Apr 9, 2021 | LIFE | By Brigitte Arcoite | Photo by Bibi Powers & Photos courtesy of Brigitte Arcoite
All throughout winter break, my plants were privileged to be in the company of a Coloradan friend and her many plants. Although they were healthier than ever, when they returned to my room during enhanced social distancing, my plants appeared lonelier than I was.
Enter Gerald, my now two-month old ficus ginseng tree.
If you can picture one of those shrieking mandrake roots from Harry Potter but without all of that sound, then you have an almost accurate visual of a ginseng tree.
Ginsengs are native to the tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia — quite the opposite of the current climate of my own tree. Despite my limited knowledge of plant care and the humidity that fails to be found anywhere within the state of Colorado, I was set on bringing this tropical beauty home with me.
The consensus among plant experts of both the local and online variety is that ginsengs are some of the easiest plants to care for because of their rapid growth and limited needs. Upon purchase, I was provided with the critical list of care instructions in watering, fertilizing, and lighting for my new plant.
Unfortunately for poor Gerald, any attention to the -11 degrees Fahrenheit temperature that evening was denied. For the next few days, with little attention paid to my new plant, I enjoyed the cold spell while the ginseng tree silently suffered.
When I finally noticed what should have been obvious signs of a frost-affected plant — curled, yellow, and drooping leaves in a room that had dropped nearly 20 degrees Fahrenheit overnight — most of the damage was already done. Although Gerald tried desperately to hold onto his leaves, after two weeks, only one sprout remained.
As I attempted to restore vitality to the plant, I felt ashamed of having ruined its beauty, almost certain it was dead.
Fortunately for poor me, ginseng trees, and plants in general, are not so easy to kill.
Though it is nearly impossible to believe that a plant could lose 99% of its energy-making material and return to its original point of growth in only two months, Gerald and many other plants are built with such resiliency. Imagine having nearly all of your cells die and then recover in only two months; it is quite literally impossible.
When I first realized the extent of frost damage that the leaves had suffered, I was ready to give up and toss the plant in the compost bin. It seemed to me that it would be much easier to get rid of it than to stare at its bare branches all day. In reality, it was much easier to let the plant follow its own ecological process by natural design than to wonder what I could do to control the situation. It is time we acknowledge that there are far more engineering, intuitive, and creative advances in the plant kingdom than we give credit for.
It is so easy to get trapped in this growth mindset in which we (and everything we do, own, or think) has to be constantly moving forward. In the case of Gerald, I was ready to give up faith for that very reason. After all, is that not what plants are supposed to do? Grow?
Even life was never designed to be perfect. We are all constantly evolving, always trying to find the next great adaptation. The one thing that is certain is that growth is never achieved alone. Even if you never intend to own plants, even if you are not so lonely, I can guarantee you that plants will teach you far more than you can ever hope to give to them.