Humankind has explored the secrets of plants ever since a caveman saw a plant growing outside of his cave. We’ve discovered the culinary, medical, psychotropic, and the practical use of plants to make things like dyes and clothing from plants.
However, we’ve largely ignored the life lessons that can be learned from plants. By their very nature plants can show us the way to patience, love, hope, perseverance, and even help guide us as we get older. At least that’s the premise of Gina Mohammed’s delightful little book, Catnip and Kerosene Grass.
Here are a few plants Mohammed talks about and the lessons she says they teach us about the world at large.
The Islaya cactus lives in very dry deserts near the Pacific Ocean. Years may pass with very little rain, the plant surviving off the scant mists that reach it from the ocean. Yet it survives and occasionally even blooms with bright, yellow flowers. Mohammed says we have something to learn from the Islaya cactus: persevere, she says, when we experience our own drought of inspiration, ideas, and hope. Like the scant mist that sustains this cactus, we need to look for the smallest of signs of hope when times are tough.
Trees of the forest
A mature forest represents generations of growth, change and adaptation. Left to their own devices, trees can overcome the worst calamities without our intervention.
For example, after a fire or being clear-cut by loggers, seedlings of Jack pine, birch, and aspen quickly emerge. In the years ahead pine, spruce and hemlock will rise above the forest undergrowth of ferns, mosses, and the berries that offer food for wildlife.
You should take great pride in the contribution you’ve made to the generations that have followed you. Your solid advice, guidance, and giving spirit will help the next generation of men and women grow strong and tall.
Out on the prairies there is a wildflower called the partridge pea. Though it has lovely bright yellow flowers, they are often hidden under foliage. It is also a sensitive plant; its leaves quickly fold when touched. Do you know people with these traits? They have a story to tell or a gift to give, but are reserved and shy. This person could be your grandchild or a neighbor. Perhaps if you take the time to listen to them they may well blossom.
Be kind and careful
Did you know that a plant can sense when it is being eaten? Scientists believe plants are capable of knowing when it is about to be munched on and raises its defenses accordingly. If we think about it, don’t we put up our defenses when our life is being threatened or when we simply want to be careful walking across a busy street? Take a cue from nature and become aware of your surroundings and be careful!
In the Australian outback there is a peculiar weed called kerosene grass, named for its extreme flammability when dry. An outback trick is to moisten its fruit in your mouth and then shove it part way into the sand. Immediately, it starts to swirl, burrowing the seed base into the ground. It does this by employing a clever method whereas stringy strands within the seed structure relax and unwind. This is an ingenious method of reseeding itself after a rain.
When our daily lives become very hectic do we sometimes work ourselves into a tizzy. When this happens let’s be like kerosene grass and unwind from all that stress.
Let’s learn to work together
Like Mohammed, Michael Pollan, author of Botany of Desire, moves beyond the obvious uses of plants and explores, what you might call the “plant psychic.” In a similar way to Mohammed, Pollan’s thoughts on plants transcend the status quo. He postulates in his book that we’re not the conquerors of the plant world like we think we are. In fact, plants actually manipulate us into propagating the species. In his book he writes about potatoes, apples, and cannabis and shows that these plant do their best to draw attention to themselves so we’ll not only keep growing them, but improve the species along the way. It seems to be working! Life lesson? Learn to let go, we’re not always in charge.
Neil Moran is a freelance writer/copywriter. His business website can be found at Green Industry Writer.