BookWiseSpring21
WWB Book Wise Club

In the Age of Transformation–World Wise Beauty Selects ‘Lessons from Plants’ for the Spring 21 Book Wise Pick


Over the winter the WWB Book Wise pick helped us to discover how animal culture could inspire us to live more wisely. Well move over homosapiens and mammals because here come the plants! The Spring Book Wise selection ‘Lessons from Plants’ by Beronda L. Montgomery explores the ‘nature of being’ from a plants perspective. Maybe it’s time we start taking some notes on how to thrive from the plants growing in our backyard.

Beronda’s first lesson from plants in the book is about ‘selfhood’. A strong sense of self is needed to survive and thrive in this world, but what plants have perceptively figured out is you don’t have to go it alone. It turns out plants are masters at working their social network. We’ll get to this in the Q&A, but don’t get the wrong idea. You won’t be reading a how to book with a bullet point list of directions. This is hard core botanical science presented by a distinguished Professor of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology who has a passion for plants and a gift for illuminating all the important lessons we can learn from studying and observing living plants.

Beronda Montgomery invites you into the world of plants, and through deeper understanding and insight she guides you to a fresh way of seeing the world through a plant’s awareness. After reading ‘Lessons from Plants’, you might start asking yourself “What Would a Plant Do?”

P.S The book size itself is ideally compact and perfect to take on the trips you might be taking this summer. That’s if we all are careful and get vaccinated! Happy trails and hope your outdoor adventures are awe –inspiring with your new found awareness of botanical plants.

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Laura Connolly, Founder of World Wise Beauty

 


 

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Lauroly Opening- Welcome Beronda, I am so honored to be speaking with one of ‘Cell’s 100 Inspiring Black Scientists in America’. Some people might see the title of your book and think “what could a plant possibly teach me”? People have different affinities for plants, depending on where a person is on the continuum of valuing other living species. For example, some may value a beautiful plant as adornment for their home, but think nothing of trampling or poisoning plants out in the wild. I thought we would start with your introduction titled ‘A Sense of Self’. Below are your opening words …

 

“Imagine a life in which one’s entire existence must be tuned and tailored to the changing, and at times harsh environment. A life in which there is no potential for escape.”

 

Lauroly Q- When you stop to think about it, it is really astounding how plants bloom, grow, and flourish. What makes a plant a ‘being’? What gives them a ‘sense of self’?

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Beronda Montgomery: First Laura, thanks for the opportunity to talk with you about one of my favorite subjects. Plants are beings as they are living things – the simple definition of a “being”. I recognize plants as having a ‘sense of self’ as they have perception that impacts their behavior in context. They sense what is going on around them, who is near them, and other aspects of their environment and then use that information to tune their behaviors accordingly.

Lauroly Q-  So  just as we have self-awareness, plants have their own self-awareness.  Your biggest achievement in the context of this book is you have made a plant relatable! In your ‘Friend or Foe’ chapter you walk us through the complex decisions a plant has to make in order to survive and thrive. The words competition, collaboration, and loyalty to kin sound a lot like human behaviors. Yet, we learn from your book, that plants also have sophisticated sensing attunements when it comes to their social networks and their environment. You call them ‘energy budgets’. Reading your book, I thought of a Kenny Rogers’s song and lyric “You got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them”.  I may have a song in my head for everything, so don’t mind me! What can we learn from the wise ‘energy budgeting’ plants do?

Beronda Montgomery: I love that. I had a soundtrack for the writing of this book, so I understand relating to music! I genuinely endeavored to accurately portray the relatability of plants and my enthusiasm for them, so I’m glad to hear your perspectives about that. I’ve learned a lot from reflecting on the ways that plants stay in tune with their environment and budget energy accordingly. They consistently surveil the environment to determine opportunities or threats. Based on their perceptions of the environment, plants budget energy to necessary activities accordingly. They are indeed very wise in using energy to take full advantage of opportunities such as making new leaves when adequate light is available, pivoting to defensive responses if threats such as herbivores exist, or entering rest periods to save energy if conditions are extremely unfavorable such as in winter. It is largely their ability to constantly scan the environment to make prompt adjustments when external factors switch that result in their exemplary budgeting of their available energy, and limiting futile uses of energy.

Lauroly Q- What you described is a pretty sophisticated way of being. We now can see there are wise lessons from plants about energy management we can apply to our own lives. It wasn’t lost on me!  Another fascinating part of your book is where you explain the “Three Sisters System” which originated with Native American peoples. There is so much wisdom in this agricultural approach which focuses on leveraging complementary strengths. The quote you shared from ecologist Robin Wall Kimmerer “All gifts are multiplied in relationship” drove home the wisdom of this approach. Your personal example about integrating the domains of parenthood and self-care from a Three Sisters mindset is a great real world example. Perhaps you can share that example after you give us a quick us a quick overview of what the “Three Sisters System” is.

Beronda Montgomery: The Three Sisters are a powerful example of what is known as polyculture – or the growth of plants of multiple species together that show complementary behaviors that result in enhanced growth when cultivated together rather than in monoculture, or as single species in isolation. The sisters are corn, bean, and squash traditionally. In the co-cultivation, corn provides a vertical support for vine beans, protecting the beans from suboptimal conditions and pests on the ground. Bean is a legume which together with root-located bacteria produces fixed nitrogen that serves as a fertilizer. In this collaboration, squash grows close to the ground maintaining optimal soil moisture and limiting growth of competing weeds.

The Three Sisters system shows us reciprocity in a diverse environment leads to productive growth and highlights the beneficial effects of community interactions. But I think the greatest and most enduring lesson that emerges is how important each individual in a community actually is. Each individual brings particular skills and has the potential to offer unique contribution that can elevate the community as a whole.

In a personal domain, I think of parenting and self-care as cooperating domains that can be cultivated to thrive better together. A common way that this plays out for me is to engage in personal health activities such as hiking together with my son. We have quality time together while I commit to physical activity.

Lauroly Closing- I love your personal example because it highlights how one activity nourished a sense of well-being for both of you. Thank you so much for joining me Beronda and sharing the wisdom from your wonderful book ‘Lessons from Plants’. Your book comes at an ideal time, as we are all spending more time outside and slowing down to notice botanical life all around us. Reading your book, we can walk, notice, and marvel at the intelligence of plants with a new found awareness. The wisdom we cultivate from paying attention and learning from plants is we just might find harmony in working cooperatively and productively together on this planet.

Beronda Montgomery Closing:  Thank you Laura for the opportunity to share time and space with you and your readers. What a beautiful reflection to take with me – especially as we begin to see hope of emerging from a global pandemic, I am deeply hopeful for the harmony and reciprocity that we may cultivate collectively.

 

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