Welcome to The Quiet Branches

The Quiet Branches is a blog about the under-noticed parts of nature that are extremely important to our lives, particularly plant life. Plants are ubiquitous and this is a space where I’d like to tell their stores through writing about research, history, and misconceptions (see this on plant blindness as one example) of plants, plant sciences, and plant scientists.

Plants are nature’s introverts in many ways.

I identify with plants because they are so unassuming . Plants are nature’s introverts in many ways. Humans interact with plants every day, and yet they are in the background, fleetingly noticed. Think of writing a note in a notebook with a cup of coffee on a wood table. There are plants in that sentence, but they don’t stick out. Plants go about living their lives, showing up in the food we eat and the products we derive from them every day, quietly, to our minds. Their visibility distinguishes plants from things like viruses, microbes, and other life that we can’t see with our naked eyes, but are at least as important to current life on Earth as plants.

The name of this blog is partly about plants and also refers to the book about introverts by Susan Cain Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. I am decidedly an introvert. I like to think, take my time with decisions and plans, am easily over-stimulated, and need time to myself to recharge my battery. The Internet has been a revelation for Introverts. It is an ideal medium for us. We can take time to process our thoughts on something and put them down in text form. It’s not that it’s an ideal personality trait to be praised above all else, it’s just something true of me. For years I thought it was a horribly fatal flaw before realizing that introversion is a rather common trait and that there was even a term for my default state.

Darwin's 1837 sketch of an idea for how life is inter-related. Darwin was an avid studier of plants. Image Source: http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nature-online/evolution/tree-of-life/darwin-tree/
Darwin’s 1837 sketch of an idea for how life is inter-related. Darwin was an avid studier of plants. Image Source: http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nature-online/evolution/tree-of-life/darwin-tree/

The Quiet Branches also evoke tree diagrams or networks (to my mind at least). In evolutionary trees of life, the ends of branches usually represent different species or genera of past and present life. The Quiet Branches are those that tend to not get a ton of attention. Though I am focusing on the big and fascinating world of plants, there’s a lot of nature that doesn’t get recognized often and there may be some posts about non-plant topics here as well. I invite anyone to send ideas for stories for me to write about, preferably grounded in the scientific literature (contact form is in the ‘About’ page of this blog or at the bottom of each post).

Most of the attention to plants in popular press (at least in my news sources) comes in the form of talking about Genetically Modified Organism (GMOs) crop plants. While those may be discussed here from time to time (they are a vital tool of plant science research, not just a feature of some commercial plant products), the focus will be on basic or foundational research into plants. Basic research is certainly part of helping feed the world to create better plants (GM or not), but there is much, much more. There’s a reason the National Science Foundation’s slogan is ‘Where discoveries begin’. Basic research is the beginning of the pipeline where innovations that eventually show up in our day-to-day lives start (The Internet is an example). Hopefully the writing here is understandable by a bigger audience than a technical academic journal (they can be challenging to read, even for professional scientists).

…nearly everything in nature is bigger on the inside.

A lot of science reveals surprising, messy, and complex things about nature. It is the job of science to uncover and explore that complexity and try to make sense of how nature works, responds to changes over time, and just what goes on beyond our immediate senses in time and space. Plants often live, grow, and do things at a slower pace than humans. As a fan of Doctor Who, I’ll make the analogy to the spacetime traveling ship The TARDIS that nearly everything in nature is bigger on the inside, that is, once you start looking more closely.

My goal is to post one post each week about an aspect of plant biology at least partly derived from current plant science primary literature. I will also have a page in the menu for this blog linking to other plant science resources/blogs that I’ll continually add to as I go along (please feel free to suggest them to me). In the first few weeks, I’ll speak more generally about plant biology, what plants are, some history, and in February really start diving into more current plant science research (Of course, as this is a new project, the vision may be tweaked a bit as time goes on).

For those who read my other blog (postdocstreet.wordpress.com), I’ll continue to write there as well, though perhaps not as frequently as I do now, and it will continue to host my writings about mental health, plants in popular culture, and other musings about the more personal things of interest to me.

As part of this effort to communicate plant science, I’ll host Twitter discussions centering around plant sciences regularly as well. So be on the look out for those under the #PlantSciChat (my Twitter handle is @IHStreet).

With that introduction, I look forward to exploring this unassuming, important, and quieter side of nature. I am following my own curiosity here, but as this is a blog,  you are welcome to subscribe/follow along on this journey with me.


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