The University of Iowa
Most trees are perfect. All flower. Perfect trees are also known as hermaphroditic trees. Their flowers have functioning male and female parts: the same flower has stamens that produce pollen and a pistil attached to an ovary. Perfect trees are also known as cosexual trees. The flowers may produce functional pollen and pistils at the same time, or they may stagger maturity.
Some trees change gender over time. One season only the pistils will reach maturity, another only the stamens. In many cases, the flower looks exactly the same; sexual function isn’t encoded in aesthetics. Flower shape, color, size, and smell are highly variable depending on environmental conditions. Cones are considered flowers. Catkins are considered flowers.
Laura bounces her Volvo into the gas station and stops under its awning. She steps out and starts the gas, then leans into the open window and squints at me. “Would you mind washing the windshield while I pee?”
There are two women our age in the adjacent slot, cute, talking and laughing. They glance at me absentmindedly as I walk around the car for the squeegee. I assume they notice my oversized tank top that says “LESBIAN GAY BISEXUAL TRANSGENDER PRIDE” in big block letters. I imagine they’re eligible and interested and force myself not to look away too quickly. It’s the first time I’ve worn the shirt in public, any shirt so self-identifying in spite of its vagueness.
I bend over the cleaning solution and feel like someone I’ve never felt like before. Better start with the passenger side first—I need time to summon the confidence to give them my ass.
Very few trees (ten to fifteen percent) are dioecious. These trees have only one gender over the course of their lifespan. Gender expression is variable within species, though some do exhibit trends.
The magnolia, for example, is mostly perfect. The dogwood, and the apple, and the peach and plum too. The elm.
The only sexual fact a layperson can know for certain when looking at a perfect tree is that when there are nuts or berries present, the tree has functioning female organs. These only grow when an egg has been fertilized, and very few self-pollinate.
I smile at the two twenty-somethings, trying not to laugh at the idea of being in a parody fantasy as I scrub down the windshield with my lady muscles. I’m also trying to understand a growing sense of entitlement and glee. I’ve never had so much fun feeling like a cliche.
I cross in front of the car to refresh my squeegee before starting on the driver’s side, the ass side. After a quick dunk in the graying water and a glance across the column to see if they’re watching, I turn around and lean into my work. In general I don’t look like a lesbian, which I guess just means I don’t look like a dyke, which I guess just means I don’t look like a man. But in this shirt I’m not a straight imposter or a queer ghost. It turns out I don’t give a damn if the women are assessing me sexually or culturally, because either one is better than a false presumption.
With its lack of eye contact the ass side turns out to be the less awkward of the two. I turn back toward the other car and drop the squeegee into its grimy plastic slot three feet from my audience, as though I were taking a bow.
When Laura comes back I don’t quite know how to tell her what happened, because nothing happened. I only know that leaning over a windshield made me feel like I was blossoming.
Acacias are perfect. The amur maple, striped maple, red maple, sugar maple. Buckeyes. Manzanitas. Chokecherries, pawpaw, woolybucket, buttonbush, eastern redbud, silverbell are perfect.
Catalpas, hawthorns, camphor laurel, Kentucky yellowwood, pepper bush, oleaster, eucalyptus.
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