Colorful coffee table-style plant books are beautiful to behold. They offer the tourists view – limited time, scratch the surface, just the pretty stuff. After leafing through many books like this and reflecting, I realize that I did not learn the distinguishing characteristics of the plants in the photographs, and know even less about their ecological origin or happy place. Its alright for what it is. A glossy still pond with a tiny spike of ephemeral emotion, not much movement.

Some of the academic texts or floras confuse me in a different way, requiring you to learn and decipher a whole dictionary of new words written in incomplete sentences. Check out the botanical language in this description of a palm. How much of it do you ‘get’? Does it make perfect sense? It reminds me of some of the modern rap music I’ve been listening to. Super impressive – the delivery, the speed, the flow. But, what did you say?!? Hahaha. Its an insiders game, you are a clueless old man!! Get with it!!!

And what about the dichotomous keys? Well, do you know what time of the year you have to collect a particular plant’s parts to be able to use the set of keys? Can you readily discern the number of chambers in its fruit, or the density of hairs on the calyx? Its almost as if botanists are making something already complicated even more complicated. Whether because precision and proper identification require it, or because the scientist’s mind enjoys going into tunneled mazes and challenges you to follow. Sometimes a simple picture or two would present the information more clearly and easily. It is simple to see that this and that are different, just look at how they grow! Look! Yet, it is difficult to convey this overall, seasonally dependent ’feel’ of plants’ in such a way that is consistent, and shows that you are not just being fuzzy headed and inarticulate.

Third party surrogates are all the rage these days. The other day I ran into a bunch of ecology and botany students from the private high end university in the botanical garden, using phone apps to identify plants they did not know. Snap a picture, get a name. Easy. And if the computer could not identify it, oh well, forget it. Move on, its probably not important. Funny. Did you touch the plant? Smell it? Did you really see the plant? Are you in the game, or watching from the bench and sidelines? Oh well so much for observation. Wasn’t that one of the scientific processes you learn about in elementary school that has been cast by the way side? Ultimately it comes down to this – are you happy going through life, tethered to all this accumulated miscellaneous facts, none of them that you have a personal stake in and share a sensual experience with? Or, would you prefer to discover and know even just one tiny common plant, using the supreme methodical computer that is you? Is your life composed of checking things off a list and a ranking, or is there more to it?

The data bases of botanical gardens, and modern day herbariums, have become digitized, following along with all the rest of our society. Yes it is organized and the facts are all there, but the entries to specific plants read like a dismembered body that is scattered and incoherent. Basically a spider web with no center that you click here then there then click some more. It tells no tales. It is a descent into a mental hell minefield of brokenness. It does not work because the intermediary between the sun and the plants is a human.

If I was getting to know a collection of plants in the garden, what I want to know would be: Where did it came from, and how did it fare in the field or in the container? Was it propagated from seed or cutting or layering? Who did the work of caring for it? What made it special? Did it die of old age, disease, gophers, slugs, or neglect? Was it human or natural causes? The record of the zeros is important in science and useful in understanding history and time. These are our failures and mistakes, and how we learn and improve. If I was going down the path of soap boxing I’d start going on about the way history and propaganda intermingle. Explain manipulative tactics and deception in the art of war and other such hum drum matters blah blah blah. Let’s go back to plants though LOL. Plants are much more fun, and important.

In the same vein as what has been articulated above, here are the plant collection records from our local botanical garden, from about eight years ago. Thank you curators of the past!!! Plants are listed in an old fashioned manner such that they tell a story. If you are interested in a genus, use the table of contents to figure out what species were present, and then scroll to the proper page in the pdf to read the entry. If you are so inclined, find the beds they lived in, and go looking for them in the garden! Well, heres a start. Off we go on a botanical walkabout adventure. First, the A’s and B’s. More to come.

Here’s how the plants came to be in the garden: