la vita inizia con i pianti (life begins with plants)

Well, okay, life begins with single-celled organisms. But in the sense that our current existence is fully hinged on plants, la vita inizia con i pianti! Whether you’re vegetarian or carnivore, vegan or pescatarian, you are nourished by plants – you’re either eating them, or what you eat is eating them. Or both.

Plants are also culturally important – think the redwoods of California, or sugarcane’s fraught history in the Americas, or taro in Hawaiian culture. Think of the decades-long cultivations of Bonsai trees or fig trees in the front yards of Italians. Plants, although far from passive, are silent sentinels carrying nourishment, meaning, and spirit across generations of human beings.

Earlier today, I visited Phipps, one of my all-time favorite places to be in the world. Each time I’m there I’m reminded of the simple tranquility plants can bring us in all their myriad forms and colors and shapes and biologies. I’m also reminded of the way we’ve strayed from a balanced relationship with not only plants but all other living species besides ourselves; the hubris we as humans, especially those societies with a history of colonization, carry with us is astounding and has cost many species their existences – and for what? For a human-led world built to fail? That is, sometimes, what it looks like.

I don’t want to paint too dark a picture of things here, because I do believe and want to believe that there is hope for our planet’s ecosystems beyond us. Plus, I think we all know what colonizers did to the Hawai’ian islands. So I’ll skip most of that discussion here while still including important points from Phipps’ newest installation, Tropical Forest Hawai’i. The positive and beautiful side here is how native Hawai’ians and Polynesian seafarers lived as part of their land. The Phipps Tropical Forest Hawai’i room does a lovely job of showcasing that.

A quick synopsis of what I think are the coolest things to learn about in this exhibit:

Fish Ponds

So, as you can read above, fish ponds using sluice gates to let small fish in and fatten them up for eating is a feat found nowhere else in the world but the Hawai’ian islands. What a brilliant way to support a human population without disrupting a nonhuman ecosystem. Plus, I love fish and this made my mouth water a little.

Canoe Plants

If you were taking a long journey and didn’t know where you’d end up or if you’d ever see home again, what would you bring with you? Probably your cell phone, because that’s what life is like now. But imagine a post-apocalyptic world – or, a pre-5G world – where there are no working cellphones. Now what? Maybe you’d bring some energy drinks and canned food, but the infamous Polynesian seafarers brought plants.

There was quite a lot more to see and read about, but I think your best bet is to just head to Phipps and check it out yourself!

And now here’s a part I find particularly upsetting. Did you know pineapples aren’t native to the Hawai’ian islands? I find this upsetting because of how embedded visions of the pineapple are with popular conceptions of Hawai’ian culture. This would be like the history of US land centering on just white folks from Europe…oh, wait.

But anyway…

There was a lot more to enjoy at Phipps. It seemed like they’d gotten quite a few new floral marvels since last time I’d been there, so let me share some of my favorite photos of the day.

This was definitely a new guy – eucalyptus “Ghost Rider.” How cool is that common name? That’s probably one of the most badass plant nicknames I’ve ever heard.

Then, there’s this, which has thrown me for a loop. I got all excited seeing this in the little garden section thinking it was celery, because it looks just like my gorgeous celery plant at home. But no, folks. This is Italian flat-leaved parsley! I am dazed and confused and will be doing more research. If you don’t believe me, here’s a picture as big as I can get it where you can see the placard:

I never thought “Italian flat leaf parsley” would be some of the most distressing words I’d ever read, but here we are. And yes, I should have gotten a clearer photo of the sign.

Look at that little leaf, growing among the thick aerial roots of a Swiss Cheese Plant! I wonder what it is, and how old it is, and how it got there? It seemed to be a separate plant, as there was a stem growing from the ground. It almost looks like pothos but I’m not sure. Ah, the incredible resiliency of flora.

Although it makes total sense, it never struck me that an orchid could be grown at any angle. But as this is Phipps’ orchid and tropical Bonsai show, I should expect nothing less! Amazing.

As my Phipps trip ended I couldn’t help myself but stop at the gift shop and see if they had any neanthe bella, or parlor, palms. As you may know I already had one at home, lovingly named Adora, but she hasn’t been doing so well. Although she’s much better and the spider mites have cleared up she just still seemed to need some help. And so I bought her some friends, whose health I’m hoping will help bolster hers.

What I bought today was a 6-inch parlor palm. I then separated it into four separate plantlets, three of which are surrounding Adora (you can see her, still a little brown and wobbly, at the front of the pot) and one of which is in its own recycled-Jiggy-puzzle-container pot. And, fun fact: the little floral pedestal that pot stands on is a recycled Jiggy container top that I put some of the extra decorative contact paper from my fireplace on.

Today was Repot & Rescue Day

This past week I’ve gotten two – technically three, more on that if you read on – new houseplants. One is the parlor palm previously mentioned, and the other is a “peacock” calathea.

The new calathea with my “lemon lime” prayer plant. This is their temporary home while I await new furniture and a new season.

Now this lil’ sweetie came with a surprise!

There was an extra little plant baby inside! The shop owner was kind enough to give me a little mini pot to grow the button fern in, but I figured since it’s happy to grow alongside this calathea I’d rather not disturb their relationship. So I had to repot very carefully:

Normally I’d do a lot more root work than this. I like to get the roots nice and loosened from any clod-up dirt. I did loosen the bottom more than the top, as evidenced by the dirt all over the place.

Happy in their new home!

The fantastic news is that the button fern is also supposed to be nontoxic for cats, so it has found a happy, healthy home here with me. I hope.

Sidenote: look at that beautiful root structure!

I also planted some wheatgrass seeds today, but that won’t be all that interesting until the seeds sprout. What is interesting is the rescue I had to perform today.

A few weeks ago I got watermelon peperomia and another calathea, which I planted together and kept in my bathroom – which was a mistake. The plants didn’t have enough space to air out and the calathea got a white, powdery mildew which not only brough gnats but smelled gross up close. I treated it with neem oil up until I had time for repotting, which was today.

I separated the plants, cut off infected tissue, added fertilizer to the soil in both the pot meant for the peperomia and the pot meant for the calathea, repotted the peperomia in the original container but more centrally, and put the calathea in the vase that came with my Valentine’s roses.

In Other Plant News

My celery was very melodramatic this morning. Here’s a timelapse from less than an hour. Keep in mind I watered this lady like a few days ago. She’s a growing girl though; she needs lots of support.

Last but not least, I actually *might* have managed to save my withering prayer plant! They can die back in the winter, and this one died back fast all of a sudden. But, now there’s new growth! I did notice a few tiny spots of what may have been powdery mildew during plant care today, but I gently wiped them off (they came off with no trouble) and used some neem oil. I’ll keep my eyes peeled.

Let me leave you with this after my long day of solo plant time. Sometimes you plan and plan and the universe just laughs at you. Friends bail, you get an infected cut on your thumb. Dirt falls outside the lines, and you have to vacuum. That’s life. I’m anxious and I like to have control but I’m learning to with the flow on some things, because otherwise we just won’t survive the stress. Go with the flow a lil’ bit today, folks.

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