The Adventures of Botanist Idaho Brown

Big Plant Hunter

Sarah Totton
Aug 30 · 4 min read
Photo by Mirvuqar Abdulov at Unsplash

It was 1970, and I had it all. I had a desk job. I had trousers. I had a hibachi.

I gave them all up to become a herpetologist. It was moist. It was amphibious. It was one of the most throat-swelling times of my life.

Then I discovered I was allergic to slime. Frogs. Salamanders. Even newts. Hip waders too. I gave them all up to become a botanist.

Hello, action. Hello, adventure. Hello, shorts. Within weeks I was hailed as the foremost expert on the charismatic megaflora of the world. People from every corner of the Earth came to me, begging for my help. And I helped them.

Picture it: Wales. 1973. I’d been called in to deal with some weapons-grade daffodils. Those treacherous daffodils were killing all the leeks. The national vegetable of Wales was in jeopardy and something had to be done. It was mayhem. It was apocalyptic. I was the only one who could save Wales.

I can still see those daffodils — those minions of Wordsworth — teeming in the fields, shrieking with glee, giving me the stem. Daring me to stop them. So I did. I drove my bulletproof riding lawnmower right through those daffodils.

I made mulch that day. Lots of it.

The Welsh were speechless. They cheered. They roared. They poured melted Caerphilly cheese (the cheese of Wales) over me. They gave me a bag of solid gold leeks as thanks. The Prime Minister gave me a medal. That was when I made the cover of Leaves Magazine, wearing my cherry-red velvet matador shorts, draped over a giant leek with a dead daffodil clenched in my teeth.

And that was just the beginning.

Picture it: California. 1986. A giant redwood tree was terrorizing the tourists. People were afraid to walk in the woods. No one would buy any hand-carved redwood souvenirs from the gas stations. The state’s economy was on the brink of collapse. There are Great White Hunters out there who’ll tell you that tigers are the most dangerous creatures in the world. Bullshit. How big’s a tiger? Twelve feet long? Well, that California redwood was over three hundred feet long. A tiger has claws? Big deal. A redwood’s got cones. He’s got… lifeless cones…black cones…like a doll’s cones. And those black cones roll over white when he bites ya. Eleven hundred men went into that forest, and I’m the only one who came out. The redwood took the rest.

I went toe to root with that tree that day, and he was angry. Raging. Nethers atremble. Sweating like a minotaur. If I hadn’t had my AK-47 with me, I don’t mind saying, I wouldn’t be here today. But I slaughtered that redwood. Then I skinned it. (I’ve still got the bark. I made it into a belt.) The forest rangers said they’d never seen anything like it. They’re still cleaning up the sawdust.

I made the cover of Chlorophyll wearing my best Speedo and that same belt, spooning a Bonsai tree with a toothpick between my teeth. The man who interviewed me about that story won a Pulitzer, but he was never the same. Told me he used to dream about that redwood and wake up screaming. A story like that — it gets into your organs. And your utensils. He could never use chopsticks again.

Couple years later, a silver birch toppled over and crushed my Subaru Outback. Trees never forget. You think elephants have long memories, that’s nothing compared to a tree.

Then at the turn of the millennium, people started saying it was time I retired, that I should let some of the young buck botanists get a piece of the glory. But I wasn’t ready to hang up my nunchucks just yet.

Picture it: The Amazon rainforest. 2003. I was captured by a hitherto undiscovered tribe of flesh-eating ferns. Hostile? Oh yes. They were “next level” as my grand-nephew would say. There they stood in a circle, surrounding me with their rotating fronds. They were all wearing thongs. Good thing I had a flamethrower with me. A controlled burn. That’s what it was. I burned away one thousand acres of Amazon rainforest. To save the human species.

You don’t discover a new species every day. The only thing left of those ferns was ashes, but the geneticists used DNA analysis to identify them. I named that new species the Idaho Brown Monterey Jack fern — because that’s my favorite cheese.

I made the cover of PlayPlant Magazine for that story, munching on a fiddlehead, naked but for a strategically placed blueberry.

Oh yes. In my career I’ve seen things that would make men weep and women wonder and small dogs run around in little circles like they do when they get excited.

Is it lonely being an intrepid botanist? Well, I’ve never lacked for companionship.

For two years, I had an affair with some turf grass. It didn’t last. We wanted different things.

Did I have any relationships with people? To be honest, I don’t have much time for mammals. They’re so non-diverse.

But I don’t have any regrets about my choices in life. I know that my place as the Great White Botanist of the 20th and 21st centuries is secure.

I do miss my hibachi, though.

The Junction

The Junction

The Junction is a digital crossroads devoted to stories, culture, and ideas. Our interests are legion.

Sarah Totton

Written by

Sarah Totton writes comedy and snorgles small mammals. She once gave a reading on a flatbed truck at a garden center to an audience of three ferns.

The Junction

The Junction is a digital crossroads devoted to stories, culture, and ideas. Our interests are legion.