by Tanisha Williams

The future Dr. Williams posing in front of her house in her Sunday best.

My earliest memories of plants are the beautiful African violets (Streptocarpus sect. Saintpaulia) my great-grandmother grew all over our two-story rowhouse in Northeast, Washington, DC. Behind the bars and security system, our little home boomed with life, love, wisdom, and flowers.

My great-grandmother, Grace Alice Hawkins, taught me just about everything and the love for plants and nature was no different. She not only showed me the wonders of plants through taking care of them in our home, we would also buy fruits, veggies, and plants from the Stadium Armory farmer’s market. My great-grandmother had a ‘green-thumb’, and would also talk and sing to her plants (smile)! I used to think that was the key to her success, but what I later learned (and why my favorite childhood foods have never tasted as good) it was her love and grace.

Tanisha and great-grandmother Grace at a neighbor's home for Christmas

My great-grandmother loved, cared for, and nurtured us all. Her African violets bloomed year-round, a constant reminder of her unwavering love. Another reminder of her love is me, the nerdy girl who loved reading, science (especially museums!), history, and plants!

That nerdy girl grew up to become the nerdy woman who completed a PhD, which I made a promise to my granny that I would do.

I now study plants from around the world for a living! I have recently settled down for a few years and decided my house needed my first-ever African violet. Wow, is it magnificent! It constantly blooms, despite my singing (smile), reminding me of the life and love my great-grandmother gave to me and so many others. I miss her dearly, but continue to feel connected to her through all the plants around me!

Tanisha with her mother and great-grandmother

Dr. Tanisha M. Williams is a botanist and plant ecologist. She is the David Burpee Postdoc Fellow in Botany at Bucknell University. She is currently using population genomics methods to understand how biogeographic barriers impact plant populations throughout the Top End of Australia and using similar methods to update the conservation status of threatened plants across Pennsylvania. She also studies how plants respond to climate change. Dr. Williams enjoys traveling, hiking, playing with her two cats, Monte and Carlo, and loves taking care of her succulent and vegetable plants. Check out Tanisha's website and follow her on twitter, @T_Marie_Wms!

Dr. Williams also launched #Black Botanists Week (website: here)! Here's an article about the campaign by Marcia Moore for The Daily Item.

Updated: Nov 11, 2020

by Judi Moore Latta

On Graduation to Your Future. (To Jaz)


(Three days before the murder of George Floyd)

You walked into our house carrying a potted basil plant

and I thought about Lorraine*…

Full of life and promise and hope and love

and more drama than a nation could understand.

Full of a family’s story welled up inside, straining to be released

on pages and stages, in hearts and minds.

Your basil plant was like Mama Younger’s…

Too precious to leave behind.

Too young to be forgotten.

Too sacred to be ignored.

You brought it because fumes from your stained floors were strong and it was fragile;

You brought it because surrounding space was vast and it was tiny.

You brought it because it was alive and needed attention.

You brought it because it craved sun and water, nutrients and care.

You brought it because you knew it would one day bring sweet flavor.

You have a heart that way; a gift that way; a calling that way.

You are open to speak what you see, do what you do and receive what comes.

Lorraine had prophetic vision… may you have it too.

Lorraine had language that pushed… may you have it too.

Lorraine had dreams that grew… may you have them too.

I pray that your plant will flourish and charge the universe …

and so will you.

Jazmine's basil plant

*Lorraine Hansberry – (May 19, 1930 – January 12, 1965)

She died at age 34.

(About her, Nina Simone wrote “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black”)

(1) © Judi Moore Latta, 2020. Note: My granddaughter Jazmine—who aspires to study theatre and become an actor—and her parents came to spend a few nights with us in the middle of the pandemic. Their sojourn reminded me of “A Raisin in the Sun.” This poem addresses Jazmine and all the young people who walk carrying basil. Judi Moore Latta, Ph.D is a professor emerita of communications at Howard University, and an award winning journalist. She shared this poem as part of #BlackPlantLove for #BlackBotanistsWeek. Read more of her works at her website, Dr. Latta’s latest book is Beyond Roses -- An Obligation to Speak (Finding Voice for Conversations), a tool kit for having conversations across lines of racial division.

By Kaitlin Stack Whitney

White clover along a roadside

Over the past century, a vast network of highways has been built and expanded across North America. In the United States alone, there are 4 million miles of roads and most of the US is within 1km of a road. Roads are everywhere. Roads are designed for efficient, fast, and safe car and truck travel, to carry people and goods. In a lot of places, commuting, communities, and the landscape are now shaped by – even organized around – roads. But road development has not been as positive for wildlife. Roads have long been considered barriers to animal movement and a direct mortality threat to wildlife through collisions.

So what about for plants? Well, the establishment of highway systems inadvertently created an entirely new place: the roadside right of way.

Highway roadsides emerged as physically distinct ecosystems to manage – not simply the line between road and other. And some plants, including ones sometimes labeled “bad” (e.g. introduced species or endemic but “noxious”) thrive in this unique environment.

Trifolium repens, white clover, is one of those. White clover lives on this edge, in the verge. It’s a creeping, herbaceous legume, perennial in much of its global range and thriving in disturbed roadsides. Originally found in Europe, now it’s everywhere – and often planted on purpose in roadside seeding mixes, that’s how well suited it is.

Historically, white clover was used to purify and cleanse the blood. Perhaps now white clover will purify and cleanse our transportation arteries.

According to global monitoring data, there has been a steep decline in invertebrate populations over the past 40 years. White clover provides food and habitat for many livestock and wild animals in grassland areas, but in roadside edges it does something else. White clover there mostly serves invertebrates, like insects. Its leaves, stems, flowers, and seed pods are edible. White clover requires insect pollination as the flowers are self-sterile, and the flowers are attractive to many bees.

Sit and watch it sometime, you may be amazed what stops by. And that’s why I love white clover. It’s life on the edge, life finding a way, poking through concrete or pavement or the lone forb in a sea of grass. White clover is an integral part of imagining and ensuring roads as connector instead of barrier.

Dr. Kaitlin Stack Whitney is an insect ecologist and animal studies scholar, which means she’s also developed an appreciation for plants. She is an Assistant Professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology in the Science, Technology & Society Department. Visit the SWEET Col(LAB)orative on the web at, and follow Kaitlin on twitter at @kstackwhitney

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