Mother Nature’s Garden: Praying to the plants

Published 5:11 am Friday, May 3, 2024

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Every spring I make the rounds of local state parks so that I can photograph both ephemerals and other early blooming wildflowers. Powhatan State Park is one of my favorite haunts because of the diversity of habitats and plants. There is a very special trail with an abundance of bloodroot, hepatica, twinleaf, dutchman’s breeches, squirrel corn, cut-leaf toothwort, heartleaf, pennywort, yellow violets, yellow corydalis, and rue anemones, not to mention ferns. 

When I walk this trail, I usually take several camera bodies and lenses and plan on spending at least half a day. I start at the top of the trail and slowly work my way down to the river. At that point, I may go back up the trail or check the ridges just off to one side. Occasionally I meet other hikers and photographers; many are following a routine similar to mine – walk slowly, stop, look, investigate, crouch on the ground for a closer look, take far too many photos. Repeat the process.

On my last early spring visit to Powhatan State Park, I had an interesting encounter with another hiker. I was down on the ground on my hands and knees closely examining a tiny sprig of pennywort that was half hidden by the leaf litter. I was completely engrossed in what I was doing, probably not the safest situation. Suddenly I heard a voice, “What are you doing? Praying to the plants?” My first reaction was to laugh and then to be annoyed. The man had made light of what I was doing. What’s more, he was intrusive. He wanted to follow along with me and photograph whatever I found. All photographs being taken from shoulder level without bending over to actually observe the plants or get a proper angle for a good photo.  He didn’t want to know the identity of the plants or anything about them. He just wanted to document that he’d seen them. Click. Move on. Click…

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Because I’m a mean, and maybe a little cautious, person, I suddenly got busy with note taking and other delaying tactics until the man was out of sight. I wasn’t exactly afraid of him, but he was overly intrusive and clearly not interested in learning. 

After much preoccupation with what the man had said, I concluded that there was some truth in his comment about praying to the plants. My hikes are quiet, moving meditations for me. They’re a chance to relax, commune with nature, and learn something new. Every time that I observe a plant, even one that I’ve seen many times, I see something that I’ve failed to see before. If I continue to observe ever so carefully, perhaps one day I’ll know my favorite plants so well that I’ll have an accurate mental image of them. Maybe I’ll even be able to sketch them. 

I’ve concluded that “praying to plants” isn’t a bad thing. It’s all about respect, reverence, communing with nature, and learning. 

Go on a hike, get down on your knees in the leaf and examine some of the plants you find. You’ll be glad you did. 

Dr. Cynthia Wood is a master gardener who writes two columns for The Herald. Her email address is