the cut opinion pages

Just Buy a Fake Plant

Photo: svarshik/Getty Images/EyeEm

It’s hard not to want a plant. They bring life to your apartment, and they look so pretty. They suggest the idea that they’re filtering the dirty air around them even though in fact they are not. They’re something to care for and love and think about and put on your Instagram Story like, “plant update!,” as if anyone cares about your plant update. They are your friend.

Until you kill them. Then they’re just a source of shame and pain that you have to figure out how to throw away.

The cycle of buying and loving and killing a plant is something I know very well. These are the plants I’ve killed: two ficuses, a Majesty Palm, a small Bird of Paradise. I had a little plant who was so resilient that despite myself I was able to maintain him for years. I think he was a golden pothos, and I loved him. He was sweet and green and he leaned toward the sun. One day I noticed that he seemed to have grown too big for his pot, so I tried to give him a bigger, prettier pot, and although it was well-intentioned this action killed him almost immediately. I miss him.

I am not a “plant person,” obviously. It is maybe also correct to say the apartment I attempted to keep these plants in was not a particularly good “plant apartment,” as the living room had no windows save for a skylight. Maybe the corners of that room were not the best “plant corners,” okay, fine. But I did attempt water the plants the correct amount, and I did gaze at them lovingly, and I did gently touch their little leaves. It just wasn’t enough. I don’t have the special plant-maintainer’s spark. Or a good amount of light. Or maybe I wasn’t actually watering them the correct amount, I’m not sure.

But does this mean I shouldn’t get to enjoy the leafy green-ness of a leafy green plant in my living space? I hardly think so. We each get one life to live and we should be able to enjoy all of its delights, including in-home plants. Luckily there is a solution. I think you know what it is, and yes, it is: dedicating yourself to learning how to take care of a plant. Just kidding it is: fake plants.

I feel that in the air there is an ambient distaste for fake plants. Because of a cultural obsession with things that are “natural,” perhaps. Or maybe it is something about “late capitalism.” Maybe they remind you of your grandmother or aunt in a negative way that you should unpack, as is likely a symptom of both your ageism and sexism. Maybe the idea of having a big plastic thing around taking up space in your living room seems odd, as if our living spaces typically comprise only things that are either useful or alive [eye roll]. Give me a break. Get over it.

Does a fake plant look passably like a real plant? Almost never, no. Maybe out of the corner of a newcomer’s eye, catching just the idea of leaves and a trunk — maybe in this scenario one would assume that the thing in the corner is a real plant. But if looked at directly a fake plant does not exactly come across as a real plant. That’s fine. You’re not a liar and you’re not attempting to be a liar. It’s a fake plant, and you love it.

I currently have a large fake plant that I purchased from Amazon. It is this one. It’s a fake ficus, and it is six feet tall. After moving the giant fake plant into my new apartment, a young member of the moving team I’d hired commented that his grandmother has a lot of (real) plants, and that she speaks to them and she says they speak back to her. Later he told me he was 22 years old and asked, “how old are you?” The answer was, oh my God … so much older. Anyway this very young man said he “liked” the fake ficus in a way where you could tell that, in fact, he thought it was weird and, in fact, he did not like it. That’s fine. You’ll get some of this when you have your own fake ficus, I’m sure. But it’s not for him to like. It’s mine. And I do like it — very much!

Fake plants are decorative. They remind you of outside. They suggest a kitschy sort of fun while not being over-the-top in their oddness. Best of all, you don’t have to water them, they can exist in dark corners, and they’ll never die. You’ll only have to say good-bye to your friend the fake plant when it is you who is dying. Good-bye, my friend, and thank you for standing tall or hanging politely or just sitting or whatever it is the plant in whose imagine you were made does. Then the plant keeps on “living.” And isn’t that nice?

Just Buy a Fake Plant