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Planting symbolized pandemic life

After the holidays pass, my colorful seed catalogues arrive just in time to help combat winter blues. I have a yearly tradition of finding a novel plant to grow.

Last year, I chose Job’s Tears (Coix lacryma-jobi), not knowing how timely and symbolic this plant would come to be in the wake of the 2020 pandemic with its tear drop shaped beads.

First of all, I make sure to research everything I need to know about my novelty plant, that it is native and not invasive. I learned that the plant Job’s Tears is native to Southeast Asia but has naturalized in much of the southern United States and has been identified in Ohio. It would likely be considered an annual in our area but has the potential to be a prolific reseeder.

The seed packets arrived with detailed instructions to sow seeds in an area with full sun / part shade and in moist / wet soil. Our backyard is shaded by shagbark hickory trees, so my dad offered up two deep cement planters to place in the sun by the shed. I figured the containers would “contain” the plant. I planned to harvest the seeds and not let them reseed themselves.

Admittedly, I neglected my novelty plants as I was spending more time tending my veggie garden and large zinnia bed. By late summer, I needed a few garden tools from the shed. I was taken aback by the corn stalk-like plants thriving at nearly 4 feet tall.

A few weeks later, I visited my Job’s Tears and shrieked with excitement when I stooped down on one knee and saw its green bead-like seeds and a few deep blue and dark yellow hardened seeds ready to harvest.

Every other morning or evening, I plucked handfuls of these teardrop-shaped seed beads and saved them for making bracelets to give as gifts.

The best part is no drill is needed. The seeds have natural holes for wire / string to easily pass through.

Aside from the Cherokees’ use of Job’s Tears beads for jewelry and attire, I wanted to know more about the ethnobotanical uses of this plant. I read some varieties have seeds with softer coatings (pseudocarps) used as grains. When prepared as a grain, Job’s Tears are delicious as well as nutrient dense — full of essential amino acids, fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals. Moreover, Job’s Tears are a rich source of phytochemicals, known for anti-inflammatory according to the National Institute of Health.

Although more readily available in Asian countries, Job’s Tears are sold by health food stores and online retailers.

Job’s Tears was named by Carl Linnaeus after the metaphorical tear of Job, a biblical character whose story may encapsulate the worldwide pandemic that continues to bring pain, suffering and death. Yet, this quarantine and isolation somehow brings us closer together and closer to nature.

Choosing Job’s Tears for my novelty plant seemed serendipitous to me in that I chose to plant it during the pandemic. To me, it illustrates the paradoxical nature of people as well as plants in the wake of hardships.

Remember, it is always important to research and learn about the plants you are considering adding to the landscape. The right plant in the right place can be vital to their success, and of course steering clear of plants with invasive tendencies. To learn more about this plant, go to http://go.osu.edu/jobstears.

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