Have you ever declared a plant dead only to watch it miraculously come back to life? For gardeners, it is not an unusual experience and one that, for all rational explanations, feels profound. How do you know when a plant is truly dead? Here are a few approaches.
LOOKS CAN BE DECEPTIVE
A plant that may look dead may not really be dead. For example, often water-starved plants shed their leaves to prevent water from being further lost through transpiration. Such plants seem to come back to life when it rains.
SIGNS OF LIFE
Some time-honoured ways of telling if your plant can be revitalised or not are to check the stems and if that’s inconclusive, the roots. Are all the stem portions dry as bone or are some still firm and pliable? If you scratch their surface do you see any hint of green? If you do, your plant may still have a chance. In that case, you can trim away the bone-dry parts, keep the plant in indirect sunlight and water it lightly — neither letting the soil dry out completely nor overfeeding it out of guilt. If the stems are mushy or brittle, check if the roots are too. If that’s the case, it’s time to say your goodbyes.
Of course, these tests are not foolproof, and sometimes it can be hard to tell. In cases of such ambiguity, different gardeners take different stances. The pragmatically inclined believe that gardening comes with its share of death and if a plant looks like a lost cause, it is best to let it go and offer its place to another plant. Such hard choices are inherent in the role of a gardener.
Other gardeners believe that even if a plant has the faintest odds of revival, they should give it a chance. After all, before medical science discovered that an arrested heart could sometimes be revived, a person was pronounced definitely dead when the heart stopped beating. Likewise, it may be possible that there are states from which a plant can come back to life.
Whichever way they swing, every gardener is likely to have at least one revival story that moved them. Often, they grow a special connection with that one plant that came back from the dead. These stories have something profoundly reassuring about them. Japanese gardeners would refer to this feeling as ‘Wabi’ - that life has its own ways