Column: Connections to place, identifying species at Archer


Photo credit: Eliza Tiles

The Summer Snapdragons surround the fountain in the courtyard. As I approach my final year at Archer, I am beginning to realize how little I knew about the array of species that have called Archer home long before I did.

By Eliza Tiles, Columnist

As I approach my final year of high school, I’ve thought a lot about what it means to return to a place. More specifically, what it means to return to Archer. Our school song, “Within The Walls of Archer,” seems to emulate that feeling exactly.

Summer after summer, I’ve returned to Archer — back to its mosaic ceilings and perfectly oriented white tables accompanied by blue swivel chairs. The more I thought about it, the more it became clear that Archer is more than just precisely placed floor tiles. We put so much emphasis on the times within these walls that make returning to campus so meaningful. Yet the most central part of Archer isn’t within the walls at all.

As a bookend, we use the courtyard for almost every ceremony. Starting each year shoulder to shoulder during orientation, the Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis) is barely visible yet, it still manages to peak through the rows of foldable plastic chairs. We end every year just the same, running through the Rose Room overjoyed as we “move up.” Throughout the year, we return to the courtyard for countless lunches, student council celebrations, art fairs and cultural festivals.

The more I thought about how integral the courtyard was to my Archer experience, the more I began to realize the natural beauty that surrounds us. The perfectly maintained greenery is what makes the courtyard so peaceful, yet I knew so little about it. The box-like shrubs, known as Banana shrubs (Magnolia figo), guard each entrance to the courtyard and support cardboard cutouts and streamers for each Color Wars celebration. As a species, the Banana shrub is an ornamental bush that few would know symbolizes fertility, potency and prosperity.

Similarly important, the trees that parallel the admissions hallway that fill the courtyard with shade in the early afternoon — a lifeline for the occasional all-school meeting on a blistering hot day. Or the array of petals, Summer snapdragon (Angelonia), that line the dining hall and fountain, adding Archer’s colors to the ever-so-green landscape, are also a vital part of the courtyard. Looking into these angelic flowers further, I found that the Summer snapdragon symbolizes innocence and happiness and is so resistant to diseases and pests that it’s often said to be perfect for gardeners with “brown thumbs”! In addition, their bell-shaped petals are wonderful for attracting hummingbirds as the bird’s thin beaks can suck the nectar deep within the flower.

It became clear that it’s not just the fountain that makes the courtyard so beautiful, it’s the flora that we pass day after day with little to no afterthought.

With the bustling sounds and occasional honk from Sunset Blvd., it’s hard to think twice about the nature that surrounds us. I knew little about the China roses (Rosa chinensis) that line the path leading to Sunset. I stopped to admire the blooming white petals and unique yellow centers, but never cared to know more about them. Native to South-Central China and Vietnam these deer-attracting delicate flowers are incredibly drought tolerant. Thriving in the increasingly hot, late May days.

Similarly, the Alexandria palms (Archontophoenix alexandrae) that tower high above us, often boasting a string of pearls from their trunk, were nothing more than just a “palm tree” to me. But just like every other living thing, these trees have a story; endemic to Queensland Australia, the Alexandria Palm was named after princess Alexandria of Denmark. I was stunned by how far away their native habitat is!

There’s an importance to being familiar and knowing the names of the things that surround us. We effortlessly identify inanimate objects but not so effortlessly those that sustain the life around us. Knowing the names of the plants that inhabit our environment, common or Latin, provides a sense of belonging and a connection to a place deeper than imagined. I believe that although what happens within the walls of Archer is impactful, the abundant vegetation around the campus is just as important.

It took me a long time to realize that I could appreciate the natural world without being completely surrounded by it — even within the walls of Archer.