Why do men like some plants and women others? Why are some plant societies nearly all men, and others predominately women (same reason, I am guessing)?
I have been a member of multiple plant societies over the years and one of the most fascinating things I have often pondered are the gender demographics of some of these societies.As a child I had always assumed plants (flowers) were a woman's department.I hardly ever saw men working in the garden- they were at ‘work', while the women stayed home and worked in the garden.I personally had no interest in plants until much later in life, and perhaps my early observations had something to do with that.
My first exposure to a plant society was with the African Violet ‘club' my wife considered joining at one time- turned out to be as I had always expected, mostly women, though a few men were involved (I assumed they were spouses dragged into the club kicking and screaming, just as I was prepared to do should my wife try to get me to join).
Photo of an African Violet by Snowrose (thanks)- a woman?
Then, about a year later, I discovered the local bamboo society.Now bamboo seemed like a plant I could become interested in- nothing ‘girly' about it- no flowers, no pretty smells... just a huge form of lawn basically.After reading up about bamboos a bit, I tentatively attended the next local meeting/sale and was surprised to see plenty of other men there; in fact the group was about 60% men, 40% women. I was relieved to see I was not the only guy at a plant meeting and figured the bamboo society was an exception to the rule.Perhaps all these men were gay... but I don't think so as most were obviously there with their spouses.
Bamboo meeting/sale in southern California - women and men
About the same time I was getting interested in bamboo, I was also learning a lot more about palms and cycads, and discovered there were also local, as well as national and/or international societies of each.So I attended a few meetings of these clubs as well and was surprised to see they were mostly men- the cycad society about 80% men and the palm society nearly 95% men.What was the attraction?Where were the women?These were still plants we were talking about- not automobiles or football.Was it just the lack of flowers?I don't think so since the fern society, which I was also briefly a member, seemed to be mostly women (though not by a large majority).No flowers there.
Local Palm Society meeting- 95% men Interantional Palm Society meeting- 90% men Cycad Society meeting- 80% men
Since then I have been either a member of, or have talked to members of several Cactus/succulent societies, Orchid societies, Rose clubs and other various societies and organizations.I was amazed to find there was a club or society for about every possible plant I had heard of.Though the orchid society historically has been mostly men, presumably due to the high costs of orchids and the ‘exclusive' nature of such a hobby, it seems that now it's nearly 50% men/women.The local cactus and succulent societies are also well represented by both sexes, though there are slightly more men than women in them.The rose societies seem nearly equally split, too, though there do appear to be more women than men in those ones.Men have invaded the plant world once dominated by women?Or maybe I was just ignorant all these years.
Cycad nursery, frequented by mostly men Succulent sale, about 50% of each attend these Plant nursery- see mostly women here
But why are the palm and cycad societies almost ALL men?
Here are a few of my uneducated theories: To me the draw for women seems to be the flowers.Men are completely content growing plants which either never flower, or the flowers are insignificant or uninteresting.Women are attracted to color- particularly bright colors, while men seem to like mostly greens and blues (more masculine colors?).Women like little plants while men like big ones.Women like potted plants while men seem to be more apt to grow plants in the ground (now THAT is a total generalization... and I am not even sure if it's at all accurate- plenty of women have huge in-ground rose gardens and other flower gardens).Women like delicate, soft plants, while men like the thicker, spinier and bulkier items.Women are much more content with annuals and don't seem to mind starting over every year (seem to even like it that way)... while men seem to prefer plants that live for centuries.On the other hand, women tend to like to grow plants that are more likely to survive and look good, while men seem less upset when things don't go well, or their plants are the type that look dead half the time.And women seem to spend far less on plants than men do.
'man plants' for sale 'woman plants' for sale
One thing I noticed that was almost strictly a male behavior was the frequently obsessive nature of plant collecting.Though Davesgarden is mostly women, and some of those women do seem to be plagued with the collection bug, this ‘need' to collect, have and almost horde plants seems to be mostly a male peculiarity, and I have certainly noted this is not limited to the world of plants, but pervades nearly all hobbies that include collecting (stamps, coins, cars, baseball cards, comics, knick-knacks, doo-dads, etc.).Perhaps growing and collecting plants is simply a form of male-based obsessive compulsive behavior, and that is why men are more likely to spend vast amounts of money and effort on expensive, rare and unusual plants, while women spend far less, but on colorful, more common and often ephemeral plants.Women grow plants not just for their beauty, but for the rewards of starting with young seedling and nurturing them, to see them through their lives... and then start all over again the next year.Men can't stand starting over again, and just want plants that pretty much stay the same, or get more massive year after year as part of a bragging rights thing.They prefer plants for the uniqueness (nice looking or not), their cost (again, a bragging rights thing) and tend to have a more scientific approach to the whole plant thing (fits into their obsessive behavior which includes learning every possible detail there is to know).
Just fractions of two men's mesemb succulent collections (gotta have one of everything... or more!); Small fraction of male collector's cycad collection waiting to plant out
Of course these generalizations are completely my imagination- based in very little if any fact.And there are endless exceptions to all of them.I have met and known many couples who are completely devoted to collecting, raising and selling plants, and often I cannot tell which is the more obsessive or which are prouder of their plants.In my own small world of palm nuts, some of the most prolific and knowledgeable collectors of palms are women... but these women are exceptions, and these exceptional women seem to be getting rarer and rarer, as there are fewer young women to replace them.As few women as there were in the palm society when I first joined over 10 years ago, there are far less now.Why is this?
Some women touring a woman palm grower's garden... a true rarity
So if men are from Mars, I picture that planet as one devoid of beautiful flowers, but rather a hostile landscape with a static climate, covered with old, peculiar and spiny or massive plants.And I picture Venus, or the planet women come from, as a lush garden planet, full of color, but always changing with the varied seasons.And here on earth, the melting pot between the two, we have a wonderful mix of plant societies with almost predictable gender demographics based on these planetary origins.All this helps to explain why my girlfriend is always threatening to chop down my oversized and struggling palm collection, part of which is in the back yard (our Venus) to find more room for her beautiful roses. As part of a compromise, I have planted some bulbs and flowers in the front yard (Mars), but these flowers are nearly completely crowded out by my collection of oddities.It's not easy sometimes living a compromise on planet earth when we're obviously from someplace else.
Views of Venus- possible/probable woman's gardens
Views of Mars- men's gardens
Though created by men, these carefully pruned flower mounds might be done to attract women?; Men are more into the total control over nature thing, so these carefully pruned Wrightia tomentosas are probably more attractive to men?
Ok, now you decide... which shots above are of Mars and which are of Venus?
Note: I apologize if I offended anyone... Since I am a male, it is difficult for me to approach this subject totally objectively... and also sorry I don't have more shots of Venus... being a man, I have not been inspired to take too many.
About Geoff Stein
Veterinarian and Exotic Plant Lover... and obsessive, compulsive collector of all oddball tropical and desert plants.