Accepted Paper:

Houseplants, exchange and vegetative propagation: how sociality and germplasm dispersal mutually reinforce one other  

Authors:

Reka Komaromi (University of Kent at Canterbury)
Roy Ellen (University of Kent)
Simon Platten

Paper short abstract:

We show how mode of reproduction in houseplants serves to increase biological fitness through selection and distribution through informal human social networks, and how those same modes lend themselves to the articulation and maintenance of social networks, instantiating memories and meanings, and providing opportunities for plant based narratives.

Paper long abstract:

In the contemporary UK, as in most of Europe and the 'neo-Europes', the networks involved in plant exchange are heavily dominated by flows between commercial seed producers, smaller producers and domestic growers. Nevertheless, informal networks remain important, even if they have to be understood within a wider system of relations and flows, including commodity chains. The houseplant sub-economy as a sphere of exchange still relies to a significant extent on propagules obtained through informal exchange, and although when measured in monetary terms the value is small, social, ecological and genetic impact is disproportionately large. Moreover, houseplants provide us with a cultural domain in which a variety of forms of exchange are displayed that take place independent of the formal monetary economy or at the interface with it. This paper shows how plant reproductive material increases its biological fitness through selection and distribution through human social networks and how humans massively increase the diversity and utility of plant matter by re-distributing it. Moreover, modes of plant propagation at the same time lend themselves to the articulation and maintenance of those same networks, instantiating memories and providing opportunities for plant based narratives. The exchange of plant germplasm through the 'houseplant sub-economy' reinforces yet again the claim that what we loosely call 'gifts' and perceive as trivial, secondary and outside the realm of social control, are in fact 'recurrent, predictable and socially regulated' in Western industrial societies, with hidden social and ecological consequences arising from their symbolic and spatially prominent contexts.

Panel P22
Knowing plants