There it is, standing nonchalantly on my kitchen counter. Disregarding the clutter and the snow outside, this Cycas revoluta proudly stands as a messenger from 250 millions years ago. Yes, before the dinosaurs. What a joke, then, that I bought it at Ikea, that paragon for modernity and human everyday life, instead of a specialty garden shop offering a more worthy handling.
People go gaga for cycads. Some feel the presence of dinosaurs, others a cosmic connection, and many are fascinated by its botanical secrets. And then there are those who make money in cycad trafficking.
Yes, cycad trafficking. Indeed. Just like tortoise trafficking, or ivory trafficking. There are those who go to great lengths to smuggle rare, CITES-protected cycads, in order to cash in thousands per plant. Not only botanists collect cycads, but also celebrities wishing to build a world-traveled, connoisseur image of themselves.
Even some botanists have faced jailtime. “Botanists in jail?!” you may ask. Indeed, botanists are usually not associated with rogue behavior. But there is something about the cycads. Is it persistence from the Permian age, regardless of herbivorous dinosaurs, ice age, and pollution? Is it in the palm-resembling looks of a plant that is closer related to the spruces and pines of our time? For me, cycads have been magical ever since the age of five when I went gaga over dinosaurs and the Jurassic age. The fascination was reinforced when I read Cycad Island by Oliver Sacks in my early twenties.
And so I carefully place my little cycad on my windowsill, sending it a silent thought to produce at least that one expected leaf per year. Perhaps it will befriend my bonsai trees and decide it, too, is here to stay.
(Helsinki, Finland; December 2014)