Faking It

So what if my family tree has some plastic branches?

Photo by: Linny Morris

Ever owned a ficus plant? They’re famous for dropping leaves in protest if you so much as move them an inch. God forbid you have the audacity to take one from the foyer to the living room—a  ficus will pitch a little green fit, haughtily disrobing until it’s nearly bald. “Fine,” it seems to be saying, in that passive-aggressive tone found in the pot-bound.

For five years, I had been picking up after the ficus on my la-nai, sweeping up the dead leaves, trying not to give the plant any funny looks, lest it get offended and unload additional foliage. Then one day I encountered a fake ficus in a store. Robust, about five and a half feet tall, it had luxuriant green leaves that I knew I wouldn’t find strewn about like dirty socks.

I will never have to water it, I thought to myself. I will never have to pick up after it.

So the fake ficus came home with me, and the real one got the boot. There must be 50 ways to leave your houseplants.

Illustration by: Jing Jing Tsong

“It has no soul,” my husband complained, eyeing our new companion. 

“Yes, but is it decorative?” I asked him. “I’m looking for decorative. Any level up from an eyesore.” He grudgingly lived with it, and now doesn’t seem to notice it at all.

It’s such a good replica ficus, in fact, that it occasionally drops its leaves, a level of verisimilitude for which one has to admire the manufacturer.

I was more worried about breaking the news to my mother. My mother, who had a plant nursery business as a teenager. My mother, a card-carrying member of the Master Gardener state-run horticultural program for advanced green thumbs.

My mother takes floral-arranging classes for fun. She can’t pass a tree without determining its species, scouts out botanical gardens wherever she travels and, last summer, redid my brother’s garden because tending to just hers wasn’t satisfying enough. “She’s like a giant gray squirrel,” Jon joked. “I look out the window and suddenly she pops up in the garden.”

My mom has an affinity for and a grace with the natural world that I’ve never seen an inkling of in my own personality. When she’s not growing 50 violets for some baby shower or working a booth at the Lilac Festival, she’s counting white-tailed deer and feeding the birds. Last winter, she raised earthworms in a special bin. In her kitchen. (Hey, some people have dogs.) She carefully fed them shavings of carrot and pampered them with damp newspaper, and when summer came, released them into her garden to enrich the soil.

On the other end of the spectrum, I can’t even keep our home’s geckos alive. I leave tiny dishes of water out for them, try not to step on them accidentally and, still, I find their tiny, desiccated bodies belly up in my closet. This doesn’t bode well for my future offspring.

Would I be breaking my mom’s heart by owning a plastic plant? I put off telling her for months, but knew the jig would be up soon. She’d already booked her airline tickets for an October visit.

I finally confessed during a phone call. “Mom, I have a fake ficus.” Then I held my breath.

Would she disown me? Remove me from her will? Worse, would she drag me to Home Depot and force me to buy peat moss and terra cotta pots?

“Oh,” she said breezily. “I had fake plants.”

So I wasn’t switched at birth, after all. You can fake a plant, but not a mother’s love.