The seed’s shell cracked. A shoot pushed up through the soil, striving for the surface and sunlight. It broke into the brightness of a new life as its roots dove into the ground, absorbing life-giving nutrients and water.
The plant continued to grow through many cycles of sunlight, rain, and darkness. Its stem extended beyond the grass that surrounded it. A bud sprouted at the end. After a few days, with help from a warm, caressing sun, the bud opened. Orange and black petals blossomed from a deep red center.
The plant named itself Red Cup.
Red Cup thrived with the other plants that grew around it. They chatted back and forth, and soaked in cool water when it rained.
Then one day Red Cup found that it could pull its roots from the ground and move from place to place.
The other plants did not like that.
Red Cup bloomed with the coming of the morning sun. A slender stamen, quivering with pollen, protruded from the red center.
Red Cup pulled his roots from the soft earth. He cast about, looking for willing pistils, or at least a bee to deliver the pollen for him. Even a good gust of wind would do.
He pulled himself forward with his roots, drinking in surface dew as he went. Grass, proud and obstinate, tried to block his way. What makes you so special? Each blade turned and hissed at Red Cup. You think you’re better than us because you can move around?
Red Cup did not answer the taunts as he crept forward. He never did.
He zigzagged around the thicker crabgrass. Crabgrass was meaner and much stronger than regular grass.
Something big slapped Red Cup in the petals and nearly knocked him over. He turned and with dismay noticed he had stumbled into a patch of dandelions. This was bad.
A big yellow flower got right into Red Cup’s petals. And where do you think you’re going? The dandelion’s sharp petals pushed at his stamen. Pollen trickled uselessly to the ground. You think you’re going to find a home for that? Think again, freak.
Red Cup was shoved from behind by the thick, serrated leaf of another dandelion. We’re going to knock that pollen right off of you. You’re not contaminating anything, walker.
Blows fell on Red Cup from every direction. He searched desperately for a way out, an escape. Dark green leaves blocked him. The ground about him was coated with red pollen dust. Red Cup tried to fold his petals together to protect the stamen, but the dandelions held them open.
A low susurration vibrated through the early morning air. The dandelions paused in their pummeling of Red Cup. The sound intensified, becoming a buzzing that engulfed their senses. The yellow heads of the dandelions swiveled up in anticipation.
A bumblebee, its huge body covered in black and yellow fur, hovered overhead.
The small yellow petals of the dandelions parted to reveal twin curlicue stamens. Me! Me! My nectar is sweet! Take my pollen! They all shouted up at the bee, who flew tantalizingly from one flower to the next without landing on any.
They had forgotten about Red Cup. He moved his roots carefully around the dandelion stems and pulled himself away from their grasp.
Red Cup wandered around a patch of clovers. Clovers were generally self-absorbed and did not bother with other plants, but Red Cup knew from experience that if he mingled with them, they would try to hold him in place. Red Cup was stronger than any individual clover, but it was tough to slog out from the middle of a patch.
Red Cup turned to the sky. The sun was more than halfway across. He looked around for bees or butterflies. A few buzzed or fluttered, but none came near him. It seemed even insects sensed he was different and avoided him.
Ahead was a large rock that bordered a vegetable garden. If Red Cup could pull himself upon it, maybe a good gust of wind would take his remaining pollen and blow it to a few exposed stigmas.
Something hit the ground.
Red Cup froze. He pushed a root into the earth and waited. A steady thump-THUMP came closer.
Oh, no . . .
Red Cup pushed his roots into the ground as far as they could go. He folded his petals over his stamen. He curled his stem and tried to hide his colors.
A rabbit looked about, twitching its nose. Black eyes in a brown-furred face found Red Cup.
The rabbit hopped toward him.
Red Cup clutched the earth as hard as he could. The rabbit sniffed his petals. Red Cup heard the other plants laughing and urging the rabbit on.
The rabbit chewed on Red Cup’s petals. Severed pieces fell to the earth. The rabbit nibbled away at the stamen and worked its way down. Red Cup was frozen in agony. He screamed as his stem was ripped from his roots by one of the rabbit’s paws. The surrounding grass shrieked with delight.
Red Cup’s consciousness bled away from his torn and mangled flower and collected back into his roots. The rabbit bit deep into his dark red center, hungry for nectar.
The rabbit squealed and backed away, spitting out what it had bitten off. Red Cup did not understand. Was the rabbit rejecting him, like the plants and bees did?
The rabbit hopped away as Red Cup’s thoughts faded into nothingness.
His world was pain and struggle. All was dark as Red Cup’s roots strove to heal. He willed himself to grow again. He couldn’t lose his focus on that one task. To do so would be death.
Red Cup pushed against the earth above him. It did not yield. He wanted to give up. No. No, I can’t. He sucked in more nutrients from the soil and pushed harder.
The ground gave way. Early morning sunlight bathed Red Cup’s new shoot as it pushed upward, his chlorophyll soaking in the light and using its energy to grow ever further.
Several days passed as Red Cup grew stronger. His stem elongated and sprouted a bud. The grass whispered invectives at him, but he did not listen. He needed to concentrate on blossoming.
As he matured, Red Cup thought about his existence. How had he come into being? Who was responsible for fertilizing his seed, allowing him to germinate and live? There were no other plants like him around. How was it he was able to move around, while other plants couldn’t?
No answers came. Red Cup resigned himself to the fact that they probably never would.
The humidity in the air was thick when Red Cup’s petals finally opened to the sun. Black and orange colors spread wide to reveal a long red pistil, sprouting from an ovule-rich ovary. At its tip, a stigma, round and sticky, tested the air.
Immediately the grass passed the word to the other plants. Watch where your pollen goes! Make sure it’s nowhere near the freak!
Red Cup pulled her roots from the ground. She looked for the rock she had seen before and started toward it. If she could climb it and elevate herself above the other pistils, there was a good chance a bee would land on her and give her pollen.
The grass was taller and thicker than she remembered. Red Cup still pushed through it, but it was more of a struggle. The sheer number of green blades tripped her up more than once. Red Cup did her best to ignore the snarling hatred all around her.
A low hum moved through the air. The grass blades stilled; waves of dread ran through them. Red Cup knew what the sound was, and she hurried around stalks which now ignored her.
The hum turned into a roar that reverberated through the ground. Grass, dandelions, clovers, foxtails, sorrels, all screamed. Red Cup willed her roots to move faster.
The rock lay just ahead. The roar turned into an all-encompassing blast that quickly bore down on her.
Red Cup was not going to make it.
She saw the horror approaching. Red Cup folded her petals around her pistil and bent her stem as low as she could. Her roots sought quick purchase in the ground. She hoped it would be enough.
Darkness engulfed Red Cup, and a terrible wind buffeted her. Just above her, a thick, slicing maelstrom tore into the grass. Juice and dismembered bits of green bounced off her.
Just as quickly as the darkness had come, it was gone.
The grass cried and moaned. Their tops had been sliced off. Juice and plant bits lay everywhere. Red Cup glanced up at the uncaring, towering human who pushed the cruel machine as it continued to rip through the greenery. Red Cup stayed low. She knew that if the human saw her standing upright, he would come back with the machine until she shared the same fate as those around her.
Next to Red Cup was the severed head of a dandelion. The ragged stem bled green. Red Cup wondered if it was one of her tormentors, and then decided it didn’t matter. A flower’s life was in the roots, not the head. The dandelion whose head this was would grow another. And probably still be a bully.
The awful roaring of the machine sputtered and stopped. The human wheeled it away. The grass was in shock and pain, and Red Cup pushed through with no resistance.
The rock lay a few feet away.
The grass blades stirred as Red Cup made her careful way between them. One that the machine had missed took a swipe at her, but was not strong enough to delay her progress.
The rock was right in front of her.
A number of small purple flowers peeked up from where they had been hiding at the base of the rock. They looked around to make sure the human was gone.
Henbits. If they saw Red Cup, they would never let her climb on the rock. They had broad, strong leaves that would stop her cold.
But they were distracted. Red Cup might have a chance.
She crept forward as fast as she could. She extended a root over the purple head of one of the henbits and touched the rock. She anchored the root in a small crevice.
The purple flower spun around as Red Cup reached out with two more roots. Wide, crenellated leaves lifted up to stop them.What do you think you’re doing, walker? This rock is off limits to you. The henbit called out to the others. Help me rip this freak’s roots off and kill it before it has a chance to germinate any seeds!
Red Cup pushed against the henbit’s leaves. Her second root found purchase on the rough surface of the rock. The third grasped a tiny outcrop but was torn away by the henbit.
The other henbits within reach pushed at Red Cup’s stem. One tried to dislodge the two roots she had secured to the rock. Red Cup stretched again with the third root. It slid across the hard surface without finding purchase. It was knocked away.
The henbit resistance was now coordinated. Leaves with serrated edges scraped across Red Cup’s stem. Fluid leaked from small gashes.
Red Cup weakened. One of her two roots was plucked free from the rock. She struggled to reattach it.
The last root was pulled away. Red Cup was thrown to the ground.
The henbits continued to attack, tearing at Red Cup until she managed to drag herself out of their reach.
Next time you try that, we’ll kill you, walker! We’ll tear your roots apart! Do us all a favor and go off and die! There’s no place for you here!
Red Cup made her way to a mercifully bare patch of soil. The surrounding grass was still stunned from the human’s machine and did not try to hinder her. She looked up and noticed she was in the shade of a young poplar. The tree ignored her. Most trees couldn’t be bothered with smaller plants, conversing only with fellow hardwoods. Even a plant that could walk with its roots was below their notice. Red Cup had never been more thankful. She sank her roots into the ground to absorb what she needed to heal.
Red Cup raised her flower. A plant she had never seen before, thick with oval-shaped leaves, grew at the base of the tree.
Red Cup lay back down. Whatever the plant was, it couldn’t reach her. Let it spew its hatred at her. She would not answer.
I know what you are. I’ve seen your kind before.
Despite herself Red Cup turned to the plant. Who are you?
I am a chipilin, the plant said. I am not native to this area. I come from a place far to the south. As do you. You are a bane orchid. There aren’t many of you.
Red Cup stood and approached the chipilin. If we are not native to this place, then why are we here?
We were brought over unwittingly by the humans. I was a young plant that somehow got mixed with a crate of mangoes. Once I got here the crate was broken up and discarded, along with me. I would have died had not a rainstorm washed me down several roads and into this yard. That was many, many seasons ago. The winters here are not to my liking, but they are not cold enough to kill me. I hope I can say the same for you.
I don’t remember coming here.
The chipilin rustled its leaves. You probably came over as a seed, possibly mixed up with a crate of fruit as well. Either way, here we are.
Red Cup heard a strange buzzing noise in the distance. The other plants hate me. They tear out my roots when they can and stop me from pollinating. You are the only one who hasn’t tried to kill me.
That’s because you are able to move around. Plus, you are able to change genders with each new flowering. Some plants have both genders, but very few can change as quickly as you. Those are huge advantages for a plant, and they are jealous of it.
I can’t help that! It’s just who I am.
It doesn’t matter. You are different, and you have abilities they yearn for and will never get. They will never stop hating you.
Red Cup shook her petals. So I am doomed. The other plants will find a way to tear me from the ground and prevent me from rooting. I will die, and they will be happy.
The buzzing sound grew in intensity.
The chipilin did its best to flatten out its leaves on the ground. Get down. Now.
Red Cup did not need more persuasion. A shock of fear ran through her as she realized what the buzzing was.
The same human as before stepped into view, this time holding something that looked like a huge, inverted flower. The roots, which were held up, appeared to be bundled into a knot at one end of a long, thick stem, while the head, with one large petal and two thin stamens, swooped low to the ground. The human pressed a leaf on the stem. The new machine that looked like a flower roared. The stamens spun with shocking violence, churning up stray plants that the first machine had missed.
The human approached the rock that Red Cup had tried to climb. The henbits that guarded it screamed as the spinning stamens tore through them. Purple petals and minced bits of leaf scattered everywhere. Red Cup shivered as pieces fell near her.
The terrible noise subsided and the human moved on.
Red Cup did not move until the chipilin told her it was safe to do so.
She turned toward the rock. Green juice dripped from its surface. At its base, the severed stems of the henbits were stilled.
If Red Cup had actually succeeded in climbing the rock . . .
The henbits, though they hadn’t meant to, had saved Red Cup’s life. Her roots, on the rock and not anchored in the ground, would have withered and died after her stem had been severed by one of the spinning stamens.
Red Cup felt she should be horrified by what happened to the henbits. She wasn’t. The henbits and all the other plants would have been happy to see the same happen to her.
Only one thing concerned Red Cup now. She turned to the chipilin. How far south must I go to find my own kind?
I’m not sure, the chipilin said. But, judging by the angle of the sun during the seasons, I sense the distance is great.
Red Cup considered this. I cannot remain here. I must go.
I understand. The journey will be long and hazardous, but at least you have a weapon at your disposal to deal with hostile plants and herbivores.
Are you not aware that you are an allelopathic plant?
Red Cup stood still. Something about that word sent a shiver through her. What does that mean?
The chipilin chuckled. Of course. Foolish of me not to realize you wouldn’t know. You would have found out about it through your kin. But you have no kin here.
Her leaves fluttering with impatience, Red Cup asked again. Please, tell me. What does allelopathic mean?
It means you have a store of chemicals, deep in the heart of your flower, that can be used to drive away herbivorous animals.
Red Cup remembered the rabbit, and its reaction when it had bitten into her flower’s center.
The chipilin continued. And can also be used to kill other plants.
This caught Red Cup’s attention. How do I use these chemicals?
The chipilin paused, as if carefully considering its answer. Focus on the depths of your flower. There should be a little knot there, made up of small petals. Do you feel it?
Red Cup sensed the knot. Now that she was focused on it, she realized there was something within the petals, something hot and eager for release.
The petals may take some effort to open at first, since you have never done it before. You should practise, before you face real threats out there.
Red Cup looked around. She saw a blade of grass that had been missed by the human’s machines, and made her way to it.
The blade turned to her. What do you want, freak?
Red Cup opened her outer petals as wide as they would go. She concentrated on the smaller ones at the red center of her flower. There were five of them. One quivered and opened. Once that happened, the others quickly followed.
Leaning forward, Red Cup belched the heat onto the grass stem. The fluid was thin and pink, with dark red motes floating within. It oozed into the earth.
What did you do to me, freak? What is . . .
The grass blade could not stop the osmosis. The roots absorbed the fluid, which collected in the xylem, and quickly shot it through the plant’s vascular system.
The grass blade lost its voice and shuddered. Its edges and tip turned brown.
Red Cup watched the blade die. A pleasurable shiver ran through her. She looked across the lawn, at all the other plants still reeling from the human’s machines, and wished she had enough chemicals to kill them all.
It became clear what Red Cup had to do.
She turned to the chipilin. You have been kind to me, and taught me about myself. When the time comes, you will be spared.
The chipilin was quiet a moment. What are your intentions?
I am going home, Red Cup said. It was after noon, so she positioned the sun at her right side and pulled herself forward. It may take many seasons, but I will make it. I will find my own kind. We will multiply.
Red Cup turned and faced the lawn. Then I will return. With as many of my kindred as will come with me. Except for you, we will kill all that grows here.
The humans will not allow that, the chipilin said. They will kill you on sight.
The humans will not know we are here. We will spread our chemicals at night, and move off to a hiding spot during the day. The grass, the dandelions, the henbits . . . all will die. None will call me a freak again.
Red Cup was now distant from the chipilin, almost out of communication range. Then we will find a patch of fertile ground, away from human eyes, where we can grow and pollinate. We will expand, and any native plants that try to stop us will be destroyed. By the time the humans realize what we are, we’ll be everywhere.
The chipilin’s words were faint. Good luck.
Red Cup continued her southward crawl.
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