by Ambreen Salah

I always knew this elegant, graceful, colossal beauty in my courtyard would be my companion for life. Since the time I handled my senses, I remember climbing her branches and eating her juicy sweet fruits. All these years, this lady has watched me through thick and thin, through my sorrow and joy but I somehow forgot to pamper her in return.

I remember during Ramadan we would pluck her ripe ovaries to make fruit salads. We also made thick paste out of her beautiful leaves for beauty purposes.

As the legend goes, my great grandmother planted this green with her own hands and little did she know that her coming generations would ignore her heirloom.

In her days of glory, we took every possible advantage of her but now in her fumbling days we choose to ignore her. Sometimes, thinking we could save her from monkeys, we shot pebbles with a slingshot to hush them.

Today, sitting in my veranda watching squirrels dance on her strong hardy branches, I thank her for giving me memories to cherish for life. Now by amending my negligent attitude and taking her under my wing, I sometimes think squirrels and monkeys might think I’m odd, as I chatter with her all day long.

Ambreen Salah is 28 years old working as a Biology Lecturer in one of the reputed colleges in India. Ambreen completed her Masters (Botany) in 2016. Follow Ambreen on Instagram at @thegreensong.28.

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by Julia Ajello

Succulents in a blue bowl, and cactus with a yellow flower in a teal pot

My journey into plants and self-care started when I was sixteen. It was getting close to my oh-so-sweet sixteenth birthday and my mom kept asking me what I wanted. At that age, I think most people want a car, a big party, or money, but what I really wanted was a plant. When I told my mom, she looked at me, a bit confused and said, “okay, get in the car.”

We went to the outdoor section of Home Depot to look at plants. I was looking for a small plant that could weather the indirect sunlight my room receives. I also knew that cacti and succulents were well-known for being the plants that even the worst plant moms could keep alive (this would later prove to be a challenge).

Looking through the selection of cacti was a bit stressful. I wanted to make sure the one that I picked would be perfect. It had to have big bright flowers, look healthy and be succulent and hard to kill. There were only a few options with flowers, ranging in colors from pink, to red, to yellow. I chose the yellow because it seemed so bright and cheerful, it seemed to emit rays of sunshine. The next important decision was which pot it would be housed in for the remainder of its life. I wanted a roomy pot that was understated so the cactus would be center stage. Eventually, I settled on a simple blue pot that would accent the periwinkle walls of my room.

Back at home, I put my cactus front and center on my dresser. I was so pleased to see my new plant in its home, but I soon realized that taking care of a cactus was harder than I had thought. My supposedly un-killable plant required a lot more attention than anticipated. Sure, they’re tough, but I still had to water it (not very often) and move it into the sun (very often).

Cacti have a long evolutionary history spanning millions of years that have allowed them to survive in harsh environments, such as my dresser. Everything about them, from their lack of leaves, to their spines and succulent stems, are specifically designed to withstand extreme temperatures and long periods without rain. These adaptations came about out of necessity. With their drastically changing environment, new traits needed to evolve for them to survive.

There are some parallels between the survival story of the cactus and that of my own. Like the cactus, I found myself adapting to many big changes in my life. When I was caring for my cactus, I was recovering from back surgery that left me not only in pain, but struggling to adjust to a world without the sports I had played throughout my childhood.

But I adapted to these changes. Instead of the rough-and-tumble sport of soccer, I began swimming in the water that is so essential for all life on Earth. I couldn’t swim competitively, but I could still glide through the water with relative ease, which was reassuring to me after I had struggled to learn to walk with the newly placed metal rods in my back that weighed so heavily on me.

At this time too, college was looming closer, and some days, I felt alone, much like how I imagine the cactus in a desolate desert. Many of my friends were deciding on in-state colleges, but I wanted to go farther away. I was choosing to leave many friends and my home behind in favor of a new adventure. This move was challenging at first, but like the cactus, I adapted and stood tall.

Despite the problems I eventually overcame, I still struggled — which is where the story of my cactus picks up. There were many times when my days seemed gray and gloomy due to depression that has plagued me for years. It was these times that I was glad I opted for the cactus with bright yellow flowers. I simply had to look at them to find a bright yellow sun smiling back at me. I found myself watering the cactus, patiently waiting for the flowers to open to their fullest. I would move the plant from my dresser to the windowsill and back again, so I could give it as much sunlight as it could take.

It was then that I realized, why am I providing so much love and care to my cactus but not to myself? I made sure my cactus got enough sunlight, but was I leaving my house to embrace the warm sunlight humans need too? I was watering my cactus when needed, but was I drinking enough water? And most importantly, I was patiently waiting for my cactus to bloom, but was I being patient with myself? I realized the answer to these questions was no, I was not giving myself the care I needed to grow and thrive like I was to my cactus.

After this realization, I decided to change, adapt, and better myself to give myself the best chance of growing and prospering. This is how I was able to overcome even the toughest of challenges, much like cacti. I knew cacti were tough, they’ve had millions of years to evolve to be able to survive in some of the harshest environments on earth, but I had finally realized I was tough too.

Julia Ajello studies biology at the College of Wooster in Ohio with the goal of becoming a medical doctor. Though she studies a lot, Julia still finds time to indulge in both her love of and fascination with plants, as well as spending time outdoors and with friends.

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by Xinyuan (Kara) Lyu

I have heard many stories about the red spider lily from movies, books, and the internet. The most impressive story, however, was one I heard from my mother. In my mother’s story, a devil fell in love with a human girl. The devil’s love was unrequited because the girl did not like the devil at all because he had a fearful look. Therefore, the devil imprisoned the girl and expected one day she would feel touched by the devil’s love and change her mind. One day, a soldier passed by the devil’s place. The soldier rescued the girl from the prison and killed the devil. When the devil died he returned to hell, but his blood spattered on the Earth. Unrequited love hurt the most, and after the devil’s death, this scarlet red spider lily grew from the spot where he died. This spot became the bridge to hell, connecting the hell and the Earth. 

I never thought that I would see a red spider lily with my own eyes. On the day I went back home worship my grandparents in Ningbo, a town in southern China, I saw a red spider lily for the first time. When my family and I entered the cemetery, I noticed a large patch of red flowers growing near the tomb. Even though I had seen pictures of the flower on the internet, I was shocked by its beauty. The color was so dazzling that it was almost impossible for me to ignore it, but none of the elders around me were interested in the flower. I tried to walk closer to look at the lily, but my uncle stopped me and told me to stay away because these flowers would bring me misfortune.  

Even though I had seen pictures of the flower on the internet, I was shocked by its beauty. The color was so dazzling that it was almost impossible for me to ignore it.

Although I knew many myths about the red spider lily, I was still confused about people’s strange attitudes toward it. I wanted to learn more about this plant. Red spider lily (Lycoris radiata) is also known as manjusaka, and is native to China, Korea, and Nepal. It has been introduced to Japan, the United States, and other places around the world. It is called red spider lily because each flower has significantly reflexed and long petals that look like spider legs. The red spider lily also has strap-like grayish-green leaves, but you cannot see leaves together with flowers, because the leaves only appear after the bloom is finished. Wild red spider lily typically grows in acidic soils and prefers shady and moist environments that are rich in organic matter, which provides the necessary nutrients and minerals for it to grow. This habitat preference explains why people usually find a vast mass of red spider lily at the side of tombs, and explains why people usually associate red spider lilies and hell together. 

Most stories depict red spider lily as a representation of an evil world. People say it only brings disasters, however, red spider lily is also sometimes used for medical treatments. Its roots are used to treat swellings, ulcers, and the nervous afflictions of children. The bulb is used to counteract poisons and can be made into a plaster to treat burns and scalds. Additionally, Red spider flower contains alkaloids that are associated with anticancer, antibacterial, and antiretroviral properties. 

I became very disappointed after I found out that some people in my hometown were burning and cutting out red spider lilies. People only believed in the evil sides of red spider lily from fictional stories, but ignored its benefits in the real world. The intentional destruction of red spider lilies led to its disappearance in many wild areas near my hometown, and I hardly ever saw any red spider lilies  I realized that human beings are not the only victims of stereotypes and prejudices. Plants like the red spider lily also suffer from it. I know it is difficult to change people’s beliefs, but I hope you will have a different opinion about it after reading my plant love story.

Xinyuan is a 21 years old student currently studying biology at University of Pittsburgh. She comes from Beijing, China and currently live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Photo Credits: (Top) Jim Evans Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA (]; (Bottom): おぉたむすねィく探検隊. 彼岸花と蝶. Wikipedia Commons

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