the next year.

As I grew as a botanist, I began to value the significance of this tree and its rituals. The more I appreciated the wonders and complexity of pollination, the more I admire this tree. The effort it goes to ensure reproductive success is nothing short of amazing. Angry parrots, disgruntled neighbors, a conceited young botanist and the concrete jungle are nothing to this tree and its biological imperative to reproduce. Those proverbial birds and the bees are mere pawns in its evolutionary game. This tree is no longer with us, although I am sure its progeny are scattered throughout my childhood suburb, yet it is firmly embedded in my memory and there is nothing more I can do than love this tree I once hated.

Jeremie is a botanist working at the Chicago Botanic Garden. He teaches Conservation Genetics as part of Plant Biology and Conservation Program at Northwestern. He was born in France but raised in Adelaide, Australia, which was where his love of the natural world developed. He attended Waite Institute of the University of Adelaide (B.Ag.Sc), Cambridge University (Ph.D./Postdoc) and Michigan State (Postdoc) before starting at the gardens. He loves all things plant related – eating, cooking, hiking, drawing and gardening.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

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Updated: Jul 24, 2019

Becky, Sara and Matt at our ESA booth

Summer is winding down in our half of the world, so we thought we would take some time to reminisce on our summer travels. Plant Love Stories (PLS) hit the conference circuit this summer, attending the North American Conference on Conservation Biology in Toronto (NACCB), and the Ecological Society of America’s meeting in New Orleans (ESA).

At NACCB, we had a big crew of PLS co-founders. We gave out swag and hosted Plant Love Stories LIVE - our first ever live storytelling event, with six storytellers bravely sharing their plant love live in a packed bar :) You can read more about PLS live in PLS co-founder and PLS live story teller Caitlin McDonough MacKenzie’s post, On Story Telling, and hear some of the stories -- about treeforts and kelp love (yeah, we know it isn't exactly a plant) told live here.

At ESA, there were two of us repping PLS - Sara Kuebbing and Becky Barak (with help from Sara’s husband and PLS contributor, Josh Galperin - who doesn't hate plants). We were hosted by the ESA Communication & Engagement section, and we thank them so much for partnering with us! Conference attendees stopped by the booth to Sketch their Science. Some of these sketches (see below) were also #PlantLoveStories. Many attendees also chatted with us about PLS, shared their stories, and signed up for our raffle to win a PLS hat!

The stories we heard at ESA were fantastic and fascinating. Some visitors went straight back to childhood. Our very first conversation was with a conference attendee that told us how much she loved broccoli. Her parents made eating broccoli super fun as a kid, telling her to “shake off the baby koalas” before eating the tree. We heard from college students: one moved their banana tree across a tiny apartment throughout the day, following the sun; another’s family owned a farm that was slowly changing over parts of their fields from growing crops to growing wildflowers as they all learned more and more about plants.

We heard many #ScientistOriginStories about budding botanists falling in love with plants,. We talked to one attendee who became hooked on field work after studying carnivorous pitcher plants in Malaysia. And of course, the scientist that started to love botany after a class field trip to the Rutherford B. Hayes museum (Lizz's PLS is here!).

We also were thrilled to check out some serious botanical style:

One of our fans in the snazziest botanical shirt

Custom botanical earrings

Wilnelia made those plant-y earrings!

And it wasn’t just conference-attendees that shared their plant love stories. We heard from our bartender, Jane, at one of ESA’s social events all about New Orleans’ plants, pre- and post-hurricane Katrina. Jane told us about Peggy Martin’s single special rose plant that survived hurricane Katrina and went on to be used for garden restoration after the floods receded.

Hearing these stories reminded us again that everyone has a plant love story. That plants are part of our lives, and always connecting us to people and places we love. Please consider sharing your story.

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