Learning About a Special Plant Can Make You Happier
Have you ever seen a special plant that intrigued you? Maybe you didn’t have time to find out what it was but you kept seeing it because you jogged by it every day or such. Every time you saw it you felt happy but also a bit sad or angst-ridden at the open loop of not knowing what it was. Well, it’s worth finding out. Studies show learning, especially about plants, can be beneficial to your mental health.
An Intriguing Tree I Kept Seeing
When I was new to Seattle, way back in the grunge music era, I often noticed this one pretty tree. It grew on a parking strip a few houses down from where I lived. The leaves grew in spade-shapes and the flowers bloomed like white stars. I’d see it whenever I walked my dogs and it took my breath away.
One day in early September I realized the tree had grown these exotic berries. They looked like prickly red balls. They were so cool. I’d never seen anything like them. I watched over a few weeks as they grew larger and then either fell away or were plucked off by the birds. They loved this mystery tree as much as I did!
I went to my Sunset gardening encyclopedia and paged through the Northwest plants. I skimmed the lovely glossy pictures but didn’t find my mystery tree. On Saturday afternoons, I’d sit on the front porch with a cup of tea and peruse that book. Reading the little entries relaxed my body. I felt at peace and like the problems of the week didn’t matter as much. I loved hunting for my special plant.
A Special Plant Mystery Solved
Months later, I was driving past the tree when I noticed the owner of the house outside weeding. I parked and got out and said hi. She was older, a forty-something woman with long black hair. We struck up a conversation about the weather and I asked her what kind of tree I’d been admiring.
“Kousa dogwood,” she said.
We went inside and she scribbled the name on a piece of paper. We chatted about plants for a while, the start of a long neighborly friendship. When I went home, I looked up the dogwood in my book. There it was. A tree, hardy to zone 5, maturing at twenty-five feet, common to part-shade areas of the Northwest.
I felt an amazing sense of satisfaction. I’d solved my little mystery. And smiled at knowing a nice neighbor who knew so much about gardening. Afterward, whenever I passed by the tree, I enjoyed it even more: its little buds forming, the pinky fruits plumping up, the reddish fall color I knew would happen in a few months. That knowledge gave me a tiny bit of joy.
My Own Pretty Northwest Tree
Years later, I had the honor of growing a Kousa dogwood in my own yard. Now, every year when it blooms, I’m surprised and delighted. I’m in awe of the masses of silky white flowers (bracts really) that cover the crown. It boosts my mood, even on cloudy days, as it glows at the back of the yard. I love to see it from my kitchen window. And I love that it was my first special plant.
It’s no wonder that learning about this plant made me happier. A 2021 study found that the act of learning made people actually happier than the reward at the end. Other studies show focusing our minds on something pleasant and neutral like plants relaxes us and restores our attention.
Is there a special plant that intrigues you? Why not see if you can sleuth it out? The iNaturalist app allows you to take a picture and find a name instantly. But maybe it’s more fun to look it up in a physical book or ask friends or family. Take a little journey of stimulating your brain, enjoying the soothing photos of plants, and interacting with people. If you do, let me know how it goes!
For more about this Sleuthing a Special Plant activity, see Chapter 4 of Leaf Your Troubles Behind.