Hey, hi! I want to update you on my neighbor’s tree. (You can see the original post here.)
Thank you to everyone who offered advice and research assistance to help my adorable and kind neighbor, Randi, with her ailing Fiddle Leaf Fig (Ficus lyrata) tree. I appreciate all the feedback.
I’d like to start by describing Randi a little bit. She’s smart. She’s young. She’s very interested in learning about and loving plants. Her parents love plants and tried to instill the same love in her, and succeeded. She absolutely loved that tree. She babied it, she tended to it, she looked at it every day with pride and affection.
I went with her to pick it out at the nursery (which will remain unnamed). It was healthy (so we thought), it was gorgeous.
She noticed right away when the tree got brown spots on its leaves (she’d only had it in her home for two weeks at that time), and she started researching the problem. But the results she got were confusing. So she turned to me, because she knew that I cared for plants for 14 years with my small business, Good To Grow. I knew immediately that I couldn’t help her by myself – I had little experience with Figs. Whenever I recognize that something isn’t my forte, I have no problem asking for advice. So I asked all of you, and you responded with passion, as I suspected you would.
There is a valid argument that tropical indoor plants shouldn’t be sold in the desert. They will be weakened at the nursery because they were never supposed to be here, and that’s legitimate. But in a modern home, the outside environment doesn’t necessarily influence the health of an indoor plant – we can add humidity, we can add water, we can shield them from the desert sun. In my experience, most indoor plants do fine regardless of the outdoor environment because we have temperature-controlled homes, we can control conditions much better than we could a hundred years ago.
There is also a valid argument on the part of the nursery – they sell what consumers want, whether it’s smart or not. They offer them, people buy them. It’s the reality we live in today. This particular tree is very popular right now because of its beauty and style. So nurseries are going to sell them, whether that nursery is in Minnesota or Arizona.
There is another point to be made here – almost all locally owned nurseries have a no-return policy. That’s because once a plant or tree leaves their care, they don’t know what the consumer does to it. Did she leave it in the car for five days? Did he leave it out in the sun for three days? Did she or he forget to water it once they got it home? I understand their point of view. It’s valid. Home Depot will replace your dead plants within a year if you have your receipt, but local nurseries can’t afford that financial hit. I understand that.
So here I come in, and she asked for my help, and I saw that she had a problem. I didn’t necessarily know how to solve it, but I knew I had to try. I didn’t want to extinguish a burgeoning love of plants of a young person – I didn’t want her to have a negative experience that was based on something that was not her fault. Plus, she paid $126 for this tree – that’s too expensive. Especially if the plant already had a problem without her prior knowledge.
Armed with your research and hers and mine, we took the tree back to the nursery and talked to the man that I had previously spoken with on the phone about the virus. In person at the nursery, first, he tried to insist the spots were from sunburn. (Again, he didn’t want to refund the money from that tree, for the aforementioned reasons.) Randi politely explained that the leaves with the spots faced a wall and not a window, so that wasn’t possible. We went round and round with him, until I finally asked to see the other Fiddle Leaf Figs in the greenhouse.
He led us there. That’s when I noticed the brown spots on almost all the other trees. The virus was sweeping the crop. I pointed out leaves that were riddled with brown spots, and he told me that they were caused by sunburn. Mind you, the trees were in a giant greenhouse so they didn’t get direct sunlight, but whatever. I persisted – sunburnt leaves look different- he knew it, and I knew it. He retorted that if it were a virus, there would be residue on the leaves that indicated a problem. Residue? Hmmm. Not in my experience. Scale insects leave waxy shit, but viruses? I told him that I disagreed. According to Michigan State University professors, viruses are internal, but there is some ooze when there’s a bacterial infection. So maybe he was thinking of bacteria when he told me there should be residue. My gut (and our collective research) told me that this was an internal virus, and that his information was not correct. Also, my bullshit meter was going off – he really didn’t want to refund Randi’s money, so he was going to keep trying to say it was not their fault. I should make it clear that this person had 17 years of experience with plants – so I didn’t want to fight with him, but I kinda did – I have 14 years experience, and a wealth of expert advisors (you). I persisted.
So he kept insisting it was sunburn, and I kept insisting it was leaf spot disease. I advised him he needed to do something about it. Randi could’ve chopped her plant to pieces to remove the infected branches, but that would’ve ruined the look of her whole tree. Four out of five branches were infected. She bought that tree for it’s round shape, because she believes, as I do, that aesthetics matter.
The whole time he and I were “arguing” (it was very polite and non-confrontational, but it was a dance of opposing views), I kept whispering to Randi, “do you want to get another tree or not?” She couldn’t decide, because she was out of her element, and she’s shy, and she had other considerations (e.g., she was considering moving out of state and I asked her how much room she had in her car or a u-haul for a tree), and also because she wanted to be neutral. Randi wanted to be Switzerland. I understood that, so I kept “fighting” on her behalf because I saw the injustice in this process, and didn’t want to let it go. She needed an advocate, and I wanted to represent her.
Eventually, I called it a stalemate and the three of us walked up to the cashier together. That’s when the guy asked if she wanted a replacement tree that was right by the front gate (it looked healthy and beautiful, but was also too big to fit in my car, much less her apartment) or did she want in-store credit. When I heard him mention credit, I giggled to myself– if she’s moving out of state, what is she going to do with in-store credit? Also, who wants in-store credit at a plant nursery? No one – it’s not Crate and Barrel.
I pretended not to hear him and said (or maybe I shouted gleefully), “She’s got a receipt.” I think in that moment, he knew it was all over.
So he walked behind the counter and asked for her card so he could refund her sales price in full. And then he gave her $126 dollars back on to her debit card.
Victory feels good.
I didn’t take photos of the other diseased trees at the nursery. I didn’t think it was appropriate – I don’t want to shame anyone. It’s not my way.
In the end, I’m happy that justice was served. She was a consumer who unknowingly bought a defective product (a sick tree) and the local business (reluctantly but finally) refunded her money, as it rightfully should’ve.
I can’t thank you enough for the dialogue you provided that led to this nice outcome. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart! It makes my soul happy to have this venue to connect with others who care about plants.
Randi says thank you, as well.
Hey look, here are some flowers to distract you from the truth. It’s the way we live today.