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By Dr. Kathleen G. Ferris

Tiny neon green shoots poked up from the dark spring earth. Tempting, tantalizing, impossibly green they shone like jewels against the bare soil. As I stood on the side of the house, beneath an old brick wall and the delicately spreading fingers of the Japanese maple, the new shoots of my mother’s prized hosta lilies called out to my three-year-old fingertips. They drew me in like sirens steering me toward a scolding. It was late March in St. Louis. The days were chilly and damp, but with a hint of April’s coming warmth. I was alone in the garden, playing my three-year-old games while my parents worked inside, making dinner and discussing the day.

The day was quiet. Maybe it was a Sunday. My memory is, understandably given my age, a bit fuzzy on the specifics. I wasn’t at daycare so that’s a pretty good clue that it must have been a weekend. I also can’t say exactly what lead to the next sequence of events, what thoughts I had before the first domino fell. Maybe I was playing farm girl, one of my favorite childhood games where I would pretend that I lived on a farm, a farm like the one my grandfather still lived on, and that I had to spend the day doing chores. For some reason I found the notion of farm chores romantic at that age. Probably because I had never had to actually do any … So maybe it was the farm girl game that caused me to cross the invisible line between play and peril. Perhaps I was pretending to harvest my crops and the hostas were just the nearest thing to hand, the first casualty of my imagination. But though I don’t remember the specifics of that day I do remember the feeling of it. And the feeling was of overwhelming attraction. Attraction to the beauty of the hostas new spring growth.

The freshness. The lithe, liveliness of the firm green shoots. I just couldn’t stay away. And so I picked them. Each and every last one.

I snapped off their jaunty green heads, marveling at the smooth feel of them against my fingertips, the way they glinted in the dappled sun below the maple. And then I brought them proudly to my mother, to display the verdant bounty cupped gingerly in my tiny hands. And she was angry. Angrier than I had ever seen her before. And rarely seen her since. I had ruined her entire hosta garden. Every last lily had been plucked. She had loved those lilies. And so I got in huge trouble. After my punishment, and after my tears, when the storm of broken stems and spirits had passed, my mother said “Katie. You know what I think? I think that you should become a botanist when you grow up. Because then you can pick any plant you want and you won’t get in trouble.” And something about that must have stuck. Because here I am, some thirty-three years later, making my living by my pen and my trowel, a professor studying how plants adapt to harsh habitats and form new species. And, with the right permit of course, I can pick any plant I want. And I never get in trouble. So thanks Mom. Even from betwixt the ruins of your once-lovely hostas, you still give great advice.

Kathleen Ferris (second from left), botanist, with her research group at Tulane University.


Kathleen is an Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana. She studies the genetic basis of adaptation and speciation in Monkeyflowers. You can learn more about Kathleen's research here and follow her on Twitter @ferrisifolius.

Photos courtesy the author. Top left: Kathleen as a young botanist. Top Middle: Kathleen in a sea of yellow monkeyflowers. Top right: Kathleen's mom, still smiling despite the loss of her host garden.

[PLS Editor's Note: Want to read more about monkey flowers? Check out an earlier Plant Love Story "Oh Where, Oh Where has my monkey flower gone?"]

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Updated: Aug 19, 2021

By Margie B. Klein

pink and white hollyhock flowers grown by the author

The mind's bright chambers, life unlocks each summer with the hollyhocks.” - Edgar Albert Guest

I’m determined to grow hollyhocks, because if I succeed, I regrow my childhood. The days of my youth were spent in the pilot models of suburbia, that is, nothing corporate-planned or prefabricated. The subdivision we lived in consisted of parceled-out sections of the old Zinke farm in Wisconsin. The farmhouse still stood at the top of the hill, commanding recognition from all the newly developed acreage around it. Grandpa and Grandma Zinke, not yet wanting to give up all growing things, kept a huge garden there, visible from the road. There were colors and shapes to paint dreams with, but the hollyhocks were the things that really stood out. Extra tall spires heralded the location of the garden and beckoned the neighborhood children to come and visit. I remember knocking on the farmers’ door, just to ask to see the garden.

Those sentries at the top of the hill still haunt my remembrance, and in my reverie I dream of them living in my own garden, almost two thousand miles away. Now I’m the old gardener, and wish for a floral legacy like these. I’ve been trying for almost 30 years to grow hollyhocks in the desert. Rarely they appear in the Las Vegas landscape, in little patches that must have been blessed by the flower fairies. For in reality, they do not belong here. But you know how gardeners are.

Back in the old days, I imagine there was only one kind of hollyhock – single layer flowers climbing a six- foot stalk, in all the basic bright colors: red, yellow, pink, orange and white. They were the ‘outhouse flower,’ commonly seen around the dairy state’s farms. Their tall colorful presence not only decorated a rustic shed, but provided a little screening for the business done there. These days the beloved Alcea is available in some rare colors, like purple, rust, and even black. There is a striped one, 'Zebrina', along with bi-colored, dwarf ones, doubles and more.

fuchsia pink hollyhocks adorning the author's Las Vegas garden

I want them all. My dream has gone so far as to envision my own variety, bred from a cross between striped and pom-pom types. What mad gardener hasn’t dreamt of a flower of their own imagination, named after them? Alas, it could never happen in a garden where the simple Alcea rosea can’t even survive the biennium it needs to bloom.

It wasn’t for want of trying. I’ve bought every type and variant of seed, even from different countries. Seeds in germination trays, inside or out, seeds in situ guardingly watched, dormant roots planted in with blessings, full plants one-year out from flowering. Occasionally I am rewarded by a bloom here and there, on a lark. I accept that there will never be a wall-full of them. But I am still willing to try absolutely anything to get a bloom, and even after decades, my hope hasn’t died. I will plug on ‘til I myself am gone. Elsewhere, in more suitable climes, there will be rows upon rows of floral bowers, barring intruders but welcoming those on the wing who can reach their heights. They will inspire more children to play in the garden, making fairy houses with hollyhock flower roofs or running in and out of the floral stalks as if in a maze. The hollyhock dreams of childhood will persist.


Margie is retired from a 30-plus year in agriculture and natural resources. She's been a freelance writer for just as long. Margie is also now a serial Plant Love Story sharer. You can also read her earlier story "Miracle of the Amaryllis".

Photos courtesy the author.

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By Jules Molina

Growing up my family has always relied on the mango tree as a staple in our family unity. I grew up in a large Hispanic family that consists of many cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Although getting everyone together at the same time could be a daunting task, the mango tree has always made it easy. One of us in the family has always had a mango tree in our backyard. Every summer it would produce so many sweet and plump mangoes, and we would all get together as a family to pick and enjoy these delicious fruits. We eat them plain, in smoothies, in juices, in desserts and even in mango bread! Currently, it is my family that has the mango tree and our extended family comes every summer to keep the tradition alive and to enjoy time and fruits with each other, while enjoying the Miami summer sun.


Jules is 21. He recently graduated from Florida International University in Miami, Florida. He majored in biology.

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