Wisdom from the Plant World
By Neil Moran
We usually think of plants as providing us with beauty, food or medicine. Perhaps, though we ignore the lessons that can be learned from the world of plants. By their very nature, they can show us the way to patience, love and hope, according to Gina Mohammed, PhD and author of a delightful book titled: Catnip and Kerosene Grass. For example, many cacti survive and even flower with very little water. We can look to the cactus as a source of inspiration to persevere when we experience our own “drought” of ideas, inspiration and hope. Hang in there, is what the cactus seems to say; rain will come and you’ll get a chance to show your bright colors.
Here is a selection of unique plants of the world and what Mohammed says they have to teach us.
Islaya Cactus
Making the most of what we have

This cactus can be found in the deserts along the Pacific Coast in South America. Years can go by with little or no rain, the cactus surviving only by the scant mists that reach it off the ocean. And it has no roots at all, yet it will someday flower. The Islaya cactus doesn’t let the fact it has no roots stop it from achieving great things.
We may rightfully feel limited by a physical disability, such as lack of mobility. However, we still have other strengths, such as the gift of our hands to create, or a smile of encouragement for others. Like the Islaya, let’s use what we have to make the most of our day.
You’ve helped others grow strong

A mature forest represents generations of change. After a fire or a clearing by loggers, seedlings such as jack pine, birch and aspen emerge quickly. Then come the species that don’t mind a little shade: white pine, red pine and cedars. As a forest matures you’ll see tall spruce, stately hemlock and resilient fir trees.
You should take great pride in the contribution you’ve made to the generations that have followed you. Your solid advice and giving spirit will help those people grow strong and tall.
Partridge Pea
A diamond in the rough
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 like that? It seems they have a story to tell or a gift to give, but they are reserved, not opening up to just any passerby. Seek out the people among you who may seem reserved and shy, but probably have much to say if we take the time to listen and get to know them.
Kerosene Grass
Relax, unwind
In the Australian Outback is a peculiar weed called kerosene grass, named for its extreme flammability when dry. An old outback trick is to moisten its fruit in your mouth and then shove it partway into the sand. Immediately it starts to swirl, burrowing the seed base into the ground. It unwinds by a clever method whereas springy strands within the seed structure relax and untwist. It is an ingenious method of reseeding itself after a rain.
When our daily lives become very busy and tense, we literally “work ourselves into a tizzy.” How often does this happen and what do you do about it? Let’s be like the kerosene grass and develop a plan to “untwist” and unwind from all that stress.
Rise above your circumstances
Every year when the lavender plant flowers by my office door, I pull handfuls of the beautifully scented flowers off the flower stems and put them in my top pocket. If I get feeling tense during the day I can take a whiff of the sweet aroma of my lavender. I also like to take cupfuls to the ladies who work stressful jobs in the offices where I work. They really appreciate the sweet aroma and I believe it helps them through their day.
Once established, lavender is tough to kill. It can withstand a certain amount of neglect, like lack of water, and still do well.
This should remind us of those folks who may have survived neglect or inattention in their formative years, yet went on to do great and wonderful things.
Button Wood
Get up and try again
Are you familiar with this tree that grows in hurricane-prone areas? If so, you know that once knocked down by the fierce winds of a hurricane, it will eventually grow upright again. The trunk may lie horizontally on the ground for a bit, but then eventually start growing skyward again. Pretty amazing.
Have you ever been down to the point you didn’t think you’d get up again? Sure you have. We all have. Take it from the buttonwood. If you feel down, try to reach out for something or someone. It will help you gain your footing so you can get back up and march on.
Ahead of the pack
Just before spring awakens, when the only snow left is in little patches hiding in shady areas around our home, you may see tiny flowers bloom. These are the snowdrops. Snowdrops “brave the chills and lashings of winter’s last breath” in a way that should surprise and impress us.
The brave little snowdrops take the lead in the plant world as spring returns. Are you one to take the lead in a positive way, like the snowdrops, or do you sit back and wait and see what the “weather will bring” like the tulips? If you’re the latter kind, that’s OK. There is nothing wrong with being deliberate. But if you wish to come out of your comfort zone and take the lead some time, think of the brave snowdrops!
Here’s to your health
Pine cones could be good for you. No, I’m not suggesting you eat one! However, you may find it interesting that the tannins from pine cones and some other plants, can inhibit the enzymes in our bodies that trigger a stroke. To prevent tragedy, these medicines have to be administered quickly after a stroke.
And as Gina Mohammed said “Let’s not wait for a stroke or other ailment to take action. Act now to avoid health problems by eating right, exercising and getting plenty of rest. And don’t forget the great powers of prayer, faith and a mellow constitution.”

Neil is a horticulturist and teacher and can be reached at [email protected]

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