Plant Blindness

The past couple of weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of tracking tortoises with one of the park’s volunteers, Tom. Tom is retired from a long career in the forest service and he is an amazing naturalist. Being out in the field with a naturalist is an incomparable experience. The knowledge I get to soak from them! It’s the closest I feel to being back at school. Sure, I’m learning these new skills and how to conduct field work but arguably the time I’m learning the most is in between tasks when I get to ask questions about what I see around me. I mean, how often do you get to be in a wild landscape, have a question, and be with someone who actually knows the answer? Tom’s knowledge is pretty much specialized in plants, so I’m mostly trying to soak up his plant knowledge as much as possible. Easier said than done.

Two years ago, I learned about something called “plant blindness.” My whole life plants have always just been green, tall or short, they all had the same leaves and some might even have flowers. Essentially, they were all the same to me – I was blind to actual plant characteristics. I’ve been battling this blindness ever since. During my junior year of college, I started learning how to identify plants but everytime I do, it goes in one ear and right out the other. I struggle to remember a single plant I’ve learned the past two years. This summer, I have to keep trying. I will finally cure my plant blindness! 

As we walked through the desert, Tom and I “botanize.” He tells me about the plants we are passing. He goes into detail about their scientific name, their family, and some of their living strategies but as long as I can at least hold on to their common name I know I’m making some progress. I spend the rest of the walk pointing out the same plants over and over again repeating their name: “Creosote, Mojave Aster, Buckwheat, Foxtail Cactus, Silver Cholla, Ocotillo,” praying that repetition will be my cure. I’ve only had the pleasure of being out with Tom a couple times but since then I’ve created a list, and a journal with “detailed” (I’m not an artist) drawings of plants so I can leave here and forever cherish the desert plants I’ve enjoyed so much. 

My favorite so far, is the Mojave Aster. Part of the sunflower family, it has a beautiful purple flower with yellow center. Interestingly, the aster closes its petals at night. There’s many interesting theories as to why some plants close their flower petals at night, they might be conserving their pollen for the day time when their pollinators are most active. It is not known exactly why the aster closes its but here’s the best part: bees will land in the flower right before the petals close securing a safe place to spend the night. Think about that. Bees spending the night in flowers! It’s such a precious thought I couldn’t stop thinking about it for the rest of our hike. Go enjoy some plants, take a closer look at them, and wonder just how interconnected they might be to the environment around them. 

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