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How Green Is Your Love?

For many, it is the first big grown-up thing to do after graduating high school—getting your own dorm room at a fabulous college that you were so happy to get accepted into. There is the excitement of room furnishings, new friends, campus tours, and finally becoming a part of something much bigger than life before. During your first orientation, you gained a lot of information as well as—thanks to the Scott Arboretum—the opportunity to become a proud owner and parent to a fragile and needy green plant baby. As Jessica Cunni ’00 put it, “When I picked out my baby plant ‘Rufus’ from the Scott Arboretum in September 1996, I was excited as this was my first houseplant to call my own.” Sofia Sanchez ’00 shared a story from her plant’s perspective. “Sofia adopted me freshman year (1996) from the Scott Arboretum. I didn't know what to expect at first, but she gave me a nice home, from dorm room to dorm room during her four years at Swarthmore.”

This tradition of giving new students a plant not only gives them something to welcome into their new room, but also a sense of companionship and responsibility. Jessica became “fervently committed to keeping Rufus alive,” in spite a couple brushes with botanical demise while in the care of not-as-green thumbs. Sofia’s plant was a bit luckier, stating “I had to stay with friends and family when Sophia went home to Guatemala during long breaks, but I didn't mind, since she always came back to pick me up.” Both Jessica and Sofia’s plants were lovingly placed in the care of others while their mothers traveled. This plant parenthood did well in preparing these young freshmen students to becoming responsible adults.

Throughout the years—and increasingly larger pots—these relationships mean more than just a plant lover and a plant. They symbolized a metamorphosis and rebirth with a continual growth and adaption with some photosynthesis and a side of clean air. The bond brings serenity and comfort. There are special milestones, too, like when Jessica’s Rufus turned 10 years old and she celebrated by repotting him in a special new pot with fresh soil; Rufus was blinging. Now that Rufus is reaching another milestone of 20 years; Jessica would like to celebrate in style. Thus, here is a special plantilicous shout out in honor of his long life thanks to Jessica. Not to mention that Jessica taught her children to care for their leafy sibling along with the maybe-not-as-green-thumbed father, Tim Applebee ’03, who adoringly accepted Rufus into the family.

These plants even have milestones of several new residences. “Sofia and I moved to Boston,” her plant shares, “and I've moved with her from apartment to apartment, and most recently, to her office.” And Rufus has so many green siblings that Jessica had to rent a separate trailer when moving just to transport her plants. Now that is dedication which possibly started right at Swarthmore College as a bright and eager young freshman.

As you can see, these relationships are special and symbolic. Next time you walk past a green plant, just stop, take a look and think about the journey it must have had throughout its life. These are not just pretty green leafy plants in a pot, they are a mobile bit of mother nature here to purify our environment and touch our lives.

Also, if you are wondering what happens to the leftover plants that were not as lucky to get adopted on orientation day, they of course are repurposed in Swarthmorean fashion. According to Pamela Harris,  associate college librarian for outreach, instruction, and research, McCabe Library adopted several plants which, in turn, continue to “inspire studying students and contribute to creating a cozy space.”

Executive director of the Chester Children’s Chorus Kirsten Halker-Kratz shared that she received her plant as a new staff member in 2012. Though it took a few years for Kirsten’s thumb to turn green, five years later, her plant is thriving and “climbing up the blinds.”

Swarthmore’s green-leafed love stories includes cousins, too, as Susan Smythe, ADA program coordinator, shares. “I have a rubber tree that dates from a set design I did in college in 1980—it's about nine feet tall.” She smiles. “I also have its child!”


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