The Girl With the Green Thumb

Grace Broderick, MCAS ’20, can bring life to the dead, and not in a creepy, Halloween-y way. She didn’t find the fountain of youth either—we’re talking strictly science. Her pint-sized on-campus housing is overflowing with seedlings and shoots sprouting about. She has learned the art of propagating, which is breeding plants from parts of their parent specimen, and she’s done it in a place where most people go to “die” on the weekends: Walsh Hall.

Broderick was never too intrigued by leafy-greens when she was a kid. She recalls having a jade plant when she was younger, but also wonders how it stayed alive as she was not the one who took care of it.

Disinterest turned into a big-time hobby during college when a friend who was interested in plants decided to share his love and give Broderick some greenery of her own last year when she was a freshman. He gave her a snake plant, which is an architectural-looking plant whose name befits its flat, strappy leaves resembling snakes, and a parlor palm, which looks like a mini version of the Hawaiian palm trees all Boston College students would probably prefer to find themselves under instead of umbrellas on these dreary fall days. After her friend came bearing gifts, it was easy for Broderick, being the science-inclined environmental geoscience major she is, to become intrigued by everything “plant.” She wondered how to best take care of them, under what conditions they could flourish, and how they could have a positive impact on the lives of students—as taking care of them is a healthy hobby that cleans the air. The charms of the snake plant and parlor palm got to Broderick, and so began her affair with succulents.

“I started taking care of [the snake plant and parlor palm] and they were doing really well so then other friends had succulents that were dying, I started saying ‘Hey, I’ll take your succulents’ … ‘I might be able to do something about it,’’’ Broderick said.

And so the plants emerged from Broderick’s room and took over the common area of the quad. Whatever she did in terms of fertilizer and watering worked, so she started thinking that growing and taking care of plants was something she could be seriously good at. She took a few trips to Wegmans and now has five big succulents, and a bunch of small succulents, in addition to leftover leaf cuttings she gathered from EcoPledge’s Succulent Sale, which she is trying to propagate.

“I told EcoPledge, look, guys if there’s any leaves or cuttings or anything small that falls off [the plants] I will take them all because I’m trying to regrow them,” she said.

Her succulent scraps are doing well. She grows little succulents for her friends from the parts that would’ve otherwise been thrown or swept away. Broderick loves succulents because of their ability to keep growing from any part of themselves. You can pull off a leaf, and with the right knowledge, grow another plant.

“It’s like a never-ending cycle of succulents!” Broderick exclaimed.

Though she’s a succulent pro now, when she first began working with them she struggled a bit. Succulents are different from other plants because they are desert plants. They do not need much water—Broderick cites over-watering as the biggest killer of the plants, but also recognizes that it’s a major challenge to not over water them. In the beginning, Broderick over-thought every little thing that went into caring for her succulents, but later came to realize that she should mimic the desert environment the plants are used to. By watering in a manner that thoroughly soaks the plants, then allowing their soil to dry completely again she recreates the weather patterns of deserts, which are usually dry then overcome with huge bouts of rain.

Because the plants need a lot of light, and Walsh isn’t particularly geared toward providing that, Broderick took matters into her own hands and bought her very own plant light. It’s LED—which she doesn’t think violates any health and safety regulations—and the best part about it is it turns her quad’s whole common room (a glorified closet) a shade of purple, which surprises passersby. She keeps the light on 12 hours a day, giving her succulents plenty of light and herself plenty of darkness in her bedroom to sleep.

The Chicago native is interested in pursuing the care of different types of plants—even food—but doesn’t know what she is going to do with her plants over Christmas break as she has to fly home. Her dream plant is mint, because it smells so good. But mint seems to be hard to grow inside, so Broderick doesn’t know whether she’ll be able to fulfill her dreams within the confines of Walsh. She and her friends had wanted to grow lavender, but did research and found that it was difficult to do. Their next big project is rosemary, as it deters rats—a big concern for someone living on the second floor of Walsh.

Broderick’s didn’t always have an interest in bringing life to things, and keeping them alive—but rather preferred her plants and animals dead for a million years. Ever since she was a little science-obsessed girl running around in the house of an English major-mom and lawyer-father, she has wanted to be a paleontologist. When she was in the eighth grade, around the time most students are getting their braces off—Broderick began volunteering in the University of Chicago lab cleaning bones and carving out rock samples. She now works in Harvard’s fossil lab, another stepping stone on her way toward fulfilling her paleontology-dreams.

“Grace has been volunteering longer than anyone else,” said Alexander Okamoto, her lab supervisor and friend at UChicago.

The work she does is tedious, yet rewarding for her—kind of like taking care of plants is. Both jobs require dedication, enthusiasm, and a go-getter attitude. When cleaning bones, especially small bones, it’s important to be careful as to not scratch or dent the sample.

“If I got a bone that was this big,” Broderick said while putting her hands together, forming something around the size of a softball “and worked for three hours a day, it might take me like five weeks.”

In addition to spending somewhat mind-numbing, long hours in the lab, Broderick has gone on digs with the UChicago team. These digs have been a unique experience for Broderick in more ways than one. The work is incredibly exciting, but during the digs Broderick gets to try on the other side to her personality. The always polished, fashionable, and made-up sophomore gets down and dirty on digs. When camping out, Broderick can let loose, and not worry about anything but rocking out—she becomes the epitome of a tomboy, embracing nature and wearing uber-stylish cargo pants paired with an Indiana Jones-esque cowboy hat.

“She’s definitely doing amazing work in terms of pursuing her passion,” Okamoto said. “I texted Paul Sereno, our boss, asking for permission to talk about this and his quote about Grace was as follows ‘Grace was an animal in the field.’ I think that adequately sums up Grace’s enthusiasm and determination.”

Whether working with dead things, live things, or bringing life to dead things, Broderick exudes energy and enthusiasm. There are probably a lot of things growing within the walls of Walsh, most of them being unsavory and unhealthy. But because of Broderick, BC can rest assured that at least some things growing in the building don’t fall under the categories of “mold,” “mildew,” or “worse.”

Featured Image by Sam Zhai / Heights Staff

October 30, 2017