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December 5th, 2009, 06:48 PM
I can't remember where I read this-- back in 2002 I had a subscription to Asimov's Science Fiction, but I can't find if any of those issues were the source for this story; I've also had a number of very old anthologies in the past, which may have included it:

A man (who tells the story in first person) visits an alien planet to study an intelligent life form there; the "people" there seem physically like humans, except that only the young and adolescents are strong and healthy. This is because every so many years there's a great flood, and as a rite of passage into adulthood, the young people must climb up onto trees and hang by their arms above the water (for days or weeks at a time). Consequently, their arms stretch and they're physically weakened for the rest of their lives. One of these people that the narrator befriends discovers that the true adulthood of his species is being stunted by their attempt to avoid the flood waters-- the true second life stage begins when he remains on the ground during the flood, grows literal roots into the soil, and ultimately develops into a form of shrubbery. The narrator recognizes this is the proper circle of life for these people, but he's still heartbroken, and takes his "friend," now a bush, back to his home and plants it in his greenhouse-- even though he isn't sure the plant he took even evolved from his friend or not.

I've been wondering sporadically about this for years-- help would be appreciated! Thanks!