The husband gets some outdoor gardening catalogs, which is a long story.
The two we've gotten so far (Gurney's and Burgess) each have a single page devoted to house plants, which in Gurney's case seems to mean mostly citrus and bananas. The Burgess catalog, though, is a little more experimental, and includes (in addition to the citrus and bananas) a few weirder things, like a yellow Schlumbergera, a Stapelia, and a Billbergia. And then we have this:
There are many, many things wrong with this ad, but I suppose one has to begin the critique with the observation that the plant in the illustration is not a prayer plant. I see a vague resemblance to Aphelandra squarrosa, or perhaps tobacco. I might even believe Aglaonema. But there's nothing called "prayer plant" that looks anything like this picture.
Unlike the descriptions of the Schlumbergera, Stapelia, and Billbergia, there's no botanical name included in the description, but the most likely plant being offered, if they're calling it a "prayer plant," would be a Maranta leuconeura: there are several varieties of those, and it's a little obnoxious that they don't tell you which one you're getting, but that's probably at least the species. It's not the only possibility, though: other plants in the Marantaceae also raise and lower their leaves, and a couple Calatheas were also called "prayer plants" in the davesgarden.com database. (Also, the sensitive plant, Mimosa pudica, folds up its leaves at night and is therefore a remote possibility, though I've never seen it called a prayer plant.)
"Large, variegated, and several lovely shades of green" is about as useless of a description as I could imagine:
- That the greens are "lovely" tells you exactly jack and shit.
- "Large" isn't quantified, though if you were going by the illustration, I suppose you'd deduce that the leaves are about the size of a child's head, which is what, like, ten inches (25 cm) long? Give or take?
- "Variegated" means at least two colors, so "variegated" plus "several shades of green" is redundant and uninformative.
The word "mystifying," in this context, gives me a sharp, stabbing pain behind my left eye. Or at least it did until I read the dictionary.reference.com definition of "mystify," which is:
1. to perplex (a person) by playing upon the person's credulity; bewilder purposely. 2. to involve in mystery or obscurity.These are, of course, exactly the things being done by the catalog.
(It's not a mystery, by the way. We know what's going on. As mentioned in the profile for Maranta leuconeura, the raising and lowering of the leaves are accomplished by the plant pumping water into, then out of, specialized structures at the base of the petioles, in response to changes in the amount or color of the light. I mean, there's no shame in being mystified when you first hear about it, but if you let it stop there. . . .)
"In the solitude of evening" is also problematic, if you try to figure out what it means. The plant will only raise its leaves if there are no people nearby? Evenings are solitary? I suppose that's technically true, in the sense that you never have more than one evening happening simultaneously -- there are no gangs of evenings roaming the streets of Los Angeles or anything -- but "solitude" is meaningless in this context. Which I could forgive if it were evocative or poetic, but it's the sort of cliche that belongs in angsty 14-year-olds' poetry and Nine Inch Nails lyrics (But I repeat myself!), not in gardening catalogs.
"Thrives anywhere" is of course not true for any plant, which sort of calls into question "you'll receive strong, well-established plants" as well.
And then there's the weirdness of the little girl praying to the plant. I mean, I know that it's not supposed to be the girl praying to the plant. It's supposed to be a rebus. Prayer + plant = Prayer plant. But still. It's a little girl praying to a plant.
All of which, taken together, raises the question: why? It's not like it's hard to get a picture of a plant, in these days of digital photography. I could see it, maybe, if this were a case where the original illustration's just getting copied over from year to year, but you would think that at some point, someone would have pointed out that this isn't a very accurate picture of the product, and that better illustrations would be easily and cheaply available. Like, maybe a customer might have said something about expecting a plant with child-head-sized leaves and not getting one. It just seems dumb, to misrepresent your product like this. Hell, it's not even an attractive picture of the plant in question. It'd be understandable (if not forgivable) if it were an unrealistic illustration that made the plant look better than it is. But, y'know, this is a Maranta:
Tell me that isn't a better-looking plant than Burgess' green-brown Aphelandra-tobacco thing.
This picture makes me even more wary of ordering anything from Burgess than I would have been anyway. Sure, the blue spruce looks blue (practically cobalt, actually -- subtlety, thy name is not Burgess Seed and Plant Co.), but how do I know what color it really is, if they're going to pull crap like this with the prayer plant?
And then I saw their "3-in-1 angel trumpet," which looked . . . troubling, in a way I couldn't quite pin down. All I could tell was, some amateurish photo manipulation had happened, but it wasn't clear exactly what. So I took pictures of the catalog, uploaded one to the computer to use for this blog post, and was cropping and adjusting the color and all that when I figured out how I knew it was photoshopped.
Not only is it really unrealistic that a plant like this could produce three different colors of blooms, evenly distributed, all over the plant (it's surely got to be grafted, right? So there's a white branch, and a yellow branch, and a peach branch, but not white, yellow, and peach flowers arising from any one particular branch. Either that or the flowers change color with age, which is probably a much less dramatic color change than peach to yellow to white), and not only are the flowers never overlapped by leaves, yet often obscured by one another, but many of the flowers are exact copies of one other.
Deception is bad enough, but this is incredibly lazy deception.
So, in conclusion: not if you were the last plant-related business on earth, Burgess. Not if you were the last plant-related business on earth.