Admire the Orchid - Be the Cactus


March is a time when spring is on the way, NCAA basketball is on TV, and St. Patrick’s Day is the perfect excuse to wear green socks and drink oddly-colored beer. The metaphors for spring are abundant, which are great for motivation, and the one military spouses hear most is “Bloom where you are planted.”  I love, and agree with, this figurative advice, but recently I began to consider the irony in this statement and realized it begs a deeper look into the biology of the blooming plant. I don’t claim to be even moderately well-versed in botany but this does highlight a question. Plants survive and thrive because they form a root structure to absorb nutrients, water, and to anchor the plant for protection. Yet, the military spouse must be ready to pick up and move to a new environment at a moment’s notice. So, how does a displaced plant bloom in unfamiliar and sometimes difficult surroundings? Observations of the most adaptable species show us that while a plant may suffer in the short term when their conditions change, the strongest plants have a remarkable ability to adapt over time, to develop new root systems and absorb the nourishment they need to continue to bloom.

Only the strong survive…

What if we were like a plant that could not adapt to its environment?  We would struggle and eventually whither when we pulled up our roots from the soil we first inhabited. Adaptable spouses share a couple of characteristics. First, they resolve to thrive in the most hostile environments.  Consider the cactus. It may not be the plant you would give for Valentine’s Day, but it is a plant that will survive in the harshest surroundings. Contrast this to the orchid, which is beautiful but temperamental. The environment has to be almost perfect to keep the blooms from falling off. Second, practice makes perfect, and when military spouses learn to evolve, they learn to morph their strategy for care and feeding to fit the available resources in new, unfamiliar territory.  I would rather be the plant that can adapt, that can take root in the rockiest climate, that can find a way to care and feed in the coarsest of surroundings, because I know my roots are only one set of orders away from being transplanted in new soil.

New soil means new opportunities…

My family is from the South.  In true Southern fashion, I twirled the baton for years, listened to many a country music album, and was occasionally greeted with NASCAR on the TV on Sunday afternoon. Yet, my mother shocked everyone at the mother’s tea before my 1991 Debutante ball, in the small town where our family is from, when she introduced herself by her own first name instead of Mrs. “insert husband’s full name here.” Like I said, Southern. While this may seem like an absurd example to some, this was a real break from protocol for that particular event. We had moved to a larger metro area some years before and while my mother appreciated the benefits of this small, close-knit community, she was also willing to be the outlier in a group of ladies who rarely deviated from tradition. Our new city did not have the comfortable feel of our home town, but it had positive attributes as well. What I learned from that was first, how to shock a group of junior league ladies, and second, just how dramatically a new atmosphere can adjust your perception of the world. To be a military spouse is no different – adapting to a new climate just makes us better at transplanting to the rockiest soil quickly and efficiently, where we can bloom anew.

So, the next time someone tells you to bloom where you are planted, consider it a loving piece of advice, and remember, some of the most beautiful plants grow in the most unlikely places.

Please send any stories of “transplanting,” or any other story about deployment or resilience to

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