Updated: Jan 30, 2019

by Ben Sikes

When I was a new dad and living in Louisiana, I was working hard and trying to figure out how I was going to do this thing called life.

I was newly married and had a new job at a big USGS facility working on population genetics and restoration. I was learning about the the city, Lafayette, and decided to go try frisbee golf just to be outside and see the area. I wasn't very good at frisbee golf mind you and only had 3 disks (a driver, a mid-range, and a putter), which I had left over from my college days. On hole two, my mid range went directly into an island of trees that was around a seep or low area of the course.

Having little recourse, I adventured through the shrubs and brush guarding the inner sanctum, only to come face to face with two stems of beautiful red flowers. I had no idea what they were, and no way to find out, since this was before cell phone cameras were ubiquitous. I sat there amazed. It was Louisiana, but it was getting pretty late in the year (October I think). I really wanted to know what these flowers were. I stared and studied trying to recall any botanical names I knew, but came up empty.

As I grabbed my disk and started to head back out to the course, a cardinal flew into the brushy scrub and started upbraiding me, likely because of a nest nearby. I looked at the flower and looked at the bird, remarking how bright red they both were, contrasting with the yellowish gray-green of live oaks and the rest of Louisiana that time of year. I didn't forget the flower though, and spent time searching for it's picture and name when I finally got home. Turns out, the bird was a hint: the mystery plant was a Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis).

Ben Sikes is a scientist who live in Kansas. He hasn't always lived in Kansas, but he would say he's always been a scientist. Photo by Jonathan Bauer.

#Dad #Bird #Louisiana

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Updated: Jan 30, 2019

by Lucy Zipf

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 like point that could pierce my summer, but not my winter, waders.

While I worked in these marshes the needlerush would leave countless tiny pinpricks all over my body, which took on an unfortunate rash-like appearance, and my legs would ache from having forced their way through its leaves. Field days were hard, hot, muddy and incredibly rewarding.

I fell in love with the work, the landscape, and the plant. I became one of them, The Juncus People. We, The Juncus People, read papers on cordgrasses marshes and quietly scoff at the simplicity. We take pride in our strong legs and pricked skin. We see each other at conferences and meetings and we reminisce about our time amongst the needles, even toasting to the rush. I work in a different system now, but growing up as a scientist in black needlerush forged me. I will always be a Juncus Person.

Lucy is a PhD student at Boston University applying historical citizen science data to ecological questions surrounding the effects of climate change on conservation areas. She lives in Allston, MA with lots of friends and one grumpy, orange cat.

#Juncus #Rushes #Marsh #Scientistoriginstory #LesserKnownLeafLove #ScientistOriginStories

Updated: Jul 26, 2019

by Sara Kuebbing

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 Tomatoes.com).

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 a master of romance.

The Love Fern signifies one of Hudson's ploys to sink the relationship. On Day Three, Hudson introduces The Love Fern as an undying symbol of their love. By Day Seven the Love Fern is no more. Hudson's theatrical despair about the death of her Love Fern has been resurrected and is now immortal through many, many internet memes and its own entry in Urban Dictionary.

Even in the best of circumstances, caring for an indoor fern is total nonsense. They require too much pampering: frequent watering, the perfect temperature, ample humidity, no drafts, the perfect light. Thus, the perfect plot plant in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, but not for someone looking for low-maintenance household greenery.

I started collecting houseplants in college. Instead of buying plants from a garden center, I poached my plants from unsupervised locations around campus. I surreptitiously clipped a tendril from a massive Pothos sitting in the college dining hall, dubbed him George, and grew him for months in a plastic water bottle. I clandestinely detached sprouting spiderettes from the mama Spider Plant in my dorm's lobby. I secretly dug up a few pups from a large aloe sitting in the windowsill of my classroom. I found it intriguing that with just a little water and some soil these small pieces of a plant could grow into their own respectably-sized house plant.

My favorite house plant acquisition thus far is my Love Jade. While visiting my (then) boyfriend, who was attending graduate school many states away, I plucked a single leaf from an enormous Jade plant from the school's library. Embracing the hilarity of the idea of the Love Fern, I christened the single leaf our Love Jade, shoved the leaf into an empty yogurt container with the dregs of a bag of potting soil, and thought it would be a long-shot if this single leaf could survive the month. That single leaf did not only survive, it thrived. As my boyfriend, and now husband, and I relocated our households, our Love Jade traveled with us. It survived trunks and back seats during interstate moves from Vermont to Connecticut, back north to Vermont, south to Tennessee, north again to Connecticut, and just last week, westward to Pennsylvania. It has been repotted countless times from its first modest plastic home to its current decorative purple-glazed ceramic pot.

My Love Jade, as well as many of my other poached plants, are still with me today. My aloe sits at my desk. My spider plant in my bathroom. My Pothos on top of my fridge in my kitchen. Our Jade in our entry hallway. They have adopted friends, like an African violet I flew from Georgia to Vermont because my father orphaned it before his cross-country move to Oregon. I have Christmas cacti and Amaryllis that my Argentine friends left behind when they moved home. My plants are no Love Ferns. They are hardy. They can go weeks without water. They can withstand a little chewing from obstinate cats. They now will live through grubby baby fingers ripping their leaves. Some are a bit haggard looking, with gangly vines and chewed leaf tips, but that that just adds to their character.

Each plant in my menagerie has its own Origin Story. Each plant reminds me of people or places from my past. But, unlike some nostalgia, I get to move my plants with me wherever I go. They also let me share the love with others. Many of my pilfered plants have donated pups or spiderettes or tendrils or leaves to family and friends wishing to start their own collection. Please let me know if you would like to find your own "love plant", I would be eager to share the love.

Sara "sassafras" Kuebbing is a 2016 Smith Fellow and co-founder of Plant Love Stories. She recently moved to Pittsburgh, PA and is looking for a friend who would like to swap some house plants.

#Jade #Movies #Collecting #College #Boyfriend

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