Thursday, January 1, 2015

Grateful Guests and TYUP Attendees to Finish 2014

Small spaces are the rage these days. It seems that every gardening and architecture magazine has featured innovative ways to design and be comfortable in small spaces; from using raised beds and vertical gardening techniques to repurposing items like shipping containers into homes. Stores like IKEA have made huge headway into American markets and while promoting our seemingly endless desire for goods, have also shown us ways to do more with less, capitalizing on this European tradition.

And that is exactly what we do here at the Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort!

When I first visited the Gardens last spring, I was very curious how they were laid out on less than 2 acres of property. Coming from a larger botanical garden (at the time I was fresh out of 83 acre Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables) I was used to sprawling grounds and long rambles between the collections looking for plants. There is even a tram tour to give visitors an overview of the entire property! While that garden is extensive and beautiful, our Gardens are also beautiful, packed with variety and easy to navigate during our botanist-led TYUP* tour.

During Christmas week, I had a family of 10 book my TYUP and they were delighted at how many plants we have in our Gardens. The patriarch of the family, a long-time volunteer at Fairchild, commented that our collections were very easy to see during the tour and that some of our plants, our cycads in particular, looked very healthy and happy. I was shining with pride! What a great compliment to end the year with.

We do our best to have a good diversity of plants with the limited space we have to work with – remember we are part of a resort and the buildings take up real estate. However, we have managed to collect over 360 plant species, cultivars and hybrids including 25 edible tropical fruits, over 20 Florida Keys natives, 38 species of palms, and 15 bamboo specimens. Not bad for less than 2 acres! We are busy adding more this year so come down to visit and see for yourself how we maximize our space.

*Transforming Your Understanding of Plants tour – see this blog here.

Dioon mejiae, Honduran dioon, a cycad native to Honduras and Nicaragua [Zamiaceae]

Annona squamosa, sugar-apple, a fruit of the tropical Americas and West Indies [Annonaceae]

Byrsonima lucida, Locustberry, a south Florida native [Malpighiaceae]

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Importance of Our "Transforming Your Understanding of Plants™", or TYUP, Tour

Here at the Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort, we provide a garden tour to visitors as a way to experience the Gardens. This is not simply a standard garden tour showing off our collections, but an educational tour describing how important plants are to our lives from centuries past to the present day and into the future.

Leading visitors through the Gardens on our tour provides a way for me to share my knowledge and love of plants. Not only do I get to talk to people about plants (one of my favorite topics!) but it also provides a welcome break from the office and a chance to be rejuvenated outdoors, which is part of our mission: Education - Restoration - Transformation. Nearly everyone comes to the Gardens with some connection to plants, usually with experience growing houseplants or gardening, and I try to build on that existing appreciation. For those who join the tour with no previous experience with plants, I can really start to open their eyes. I stress the importance of plants to our lives, our environment, and the future of both. By sharing information on human uses of plants over the centuries (ethnobotany), current uses of plants in technological applications, and how plants are more like humans than we realize, I hope to transform our visitors’ understanding of plants. This is the essence of the visitor experience at the Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort. Instead of seeing plants as simply a green backdrop or landscaping tool I hope they will be seen as our vital green lifeline. 

I also hope to change the perception that we (humans) are masters of our domain and here to rule the world, taking whatever we want from the plentiful bounty of nature. We know that the reserves of nature are not limitless and we are running into shortages of many fundamental components for our survival: fresh water, fish, arable land, to name a few. We are part of the biosphere and all organisms are interdependent on each other for survival. Certain endangered species may disagree with me if they could talk. They may consider humans to be the biggest threat to their survival, the biggest weed on the planet, and I tend to agree with them. However, looking at it from a different point of view, I realize that many species rely on us. Domesticated animals, hybrid plants, heirloom variety vegetables and flowers are all organisms we have created through centuries of genetic engineering. Would these organisms persist if we were not here to tend them? Also, we have introduced so many  biological "weeds" to different environments (think Brazilian pepper trees and kudzu vine, sprawling urban development, Ambrosia beetles, etc. ), we must work to eliminate these threats and save the endangered species and habitats they threaten. Although it is self-serving to promote saving the environment for the sole benefit of our species and disregarding the rest of the species on the planet, it is a useful approach it it will teach people how important ecological health is.

Plants are essential to our existence and in order to preserve and protect them and the ecosystems they build and support, we need to see them for their true value and worth. Short of having a fully functioning farm to showcase our agricultural systems and the food we rely on for survival, or an entire watershed with oxygen (O2) production, carbon (CO2) sequestration, and water and nutrient cycling highlighted, or a trip into the atmosphere to see the full extent of the oceans and the large amount of Obeing produced by marine algae (estimated at over 70% of Oproduction for the planet), I work with our 21st century collection at the Gardens to educate on a more intimate scale.

Many times, the tour is too short to convey all the information I want to share. Vistors have so many great questions, as well. There are many stories about the plants in our Gardens that cannot be covered due to time constraints so I suggest to visitors that they learn more about them from our website, Our website is full of information, videos, photos of the plants in bloom, and will keep you occupied, entertained, and engrossed for quite a while. It is a great way to experience part of the Gardens at home and a way we are able to reach a broader, global audience. We frequently update our featured videos and articles in the 21st Century Botany section and a new feature of a virtual garden tour is in the works for 2015, so stay tuned. Of course, there is nothing quite like our TYUP so the next time you are in Key Largo or planning a vacation to the Florida Keys, please come in for a tour and experience it for yourself.

Emily B. Magnaghi, M.S.
Associate Director

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Plant Immigration and Naturalization

Coconut palm at Kona Kai
Nothing exclaims "tropical paradise" more than the coconut palm. They are so common in our landscape in south Florida that they seem to be native to our region, but alas they are not. Where exactly does the coconut palm come from and how did it get here?

Historic records on the introduction of Cocos nucifera, the coconut palm, are difficult to trace since humans have been carrying this portable source of nutrition throughout the tropics for thousands of years. Coconut DNA analysis has shown that two varieties originated in Asia, one in the South Pacific and one in the Indian Ocean region. As far as when the coconut arrived in Florida, I located two articles. One recounted a tale of coconuts from a shipwreck floating up along the Palm Beach coast in the 1800s and another indicated the presence of coconuts in the Florida Keys in the mid-1800s. DNA analysis of Cocos nucifera which, combined with historic shipping records, show that the Indian Ocean variety of coconuts were brought to Africa by Portuguese sailors; this variety was then brought to the Caribbean. Either way, they have been here for over a hundred years and have made themselves right at home.

Coconut palm at Kona Kai

The coconut is one of the most useful plants for humans, especially due to its portability for travel on sea voyages. They have nutritious water and fleshy meat which is also processed into milk and oil, the oil is used for cooking and in cosmetics and soaps; building materials are obtained from the husks, leaves and trunk; the coir on the outside of the fruit has many traditional and commercial uses, also coconut husks are used culturally for decoration, and on and on. Early farming records in the Florida Keys indicate there were plantations of coconut trees, pineapples, tomatoes and other hardier vegetables. It was, and is, a valuable crop. It is also a valuable botanical teaching tool as people readily recognize and enjoy coconuts and are interested in learning about their various attributes. However, the coconut is not a native plant to Florida and has naturalized in the Florida Keys to the extent that it is now on the Keys' invasive species watch list.

Coccothrinax argentata, Silver palm, at Lighthouse Beach,
Eleuthera Bahamas
Close-up of Silver palm's silvery leaf
The coconut has become a problem locally at two popular tourist destinations, Bahia Honda State Beach and Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park. Coconuts are washing up on the beach dunes at Bahia Honda and becoming established, potentially outcompeting the native Silver Palm, Coccothrinax argentata. Coconut palms persist in the tropical hardwood hammock at Lignumvitae Key, where they were planted early in the last century by private landowners, and their thatch and debris is inhibiting the germination of native plants. Left unchecked, coconut palms become established in the ecosystem and may alter the ecology for the remaining native plants and animals. In the photo from Lighthouse Beach on Eleuthera, Bahamas to the right, there are numerous coconut palms in the distance, their canopies popping up out of the native scrub. We are not sure what their long-term impacts will be, but state and county land managers in the Keys are not taking any chances. They are on the lookout for newly sprouting coconuts and actively removing trees, but they have their hands full with other, more invasive, species that are a bigger threat to the habitats in the Keys, so they need our help.

Coconut trimming at Kona Kai

How can we help reduce the number of coconuts in the environment? We need to ramp up our collection efforts and harvest them! I'm not kidding! If you have coconut palms on your property, you likely have someone come cut down the coconuts so they don't endanger pedestrians and property when they fall. Keep up the good work!
These delicious fruits also provide many cottage-industry product ideas to local artisans: homemade Keys coconut soaps, body scrubs, lotions and hair oils; locally sourced coconut milk for cocktails and coconut pies - who says we can only be famous for Key Lime pie?; cooking oil for fried lionfish fritters - another invasive species that we are hunting and eating! We need to jump on the locavore band wagon and start providing tourists with locally grown food and locally sourced ingredients so their experience in the Keys is even more memorable. 
Raw coconuts and two clever uses for cleaned/dried coconuts 
By actually using this valuable resource, we can help remove the coconuts from the environment, limiting their ability to disperse and grow in the wild. There are so many coconut palms throughout the state that it is inconceivable to think about removing them all so we need to come up with other means of control. I'm going to start by cutting the coconuts down from the tree in my front yard. I can't think of a tastier way to control invasive plants!

For more information on the genetic research done to decode the origins of coconuts, follow this link: 

Thanks for reading!
Emily B. Magnaghi
Associate Director

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Settling In

Since moving back to Florida from California in the summer of 2012, I have felt like a newly transplanted seedling on oolitic limestone; my roots have been creeping along looking for a space to reach down and anchor into. I waited patiently for an opportunity to continue my botanical career in south Florida, networking and meeting all the right players, taking on temporary part-time jobs while biding my time, but never finding a permanent position. That space in the limestone was eluding me. I knew I wanted a new challenge, something that combined my love of plants with education. Just as I was about to throw in the proverbial towel and reassess my mission, I finally found my space at The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort!

There are many different activities I enjoy that are now part of my job: working with my team to plant new specimens in the garden, planning different tour routes throughout the garden as the flowers come and go, presenting information to the local schools, learning new information about plants every day, networking with fellow botanists and horticulturists, and working with a great group of people who share my passion and enthusiasm for plants and botanical education. I am thoroughly enjoying my new position and getting to know everyone I work with. 

Enthusiastically describing light sensing in plants on a TYUP tour
Veronika breaking up the roots of old Hibiscus plants to make room for new poolside additions

Myristica fragrans, nutmeg and mace, by Pauline A. Goldsmith
One of my first "field trips" outside the garden was to see the Tropical Botanic Artists Bizarre Botany exhibit at the Coral Gables Museum. Our Executive Director, Joe Harris, Director of Education, Ronnie Harris, and I made our way up to the mainland to preview the exhibit from the Miami-based group before it came to our gallery at the resort. We also wanted to see author Michael Largo speak about his new book, The Big Bad Book of Botany. It is an A-to-Z encyclopedia of ordinary to bizarre plants and their interesting culinary, medicinal, ecological, and agricultural histories. The book is a great primer for budding plant enthusiasts and seasoned botanists alike! And the botanical artwork is beautiful! We are fortunate to have this exhibit at The Gallery at Kona Kai Resort for the next few months. All the drawings are either pen and ink or graphite and some of them rival the best scientific botanical illustrations I have seen. I have my eye on the Myristica fragrans (nutmeg) drawing and several others. Between the artwork in the gallery and the plantings in the garden, I am not sure which is more beautiful!
Artemisia absinthium, absinthe, by Silvia Bota
I am happily settling into life in the Keys and at The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort. Soon I will likely be that "Keysie" tour guide with all the flowers and seeds adorning my sun hat, telling everyone how amazing coonties are...wait you don't know what a coontie is? Well, you need to come down and take my tour!

Emily B. Magnaghi - Associate Director

Thursday, August 28, 2014

New Associate Director of The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort

As promised, in this post you'll be introduced to the new Associate Director of The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort. Her name is Emily Magnaghi and we met in December of last year, when she came down to Key Largo to take a tour with me and see what The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort was all about. At the time, she was living in Miami and working in Everglades National Park monitoring plant populations after a restoration project. We got along very well and it was great having someone come by for a tour who really knew their plants. After the tour, we kept in touch and got together a few times for day trips throughout the Keys. On one of our trips, I mentioned that we had been trying to acquire a few specimens of Pilosocereus robinii, a Florida Keys native cactus, and she happened to know one of the people up at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden who was propagating those plants for their conservation program. After a few phone calls and introductions and a proposal for our intentions of use for the cacti, we had three specimens here for the Gardens.

One of the specimens of Pilosocereus robinii (Key tree cactus) Emily helped us acquire, at home in the Gardens.

About this time, I was pretty sure my time at Kona Kai was limited, so after getting to know Emily better and seeing her enthusiasm for plants and her understanding of their importance to humans and the world as a whole, I began to think she might make a great successor to my position here at the Gardens. Once I was sure I was going to be leaving, I encouraged her to apply for my position, as I thought she'd be a great fit. After a number of interviews with Joe and Ronnie, everyone seemed to agree, and so we welcomed her as the newest addition to The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort just over a month ago, during which time I've been helping her learn all she needs to know to take the Gardens into its next stage of life, which I have no doubt will be a beautiful one. And so, it is with great pride that I now hand this blog over to Emily, whom you'll get to know a bit better by the time this post is through...

Here's Emily beside Alpinia purpurata, a beautiful ornamental ginger plant.

Thank you SO much Rick! He has been a wonderful, patient mentor to me during this past month as I have been learning all the ropes here at the Gardens. I have been fortunate to overlap with him for several weeks now which, I think it's safe to say, is making the transition easier for everyone. Rick has done such a wonderful job building the program over the past 3 1/2 years. His organizational skills are outstanding which has made finding all the files and information I need very easy. His presence and energy on the tours are always very calming yet enthusiatic. He is a good role model to strive to emulate. We will have to find a way to commemorate Rick in the Gardens! We will all truly miss Rick and wish him well on his next journey in life. I hope he will come visit us again in the future.

I know, it's a tough one...Magnaghi. Say: "mahn-YA-ghee" and be very expressive like you're really Italian. You can even use your hands to get into the role, or come by the Gardens and we can practice Italian together!

I grew up in Florida as a snow-bird, like many folks here. My summers were spent exploring National Parks elsewhere in the United States, while during the school year I was in Naples (Florida, not Italy). My path to botany was via the underwater world which I greatly enjoyed as a child. Along this path, I happened to take a botany class and this changed everything. Plants fascinated me! In the middle of winter in Michigan, here were these vibrant creatures growing in the greenhouses at the University of Michigan's Matthaei Botanical Gardens. I looked forward to that hour once a week more than anything that semester, as the plants and sunlight in the glasshouse chased the winter blues away.

After reconsidering my path of study, I decided to change course and follow the greenery. Many years later, after practicing restoration with native plants, studying plant taxonomy, pressing herbarium specimens in San Francisco and performing plant surveys for the California High Speed Train project, I find myself back home in South Florida finally enjoying the tropical diversity.

Here I am leading one of my first tour groups around the Gardens. I hope I received high marks from Rick on this one!

I am very excited about my new role at The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort. Stay tuned for more information on what I hope to learn and accomplish in my role as Associate Director in my next blog post.

Emily B. Magnaghi
Associate Director

Friday, August 8, 2014


Starting in September, "The Diary of The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai" will have a new author.

I have had a wonderful 3.5+ years here at The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort helping Joe, Ronnie, and the rest of the Kona Kai staff realize their dream of an ethnobotanic teaching garden here in the Florida Keys, where visitors can come and learn about the incredible importance of plants in their lives.

Looking back, it's amazing to see what we've accomplished. I remember some of our first projects: building a comprehensive BG-Base database for KKBG's plant collections, creating 500+ records labels and 140+ display labels for the plants, and developing the first iteration of our "Ethnobotanic Tour," which we now call our "Transforming Your Understanding of Plants Tour." The Tour has been taken by over 1,200 people from all around the world since I began leading it in March 2011. After working on establishing these foundations for the Gardens, I moved on to develop, the Gardens' virtual mobile-friendly botanic garden "app", with Joe while at the same time working with Ronnie on expanding our educational outreach to the local community by making The Fairchild Challenge (a very successful South Florida environmental education program developed at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens) available to Upper Keys teachers and students as "The Upper Keys Fairchild Challenge," which involved over 900 students (53% of all local elementary and middle school students) last year.  Since Day One, I have worked closely with our Grounds Manager, Veronika, when it came to learning more about the characteristics and needs of the plants here on the property, conducting tree trimming, discussing plant selection, and planting our precious new specimens. I also had plenty of interaction with the other staff here, too, even if it wasn't as frequent or intensive as my work with Joe, Ronnie, and Veronika. Tracey and Denise coordinated reservations for my tours, and I always saw Ileana, Maria, and Charlie around the Gardens taking care of the accommodations or their garden beds. We have also recently been blessed with another great addition to the team, Karen, who is helping Veronika out in the Gardens, and it seems like she will fit in wonderfully.

As you can see, even though I have been the "face" of the Gardens for the past few years, I've had incredible support from the rest of the staff here, without whom the Gardens' work would not have been, or continue to be, possible. On a personal as well as professional level, I have learned from each of them, and know I am a better person for it. One of my favorite parts of working at Kona Kai is that the staff here do not see each other exclusively as co-workers or colleagues, but friends and family, which I believe is no small contributing factor in what makes Kona Kai so magical; you feel like you're coming home from the moment you arrive on the property, especially as a returning guest.

Although I am departing, it is not because I see the mission and vision of the Gardens to be unimportant, as I hope you've been able to realize from all of my previous 75 blogs, which I have written from the heart. Indeed, I still consider it one of the most noble and urgent causes in today's world. What I have felt is a calling within the deepest parts of my spirit that I can no longer ignore, and unfortunately I cannot answer it while at the same time having a full-time job. In 2007, a strange unprompted curiosity came over me about contemplative monastic life, which I knew nothing about at the time. In order to learn more about it, I visited a Trappist monastery in Massachusetts while at Connecticut College, after which I knew I needed to return at some point for a longer visit and also explore other monastic orders, which I was planning on doing after finishing my internship at Holden Arboretum in 2011. One of my favorite quotes is "If you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans," and as I was making plans for monastery visits, I came across the advertisement for my current position here at The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort. I could not believe there was a position being offered at that particular moment in time that suited my ethnobotanical interests / education and my botanic gardens work experience so well, so I figured this might be where I was meant to be for the foreseeable future. I applied for the position and have been here since. Even though I see the work being done here as extremely important and I really couldn't have asked for a better job for several reasons, the pull towards monastic life has not ceased to leave me, and has become more and more intense, especially over the past year, during which I made two visits to the same monastery I visited in 2007. After my last visit in June, I've had a deep sense of peaceful conviction that it is time for me to make the necessary visits to the monasteries to discern whether or not life as a monk is my next vocation.

I have no doubt the "sunset" of my time here will quickly make way for a beautiful sunrise; I am confident the Gardens' work will continue to thrive, supported by all the staff I mentioned earlier, Kona Kai guests, the local community, and one other notable addition (to be introduced in the next posting) who will take my place as Associate Director of the Gardens at the beginning of September.

What follows is a slideshow I put together covering the Gardens' main themes and undertakings over the past three and a half years. Be sure to watch it in full screen mode (click on the button on the bottom-right-hand corner of the video) on a laptop or desktop (if you watch it on a mobile device, you won't get any of the sound that goes along with the video and you probably won't be able to read any of the text), and adjust the quality to one of the HD options by clicking on the "gear" button on the bottom-right of the screen after you've begun playing the video in full-screen mode. Here's to many more "fruitful" years to come for The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort!

Rick Hederstrom
Associate Director

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Choice

Humans are the main transformative force on the planet at the time; we can make of it what we wish to a large extent. If we wanted a world full of a diversity of life, we could make that a priority and bring that about. If we wanted a world largely denuded of life, we could bring that about, too. For those who do not consider morality to be objective, there is no right or wrong, only what a given culture at a given time in history deems, usually by majority, to be better or worse; one way could not be considered "wrong" and the other way "right," they would just be two ways to live with different priorities.

Two very different potential futures for our planet.

Earth as a planet racing through space doesn't have the capacity to care which way we choose; it doesn't need us to "save" it because it has and will continue to go through cycles of more life and less life, indifferently continuing in its orbit until it is eventually engulfed in a dying sun. Besides humans, other species of life on the earth don't have (as far as we know) the capacity on an individual level to consciously care if there is more or less diversity or life; they are driven by instinct and completely preoccupied with survival (food, reproduction) and reactions to immediate stimuli. As humans we are uniquely able to learn what the earth was like in the past and care about what the world will be like in the future. We have the capacity to consider the earth from a global perspective and understand the factors that contribute to more life or less, as well as the power to take conscious actions to bring about planned outcomes based on what kind of future we choose for the planet.

"The Thinker" by Auguste Rodin (Taken by dalbera on Flickr)

There are plenty of people out there who aren't interested in plants (yet) and who apparently don't care much about the natural environment or its future (yet). I can still remember when one of my friends in college said he never really liked being outdoors and how much of a shock that was to me. Unlike my friend, I love spending time in natural spaces like gardens and parks, which I see as havens and retreats, but there are plenty of others who would rather use that space to develop houses, factories, shops, and expansive lawns. If a "silent spring" were indeed to happen, with all birds vanishing, I think there would be quite a few people who wouldn't notice or care. Perhaps they'd remark one day that they hadn't seen or heard a bird in a while, then just shrug their shoulders and carry on.

Our children would then see a world without birds as the norm, with stories of a world filled with thousands of kinds of colorful winged singing creatures seeming much like how stories of the dinosaurs are to us. The same could be said for plants. Even if the world were nearly completely void of plants, something akin to Luke Skywalker's home planet of Tatooine, and everything humans need is synthesized, those born into that world wouldn't miss plants because they never knew them. Perhaps there would not even be an interest in having them around at all - there would be much more interest in the technological advances that have been made. If anyone did happen to be interested in plants, there would be plenty of maintenance-free artificial trees, shrubs, flowering plants, and grasses for people to have installed. Nature would be regarded as primitive, dangerous, and chaotic; something not to be desired back. Besides, if people ever wanted to immerse themselves in "nature," they'd have virtual reality experiences available to simulate activities such as hiking or mountain biking through any type of landscape, and that would be considered close enough to, or perhaps even better than, the real thing. It's not too absurd to think the world could become a nature-less technologically advanced dystopia similar to what some authors and film makers imagine...

From 'Equilibrium'.

From Spielberg's 'A.I.'

Machine City from 'The Matrix'.

Although I studied ethnobotany in the strict sense of the term in college and appreciate greatly the benefits plants provide people, I think a rationale for protecting and conserving nature based completely on utilitarian arguments is imperfect. For one, I think that, largely thanks to the building blocks plants have given us, we will be able to synthesize all that we need without their help (we're already synthesizing beef in laboratories!). Secondly, there are a lot of creatures out there that have no direct use for us, and so are "expendable" using utilitarian logic. Acknowledging those two points, I think the ultimate rationale for protecting and conserving nature is beauty. Even if miniature seahorses and orchids provide me with nothing tangibly useful in my life, I still want very much to have them around for many generations to come so that others could marvel at their beauty as I have, and these creatures could continue to function in ecosystems, which I also consider to be beautiful because of their complexity and function.

Negligible utilitarian value for humans, priceless beauty and ecological value.

As another example, why would it be tragic if all Bach compositions (or those of your favorite music producer) and all their renditions were destroyed? After all, everyone born henceforth would never know them and so they wouldn't miss them. However, those who had been alive to experience them would find it tragic that there would be people who would never be able to experience the unique, powerful, and emotional beauty of that music, and would consider the world has suffered a great loss, not because the music had been useful in a utilitarian sense but because it had been beautiful.

Yo-Yo Ma playing Bach's Cello Suite No.1 Prelude

While I certainly want you to learn how plants have been and continue to be useful to us as humans, and so come to a greater appreciation for them, I want much more to spark curiosity and wonder in your mind and spirit for the incredible incarnations of life on earth, of which plants are a large part. I want to help you hone your senses of observation to see all the little and big miracles that surround us until you are constantly going around with "oh wow! oh wow!" in your mind and realize that the value of each living creature is not based principally in what products it could offer for our use, but in its own magnificent and beautiful nature that would be tragic if the world were without. Then when you understand that each of these creatures needs healthy ecosystems to survive and thrive, you'll wonder what you can do to ensure the health of those ecosystems (a subject for another post), and so ensure a life-filled planet for generations to come.

Such a future can become a reality if we choose it. I personally would rather have a world filled with as many miraculously beautiful incarnations of life as possible, even if that requires what at first seem like sacrifices on my part. If we made the choice to exploit the natural world to the point of denudation so that we could have more money and more "things," how ironic would it be if we'd give all that money and those possessions to once more live amongst the beauty that was sacrificed in the name of what was mistakenly valued as profit and thought to be progress. May we ever more fully know the priceless, irreplaceable beauty that surrounds us and live diligently to protect and nurture it.

Rick Hederstrom
Associate Director