When my mother returned from work shortly after having me, my father gave her a small flower to keep in her office. Eventually, that flower found its way onto a shelf in our dining room, where it grew in the background of our family endeavors. Somehow, that plant and myself have both lived long enough to see our twentieth year of living, and the flower always blooms right before my birthday. I am known to be somewhat awkward in most social situations, but the story of that flower is something that I can always tell if I have nothing left to say. Shortly after I made my first friends at college, they visited my room and were surprised to see my collection 18 plants. After hearing the story of the “symbolic birth flower”, my friends decided that I had been destined to love and to be connected with plants from the moment I entered this world. Weird, but probably true.
There have been quite a few occasions in my life where I was given a plant instead of cut flower bouquets or random knick-knacks: begonias for a job well done in a school play, an orchid for a missed junior prom, and an arrangement of succulents instead of a Valentine’s Day bear. If there has ever been an important moment in my life, there is probably some plant associated with it. It was not really much of a surprise when I found myself purchasing a small rubber fig at the University of Rochester Pep Band’s move-in day plant sale in honor of my first day as a college student. Since freshman year is over and I am about to embark on my journey as a sophomore, I thought I would share some of the lessons I have learned this year when it comes to owning potted plants.
One day during that fall semester I was in CAS 303, as course required for all EcoReps to take, and the class began to discuss the benefits of owning a plant. It was argued that plants can improve physical and emotional health. One study by NASA determined that certain plants, such as the golden pothos, can reduce the amount of air pollutants found indoors, thus improving air quality. When plants are introduced in the area the air becomes cleaner and decreases the likelihood of people in the room of experiencing headaches or cold symptoms. As far-fetched as that may sound, I watched this idea unfold during the winter of this year. A friend of mine told me that he had been getting headaches and a stuffy nose for the past few weeks whenever he studied in his own dorm, but that these issues did not occur when he came to study in my room. I let him borrow a few plants and, whether if it actually was the plants or if was just the placebo effect, he said the issue stopped a few days later.
Growing up, plants have always been helpful in reducing my anxiety and stress. If something is bothering me, I usually go prune dead leaves or repot a plant in a larger container so that I can be productive while working out the issues in my head. It turns out that plants can be therapeutic, even if they are just sitting in your room. A boy on my hall, whom I did not know well at the time, knocked on my door on a Sunday evening and asked to come in. Even though I was confused, I welcomed him into the room, and he sat on my bed while I studied for my upcoming exams. After about ten minutes of neither of us saying anything, I asked him why he wanted to come in, and his response surprised me. He said that he had heard that I owned a lot of plants, and that he had been feeling a little more stressed than normal that night. If an effort to calm himself down, he decided to come see the plants for himself. Funny enough, he had already started to feel more relaxed.
I would like to take the time to suggest that, if you are looking for a gift to give someone, you should consider purchasing one of these photosynthesizing pals. A plant is like a living time stamp, and it is a cool way to remember something special. If you do not think that I will not at least consider carrying a potted plant down the isle on my wedding day, you are mistaken. I have been fortunate enough to have not experienced many close deaths, but I have had my fair share of heartbreaks and goodbyes. Like everyone else in the world, physical or emotional distance has separated me from some people who have played an important role in my life. I find comfort in caring for the plants that I have received from these people, and it often eases the pain that comes with missing them and the memories attached.
By the time I was moving out my plant total had increased to twenty. When it came time to pack away my plants, I picked up my rubber fig that I purchased on move-in day. Despite a fall of my windowsill and a month of neglect due to exams and roommate issues, this small plant had lived to see the end of my freshman year. I was especially surprised by this because I had not done any special research on how to care for it, and I did not even know what it was called until late April. But somehow, it had lived. I will not say that my freshman year was bad, but I will admit that it did not go as planned. There were some frustrating moments and a point where I even considered transferring, so there was a slight sense of relief when I started to pack up those boxes. However, when I saw that plant, I thought about the ridiculous plant-connection destiny and I could not help but open my phone and find the picture of me holding it on move-in day.
Turns out, we had both grown.
Written by Michaela Burrell, Class of 2020
Photo Source: pixabay.com