Arriving at the checkout in my local Ikea, waiting to pay for a wooden stool and some paper drinking straws, I looked to my left in disbelief. The area had been piled high with one impulse purchase, like you would find chocolate bars when you pay at a supermarket. However, what Ikea had was a giant cube, packed with tiny plastic potted Jurassic succulent plants, in tiny plastic pots, with a layer of fake plastic soil, for only 95p each.
I laughed, because that was all I could do, apart from buy one and take it home. Some weeks later, I found another of these things sticking out from an array of real plants, perhaps the result of a customer realising what they were doing, and buying a proper one. It stuck out badly – something looking more life-like would cost far more, organic or not. I bought that one as well. They are now both at work, taking the place of a real Jurassic plant I thought had died, but thrived once I had put it away in a drawer, the deprivation of water and light forcing it to grow like rhubarb. That plant is still alive, while its replacements never were.
The Ikea plant is part of a range that uses the name “Fejka,” the Swedish word for “fake,” perhaps the most straightforward name they have ever used. The demonstration photographs on their website show it taking up space in a bathroom, and on a shelf, much like the “serving suggestion” picture on a microwave meal pack means “on a plate.”
Why does this plastic plant exist? We are slowly moving away from single-use plastic, hence my buying the paper straws, but this plant is so small, and so cheap, it approaches disposability, costing less than a bottle of Diet Coke. They are almost made of the same kinds of plastic, although ethyl vinyl acetate (EVA), used to give the plant its rubbery texture, is more likely to be used in shoes and household appliances. The plant can be recycled, but not a single part of it is biodegradable, requiring more energy to make something else from it. The idea should not be to make it easy for the owner to throw the plant away if they don’t need or want it anymore, especially when its small size (14 cm tall, with a 6 cm diameter pot), indicates this is a plant that cannot get any bigger.
Plastic plants feel a step too far now, as if Dr. Seuss had never written “The Lorax,” and Sir David Attenborough never returned to making nature programmes – he used to be controller of BBC Two, creating programme strands such as “Horizon” and “The Natural World.” This is even before you consider its position as postmodern simulacra – do you buy the fake plant to replace the experience of owning the real thing, or could you just not be bothered to take care of a real one? It would have been simple enough to spend £2 to buy a real plant, and remember to take care of it, like owning a goldfish. Here is my problem: I have never owned a pet, I thought my real plant had died, and I have added to the plastic problem that we all have. I guess I am stuck with my two Fejkas, unless they somehow start absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen - oh yeah, no fake photosynthesis, as even the soil is fake.