Plants With Personality

a potted Christmas cactus
(Image credit: Rosmarie Wirz / Getty Images)

Who can resist a little anthropomorphism? It seems to be human nature to assign our mannerisms to inanimate objects. That is probably why ships are deemed to be "her," and our cars act out in very human ways at the wrong time. For us plant people, this trait is assigned to our beloved flora. It also probably explains why we sing and talk to our houseplants, just as we do to our pets. Adoration requires categorization in many instances, and for this reason, our plants have personalities.

Understanding Plants

If I'm being honest, I will say I have never considered my plant's personalities. Now that the question has been raised, I can see I have some very "diva" type plants and some that are chill. Since each plant has its own specific needs and responses to various stimuli, they are very like people. Understanding plants starts with knowing what they need. Studying plants’ responses to the care they are given, and the site they are in, are crucial to knowing what the plant requires to flourish. Such studies are similar to how we interact with people, noting responses to our statements and actions to minimize difficulties.

For instance, my Christmas cactus. I am sure it is a female. She is very proper and timely. She never fails to know it is nearing the holidays and provides me with a dazzling flower display. She is quite stoic regarding her care, and really only wants water regularly. She is not a diva, but rather a stately, elderly lady of a time gone by. If she was a human, I could see her dressed in the bustle and corset of yesteryear. She would have old world manners and grace. She would never swear, as that is not ladylike.

Then we have my Norfolk pine. This is a serious "dude." He is not fussy about his care either, but hates change, such as moving him. I do move him for the holidays and decorate his arching stems. He responds by dropping some prickly foliage in protest. He never drops much, just enough to get his point across. If he were human, he might be a bit argumentative, belaboring his opinions in a rather annoying fashion. He would wear cowboy boots and drive a truck. He would not share my politics, which would be a bone of contention. He would mow the lawn without being asked, however.

In the diva category we have my orange tree and dwarf pomegranate. These ladies need fertilizer regularly. They will drop leaves when the air is too chill, or they are in a southern window. They are blowsy, charming, southern belles of the Gone with the Wind era. The orange has sweetly scented flowers, while the pomegranate has flamboyant fuchsia flowers that dangle from her branches.

Empathizing with Cacti

One would think I would personalize my cacti in some harsh manner, but perhaps because they are my favorite group of plants, I paint them with a gentle paintbrush. These uncomplaining plants never fail me. No matter if I forget to water and feed them, they carry on with steady grace. They would be the type of people who tell the truth no matter the consequences. They would grit their teeth and get on with it. They remind me of our pioneer forebears, whose dreams were only achieved through hardship, but persevered.

I have many in-home herbs and things like lettuce. I wouldn't personalize these any more than you would anything you're planning on eating. I pinch off their leaves regularly and eat them with gusto. Perhaps it is my personality that should be examined by my seeming disregard for these plants’ feelings. I do not coo to them, nor do I baby them. They are here as food, and I treat them as such. When their lives are over, I do not mourn… I simply compost.

This has been an interesting exercise personalizing my plants. I am going to give it more thought and consideration now that the subject has been broached. I'm still going to rip off basil leaves for my pasta and hack off my lettuce to make it come again. I'm not a monster, but if these plants have feelings, I pity them.

Bonnie Grant