Aglaia Michelakis
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Last Updated on October 13, 2023 by It’s Complicated

We give our pets name, so why not also give our mood-boosting plants personal names? And if plants that are given some extra warmth and care thrive the best, what would happen if you named a plant after yourself?

Do your plants have names? And I do not mean names such as Orchidaceae, Helianthus or Pothos, or even playful ones like Animal, Cher or Plato.

With increasing lockdowns, many of us will again see little other breathing life form in our homes, aside from our house plants. We may not think much of this symbiotic relationship, yet it could carry many silent gifts and messages for us. Those creatures  whose names we often do not even know, that love the air we breathe out, have a lot more to give us than oxygen. If only we notice.

Research tells us that looking at our desk plant for a mere 2 minutes reduces stress. Science confirms we have evolved to benefit from cultivating soil. Antidepressant microbes in soil cause cytokine levels to rise, which results in the production of higher levels of serotonin. In some ways, their benefits are akin to having a pet. And unless you are as noncommittal as Miss Gollightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, chances are your pets have a name. So why not your plants?

Norbert Schwarz, Professor of Psychology at USC recommends the very act of anthropomorphising our surroundings to decrease loneliness in times of need. He, furthermore, claims that giving names to our plants can result in us taking better care of them.  “You don’t get rid of your friends just because they get old and cranky,” he says, just as you wouldn’t throw away a plant you took the time to name. 

The science of formally naming a plant is very concrete. The “International Code of Botanical Nomenclature,” is no less than 200 pages long.  According to the rule created by the 18th century botanist Carl Linnaeus, everything gets one name that represents its genus and a second name representing its species. However, for botanists, naming a plant after oneself is taboo.

Three years ago, a close friend of mine paid me a visit with her toddler son whom I love dearly. Handing me a tiny leafy plant she asked me what I would name it. Replying to my questioning face, she said, “Well, Teit gave it to you, so, how about Teit”? I playfully accepted and ever since, have given Teit, the plant, the last sip of my morning water.

And without a fail, every time I walk towards him, I cannot help but smile and feel a flicker of warmth in my heart. Teit, the plant, is thriving! No bigger than the size of my fist upon arrival, he is now one of my proudest possessions. Visitors are surprised this variety can get so big. I have since named all plants that have arrived in my home after friends that have brought them. I became intrigued when realising, the ones with names are living their best lives. 

So, I became curious. What if I named a plant after myself? On the other end of the plant-well-being spectrum, I have had a lemon tree I have barely managed to keep alive for the past three years. Many times it has been diseased and entirely leafless.  At some point, I thought it was entirely dead.  Before throwing it out I decided to change its soil, prune it and give it a new home. It came back to something resembling life. I have tried changing its position in the apartment, taking it out in the summer, fertilising it. It is, still, just alive.  I decided I would name the lemon tree Aglaia. All of a sudden, it became a bet to bring this lemon tree back to the living lot. I became curious about its disease, googled it, watched a couple of youtube tutorials, consulted my plant goddess friend Kitti, and gave an oath to remember to take as good care of it as all the other plants.

I love nature and plants but am far from being an expert on them. I made a concoction of oil and soap as advised, and treated its leaves one by one. I played music I enjoy and hummed along (talking to it is still outside my comfort zone). I discovered its three-dimensionality differently, how many more its leaves were than I thought. I felt the harshness of the infested leaves, the tenderness of the young ones. The lemon tree reminded me to be patient and gentle. Were I not, one of its thorns would remind me, sharply. To make this experiment even funnier, I decided to start journalling on the awareness that arose from the care of the lemon tree named Aglaia. And, my, were there ever a-ha moments!

Do you dare name a plant after yourself? If you were to partake in this experiment, what might you come in contact with? Engage your senses and observe your thoughts and emotions, or lack of, as you do so. Be mindful. See the plant as a whole. Look at the stems. Look at the soil. Consider the roots. The pot.  How does this relate to your connection to your own roots and current home?

Consider its positioning. Do you move it when it seems unhappy? Do you turn about its new and “happy” foliage that chase the sun to face the room, instead? What is more important? The way it feels or the way it looks to visitors? By extension, become curious of any connections to your own patterns. How much do you do for others and how much for yourself? Where does your smiling face turn to? Where it gets nourished or where it nourishes? Is it OK your plant likes to be near some plants and not others?

When you look at your plant, do you focus on the parts that are thriving or the ones that need correction? How does it feel when the plant is ill or has a parasite? Do you dare look under the leaves? The stem or trunk? Any reluctance to prune the parts that are ill? To change its location? And when it is not so well, what are the thoughts and feelings in your body? When you don’t have all the answers, do you reach out for advice and where? Is it straight to google, grandma, the wise plant friend? Do you dare reach out at all?

Just like us, plants are not always prospering. Some are seasonal. Some get parasites. These are fantastic opportunities to investigate your own feelings. How is it to see your plant changing? And it may bloom. Can you take joy in that or do you find yourself quickly starting to think of when the leaves / blossoms with fall? Any parallel in accepting changes, sorrows and joy in your life?

And at the end of the day, please be kind to yourself should this relationship not be fruitful and your plant should perish. And remember: Unlike your plant, you are communicating with your own species on your needs, and always have some choice to move to where the light is right.

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