Plant Obsessives Unite!

Plant lovers are curious creatures. Broadly speaking, we can be divided into two groups – the generalists and the obsessives. The generalists are the lovers of all the many types, colours, textures and forms of plants. They’re usually so overwhelmed by the diversity, beauty and wonder of the plant world that they could never commit to growing just one genus. Then there are the obsessives; those who focus their attention (and sometimes lives) on a single genus or plant family. They’re the aroid aficionados, cactus collectors and fern fanatics.

I am, of course, a generalist. I love everything green. I used to be fussier in my early days of horticulture. Nandina domestica ‘Nana’ was the McDonald’s plant (ugh, gross) and Phormium tenax was the petrol station plant (sooo boring!). I was into the special, rare things, probably because I thought it made me look like I knew my shit.

Nowadays I know I don’t know my shit, and I’m fine with it. Because the more I’ve learned about plants, the more I love all of them.” Like us, they have their own origin stories, adaptations, design brilliance, and ways of being.

Nandina domestica didn’t evolve in the weed-matted red-scoria barrenness of suburban fast food chain carparks.

It’s been in existence for thousands of years longer than cardboard-flavoured nutritionally deficient food I used to associate it with. In fact, it originated in Asia and represents new year in China – bunches of it’s red berries are hung in houses and temples across the country. It’s worthy of as much love and attention as the most Instagrammed monstera, if you ask me (by the way, there are 430 000 images on Instagram tagged #monstera, and 2267 images tagged #nandinadomestica).

So, yes, I’m a non-discriminatory lover of all plants. But what about the obsessives? I love them. I love the commitment – It takes a lot of time, money and drive to be a plant collector – and I love the diversity. Plant obsessives have the best/weirdest plants. Plant nurseries are wonderful places, but the diversity of plants is per square meter of nursery is minuscule compared to a square meter of a plant collector’s backyard.

If you want weird plants, talk to a plant collector. They have an underground network of fellow obsessives who might specialise in a different species or genus, or know where to source that impossible-to-find begonia/orchid/hoya.

Many of these underground plant networks meet regularly, publish journals, and have plant sales. In fact, they’re not so underground. They’re the plant societies, and are the best place to find good information about plants.

I’ve been digging around online and have found that there’s nearly one society for every genus. Are you keen on haworthias? What about bamboo? Bromeliads and hoyas and iris, oh my! Then there’s cactus, carnivorous plants, begonias, gesneriads, Australian native plants, British wildflowers and more.

Plant societies are found at the quieter end of the Internet. You’ll find no clickbait, no ads, no frothy ‘top ten ways to say nothing’ stories.”

They may not appear on the first few pages of Google but they’re definitely worth hunting down, joining and supporting. Because the people in the plant societies are the people who really know and love plants. If you’re verging on the plant obsessive, they’re the ones who’ll help tip you over the edge, console you after you’ve fallen, and feed your habit into the future.

My problem is I just can’t decide which one to join. Maybe I’ll start my own. It’ll be called the Carpark Plant Appreciation Society. We’ll meet on the first Thursday of every month in the West Gosford Macdonalds Carpark. Coming?

Images accompanying this post are of Lester Meyer’s incredible Orana Cactus World in Gilgandra. He’s definitely in the ‘Plant Obsessives’ camp. Read more about him and his cactus collection here.