Prove your humanity

Is there a plant that’s shaped your life, or a plant that’s special to you? 

Plant Love Stories, a storytelling blog that started four years ago, wants to hear about it. 

LISTEN to the story

“Plant love stories are a way for people to tell stories about the role of plants in their life and their connection to people in their family, the places where they live, special memories that they have, and ways that they get through hard times like COVID,” said Bonnie McGill, Ph.D., a science communication fellow at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, and a co-founder of the project. 

She’s one of the Smith Fellows, a group of conservation scientists across the country, many of whom work on plants.

“Even though plants make up 57% of the federal endangered species list,” McGill said, “they only get about 4% of the funding.”

The problem was, how to make people care about plants when they sometimes fade into the background. McGill says Plant Love Stories is the brainchild of another Fellow, Becky Barak, Ph.D., at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Instead of lecturing from the podium, they turned to storytelling. 

McGill said positive and hopeful stories are a way of being radical in a time when there’s a lot of doom and gloom.

“I think that’s definitely something that’s pretty different from a lot of the media we consume today,” McGill said. “And one of the reasons I think a lot of people like it.” 

Anyone can submit a story to the blog, and though essays are most common, submissions can be poems or artwork, instead. The over 160 submissions include a backyard mango tree, orange lilies, a feathery asparagus fern, and Mc Gill said maybe not surprisingly, roses and sunflowers are common.

And McGill said, because they’re scientists, they’re collecting data on the stories.

“We’ve made a list of the family of all of the plant species that have appeared in kind of a graph, made a pie graph of all those different plant families,” McGill said. “There’s this pinwheel of all these different colors.” 

Anthony Longo and Bonnie McGill

Anthony Longo, 12, a student at Queen of Angels Catholic School in Irwin, with Bonnie McGill, Ph.D., one of the co-founders of Plant Love Stories. Photo: Kara Holsopple / The Allegheny Front

One story that caught McGill’s attention was written by Anthony Longo a 6th grader at Queen of Angels Catholic School in Irwin, in Westmoreland County. His essay was a school assignment submitted to an annual challenge by Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens that included Plant Love Stories this year. Mc Gill was a judge. She especially liked the drawing that accompanied Longo’s piece.

“It didn’t say the title, but I knew immediately it was aloe,” McGill said. “It was a kind of simple sort of thing, but I loved how it communicated: This is aloe.”

The drawing depicts a brown pot with four leaves of spiky aloe. 

“They aren’t really sharp,” said 12-year-old Longo. “They just kind of stick out.”

His essay tells the story of how he picked out the plant with his family and about their sometimes spotty record of watering it. It ends with his wish that the plant lives through the winter–and it does. 

“Now there are so many different leaves,” Longo said. “And if you feel them you can feel how strong it is. It’s just a beautiful, strong plant.”

In addition to being featured on the blog, Longo’s aloe drawing is part of the project’s Plant Heart Art Valentine’s Day collection