by Kendyll Hazzard

Paper birch bark

Recently I found myself along the side of a road, learning about ​Betula papyrifera​, the paper birch, as a part of my Field Botany course. I realized I had seen this tree many times before and had spent many days considering the thin, flaky bark of this tree as a part of my juvenile scientific curiosities. Coming face to face with this childhood friend during class quickly set my mind wandering towards simpler times living in rural Wisconsin.

Picture this: a small A-frame cottage on the Rock river with two large birch trees scattering yellow leaves over the front lawn. A quad of small children is playing “tag, you’re it” and running in circles around the trees, which have lost most of their papery bark. Some of this loss was through natural wear and tear, but mostly it was at the hands of curious seven year olds who wanted to know if they could “unwind” these mysterious birch trees. The youngsters had been told not to hurt the poor tree, but as kids will always be kids, this warning was unheeded. They would take turns peeling off strips of chalky white bark, competing to see who could pull off the longest, thinnest strip without it breaking or tearing, and left the scraps in messy piles around the base of the trees for an exasperated grandfather to clean up later.

Fast forward a decade or so, and those two birch trees are still standing tall, despite five years and four children’s worth of torment. Everything else had been cleared out and thrown away: the rose bush I once tumbled backwards into during a misguided attempt to learn to ride a bike (which I still don’t know how to do), the pine trees that once stood like guards, blocking my siblings and I from trespassing onto the neighbor’s front yard, the two bushes that outlined the path from the driveway to the front door, and the small cherry and plum trees that my grandmother loved so much.

The four musketeers - Kendyll, Ryen, Layne, and Halsey, with their dad and great-grandmother

I went back home to visit recently, and my jaw almost dropped when I realized just how much had changed in the years I had been absent. But my siblings and I had changed as well. Over time our rowdy gang - the four musketeers - grew up.

We moved away, branched out, and put down roots in new and exciting places. Still, no matter how far from home I am, and how much I miss those years of playing in the light shade of the birch trees, it’s comforting to know that those poor trees that the four of us hassled and harassed against our grandpa’s wishes were still surviving, still thriving. And maybe that’s a sign that those four musketeers will survive and thrive as well.

Kendyll Hazzard is a Biology major at Bucknell University and a participant in the Chris Martine's Field Botany class. The students took some time to write up their Plant Love Stories as a reflection of the class. We will be sharing some of their stories in the coming weeks.

Photo credit: Paper birch by Sue Sweeney from wikimedia commons.

by Matt Drescher

Nyssa sylvatica

There are two types of plants. There’s plants, and then there’s Plants.

“plants” (small p) are like trees (small t). They’re what you see when you’re driving down the highway and you’re looking out the window. They’re the soft-toned flowers sitting in a vase or the blurred out background in a picture of a dog. “plants” are what you take for granted as always being there, because, what are they going to do, move?

Plants, on the other hand, are what you notice when you’re not moving either. They’re in the woods and in gardens. They have personalities–like the bold Sycamore and the mysterious Sphagnum. You develop relationships with Plants because you’ve spent hours at a blackboard coming up with the fact that Nyssa sounds like “Mhysa”, which is a name given to a TV character that controls fire-breathing dragons, and the fact that Sylvatica sounds like ‘Sylvan’, which is the name of the street corner you grew up on. You put those together to remember that Nyssa sylvatica has fiery-red leaves and right-angled branch corners.

These Plants don’t leave your life after you’ve been quizzed on them, either. You remember and take notice of them, and the next time you’re walking across campus, you stop to notice the leaf pattern on a tree you’ve only ever seen as a plant. You start to see plants in the bread you eat, the wood you sit on, and even in the plastic in your hand. You literally start to see the Forest through the trees.

Matt Drescher is a Biology major at Bucknell University and a participant in Chris Martine's Field Botany class. The students took some time to write up their Plant Love Stories as a reflection of their participation in the class. We will be sharing some of their stories in the coming weeks.

Photo credit: Nyssa sylvatica by Katja Schulz from wikimedia commons.

by Olivia Clark

As the daylight shortens, I say my goodbyes to the color that fills the most joyous and memorable moments in my life - green.

The hue enters the Midwest’s landscape beginning in April with the first pasque flower on a warm, southern facing slope. The arrival of the season’s purples and light oranges are soon brought by bird’s foot violet and puccoons. Early spring emeralds emerge while the land around them is still asleep from the long winter, allowing them the attention of the awakening pollinators. To welcome these species into another year, one must expect an upward climb that will bring muddy boots and a feeling of new beginnings in the crisp spring air.

Pasque flower on a sandy slope just northeast of Madison, WI.

A few weeks later in a wooded area nearby, patches of wild geranium and Dutchman’s breeches flower under oaks budding out with new leaves. If you’re lucky, you may stumble upon a young fawn laying in a grouping of bedstraws.

The awakening green color is fully developed around June by the summer flowers eager to bloom. Fields of spiderwort and golden Alexanders buzz with the newly arrived pollinators. Each day, a seamless transformation occurs among the bloomers.

In the morning hours, heavy dew rests on the flowers that will leave your pant legs soaked in just a couple steps through the prairie. By mid-morning the dew is gone, and the flowers perk up at their peak bloom of the day. As the afternoon sun beats down on the prairie, many species start to close their petals to only be reopened the following morning.

The grasses take their turn at the end of July and reach heights near ten feet tall. Flowering plants become entangled in shoot systems of Indian grass and big blue stem. The density of the prairie has become challenging to navigate. The prairie has shifted to its greenest stage of organized chaos.

“Green chaos” with big bluestem on the prairie

Goldenrods are the first plants to bring autumn’s fields of gold, followed by the purples of the asters. The discontinuance of the production of chlorophyll in the prairie tells us that we have completed another year. The root systems that have grown larger are now storing energy for next spring as the shoot systems turn to seed and slowly decompose. The cool temperatures of autumn have arrived, and the prairie is now dormant. The green color that was once so abundant and alive, is now absent until spring.

I am a Biology major and Environmental Studies minor at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse. I spend my summers restoring and researching prairies so much so that I have fallen in love with them. Each winter, I find myself cycling through last year’s plant photos and daydreaming that it was a warm May afternoon on the prairie.

Hours of plant classes, months of green-withdrawal and visits to Home Depot made me realize a monumental moment in my life: Why say goodbye to the many shades of green with winter approaching, when you can have house plants?

Plant lady Olivia with 30+ house plants she has acquired over the years.

Olivia is 21 years old and attends the University of Wisconsin - La Crosse. Follow Olivia's plant-y adventures on twitter and instagram.