I saw a single grapefruit (citrus paradisi) hanging off of a small tree in the temperate room at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens the other weekend and paused despite the abundance of more exotic specimens because, well, I’d never actually seen a grapefruit on a tree before. This particular tree was so spindly, and the fruit so fat that I wondered at the branch’s ability to support and the fruit’s ability to hold on. I proceeded, of course, to write a poem about the Garden of Eden, after which I felt a very pressing need to study botany. This seemed like a perfect plan, as learning Latin names and plant particulars could do nothing but feed my poetry and I’m still in need of three more natural science credits. Once back in the cubicle I call home, I proceeded to investigate the LSA Course Guide with a feeling of hope that picking out classes from a list does not always inspire. Of course, like almost everything worth taking at the university, I could not so much as dream of touching a plant without taking a slew of introductory courses. Even though I am not completely averse to discussing phenotypes and drawing Punnett squares, doing so purely as a means to eventually satisfy my botanical need seemed an unjustifiable use of time and tuition dollars.
The other night in the reading room at the UGLi, I sat down in a corner with a grammar book to do some research for a paper when, looking up, I found myself surrounded by botanical journals. The most interesting cover was filled with photographs of colorful, phallic-looking flowers, though I couldn’t maneuver the journal well enough to discover what they were (funky varieties of calla lilies (?)). I picked up a plain green journal titled Phytomorphology and began to read an abstract of a study that had something to do with proteins and soybeans… and quickly lost interest. I realized that a discussion of inhibiting something-or-others was probably closer to what studying plants would be like than my fantasies involving Herbology classes of the Harry Potter variety. This did not stop me from promptly writing a poem entitled “Phytomorphology,” but it did help me to realize that what I was really interested in (plant names, uses, habitats, etc.) is for the most part already tucked safely away in field guides and books and that, while I am interested in learning what is knew to me, this is not the same thing as learning what is new to the plant sciences. I really just want to read about thistle and cacti and to maybe plant some sugar snap peas. If my first collection of poems sounds like it was written by a hypercritical farmer or Laura Ingalls Wilder, at least some of you will know why.
(*Matthaei Botanical Gardens provides free admission for students—just bring your Mcard)