Yellow Clivia

There's a book called "The Botany Of Desire", which is about plant sex, but I'm considering the other kind of Botany of Desire, which is the Desire of Botany--the lust of the gardener for the rare.

Clivia. Clivia. Clivia.
Clivia. Clivia. Clivia.
Clivia. Clivia. Clivia.
Clivia. Clivia. Clivia.
Yellow Clivia. "Ah! Stop! Stop the car!"

Are yellow Clivias that much more beautiful than "regular" orange-red Clivias? Yellow Clivia are more common. Tissue culture will perhaps make them as common and inexpensive as "regular" Clivias--just not quite yet. But is a yellow Clivia more beautiful than a rich orange-red Cliva? Why pay $30 for a yellow Clivia when orange-red plants get thrown out with the trash in this neighborhood? Is that reasonable?

When I think about yellow Clivias I think of Madame Ganna Walska, the creator of Lotus Land, a botanical garden in Montecito, California. It's filled with amazing specimen plants, very rare, valuable, and exotic. Also gorgeous, but perhaps that's beside the point. Once upon a time, Madame Walska paid a big wad of one or more of her husband's money for those rarities. She ended up broke.

Now, thanks to the miracle of tissue culture and factory-style ornamental plant production, some once-rare plants are available on a daily basis for a few dollars at every Home Depot. Platycerium bifurcatum and Cycas revoluta come to mind.

Lotus Land is also home to some plants that continue to be rare and expensive. Chilean Wine Palm. I repeat: Chilean Wine Palm. I desperately want to run down to Home Depot or Lowe's and pick up a Chilean Wine Palm for $7.99, but it's not going to happen.

What's the difference between Cycas revoluta and a Chilean Wine Palm? Swifter rate of growth? Ease of propagation or duplication? Size of potential grower population? If a plant is hardy only above 60F, that disqualifies a lot of the market unless it's easy and fast-blooming enough to grow as an annual. Which Chilean Wine Palm is not. And it is cold-tender. And slow growing. Triple whammy. Chilean Wine Palms are vulnerable in their native range because--you guessed it--people like to chop them down and make wine out of them.

Gardeners will buy novelty, will buy perceived rareness, will pay much more for a yellow Clivia. But why? I seem to be arguing to myself that we (meaning everyone besides me) needs to be content with orange-red Clivia--because they are as beautiful as yellow Clivia, and beauty tops all, doesn't it?

The human search for status ("I've got something nobody else has!") and novelty ("I'm bored!") shapes our world, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. But perhaps I'm secure in my lofty promotion of the ordinary orange-red Clivia because I already have a yellow Clivia. And I really want a Jubea chilensis, not a Washingtonia filifera, which I regularly yank out of my garden with a contemptuous snarl. But a Palm's a Palm, isn't it? A Clivia's a Clivia, right? Well...


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