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Ink on the Screen

A blog about food, nature, movement, and whatever else inspires me to write.

Flowering

I keep a lot of plants in my home. I enjoy their greenery, and I love the science involved in caring for them. It takes time to get to know a particular plant. You have to pay attention to the subtle ways they communicate what conditions they need to thrive in the environment you're providing for them. I have killed cactuses by overwatering them; meanwhile my peace lily falls over flat if it dries out. Some succulents require specific potting mixtures of soil, sand, and peat, while Pothos can live indefinitely in nothing but a jar full of water. Different plants can have dramatically different needs.

You've probably seen an African violet before, in the windowsill at your doctor's office or on your grandmother's tea table. It's a classic houseplant that doesn't ask for much, but in ideal conditions it's capable of flowering year-round, which makes it unusual amongst indoor plants. The fragile pink or purple flowers stand out brightly surrounded by their fuzzy dark green leaves, sometimes speckled by a dusting of bright yellow pollen. At times the plant might have a dozen little flowers on it, with tiny buds poking up from the middle of the plant.

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And sometimes, they don't. Our human eyes see flowers as a pretty decoration, but what they really are for the plant is sex. Flowering is part of the reproductive cycle of a plant, a cycle the plant won't begin unless its survival needs are met first. In a plant's hierarchy of needs, water, sunlight, and air come first. Photosynthesis is the process by which plants use energy from the sun to turn molecules from water and carbon dioxide into sugars, which it uses for growth. If these needs of the plant aren't met, if it suffers from lack of water, or is left in a dark room, it won't thrive and it certainly won't flower. The plant sees flowering as a secondary priority. It might be crucial to the survival of the species, but it's not crucial to the survival of the individual plant. So the plant won't create these lovely things that we like to smell and look at, unless it's happy and fulfilled in its primary needs.

In 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed that human beings have a hierarchy of fundamental needs too. Our physiological needs for food and shelter must be satisfied first. But unlike plants, we are also motivated by needs for self-esteem and relationships with other humans. We have a desire to discover who we are as individuals. We alone amongst all living creatures ask the question "Do our lives have any meaning at all?" We create in pursuit of an answer to this question:

"I would assert that the poetry, and the art, and the love, and the creativity are what give meaning to the life that we know only once." -Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Think about the creative people you know. The ones who are movers, or musicians, or painters, or the ones who are making up their own weird kinds of art to express the unique energy that blooms inside of them, and give meaning to the chaos of life. Maybe you are one. Creativity is one way that we as humans flower for the world. It is synthesized from energy and inspiration. If we suffer from exhaustion or illness, or if we feel unloved or unsafe, that seed inside of us that inspires us to create, work, or just to get out of bed each morning becomes starved. We can't grow. We can't flower. It's very difficult to make beautiful things when the basic necessities for survival are out of our reach.

Some plants happily bloom next to busy roadsides, growing roots amidst rocks and broken glass. Others need to grow high up in the mountains with nothing to disturb them but the wind blowing through their leaves. Some of the most unique plants go through long periods of dormancy before they stun us with an incredible display. For different individuals, expressions of creativity differ and can occur in wildly different conditions. If you're someone who hasn't been feeling quite right, hasn't created something new in a while, or can't reach the sunlight you need to thrive, know that you still have the capacity to bring something beautiful into the world. Take time to discover what elements you need to synthesize growth in yourself. Make sure you get your sunlight and your water. The energy you make is yours to share as you wish. You'll flower when you're good and ready.