What plants can teach us about surviving a pandemic.
Before all the lockdowns, I bought some fresh basil from Trader Joe’s, trimmed off all but the top leaves, clipped the stem at its midpoint, and put the cut end in a little glass vase.
When the basil pushed out fresh baby roots at the end of March, I was transitioning in my isolation from losing it in a bad way — with panic mimicking fever symptoms — to losing it in a good way — falling hard into daydreams and making much-too-elaborate dinners for one.
The little roots were one thing nudging my mental state in the right direction. In them, I perceived something of a message: a song simple and beautiful, banal and profound.
They sang: Life yearns for more.
This clipping, which could have just withered after a rough journey through the Trader Joe’s supply chain, didn’t die. It was trying to survive, and I felt good about it.
These hopeful baby roots were on my mind when I saw a new study, published in the journal New Phytologist, about the beautiful, ordinary, and profound things flowers do after suffering an injury. That is: When many flower species get knocked down, they right themselves. The individual flowers on the stalk will rotate back, as best they can, into a position ideal for pollination.
Like me watching my little roots growing at home, the scientists here made a small — one might say, obvious — observation. The difference, though, is that this paper is perhaps the first time this has been documented in the scientific literature, the result of a decade of work.