What Is My Plant Telling Me? An Illustrated Guide to Houseplants and How to Keep Them From Dying by Emily L. Hay Hinsdale, Illustrated by Loni Harris

What Is My Plant Telling Me? An Illustrated Guide to Houseplants and How to Keep Them From Dying by Emily L. Hay Hinsdale, Illustrated by Loni Harris

Hinsdale, Emily L. Hay, illustrated by Loni Harris. What Is My Plant Telling Me? An Illustrated Guide to Houseplants and How to Keep Them From Dying. S&S/Simon Imprint, 2022. ISBN 978-1982189815 $18.99


I have this perception of myself as having a black thumb of death, thoughtlessly murdering cacti, spider plants and aloe through neglect and overeager attention. I forget to water, then overwater, fertilize one month and not the next, put the plants outside for the summer and leave them to burn in the sun… but we want greenery year round, so I’ve been trying to step up my houseplant game. I’ve been wondering for months why my peace lily stopped blooming and why my bamboo is looking yellow. I do have good luck with growing philodendron from clippings, and two plants have become five in the last year. I am proud that I used sunlight and neem oil to get rid of an infestation over the the summer and didn’t lose a single plant. The money tree while not growing, is not dying. In short, I need to learn to assess what my houseplants need and pivot accordingly.

What Is My Plant Telling Me? is an authoritative, straightforward guide to fifty of the most common houseplants, listed alphabetically. Each entry includes the optimal light, water, soil, food and potting needs of each plant, a brief description of the plant and overview of it’s care, and then, indicators of problems and how to solve them. The introduction is funny and affirming, and the clever conclusion has a you can do it tone and recommends some specific plants for specific personality traits to maximize plant parenting success. The indexing is a little incomplete. I couldn’t remember what type of lily I had, and peace lily is only under peace lily, not lily.

I love Harris’s charming and clear illustrative style but found the drawings inconsistent in scope. Every entry has an illustration of the ideal healthy plant, and the majority of the time it’s right on the first page with the common and Latin names… but sometimes you have to flip to the next page to see the picture. I own some items that I can’t remember the name of, or the label has washed out. was hoping that each and every problem was illustrated so I could discern from the color of the leaves if overwatering or underwatering was the culprit, but only about one in ten entries go to this depth. For example, the burro’s tail and peace lily entries depict a plant with four typical issues and how they present, while an entry on coleus cleverly shows one plant with two variations: faded coloring from too much sun, and too much green from too much water. But–there are no additional reference illustrations for the first eight entries!

The fern fried from a stint outside this summer and is making a slow recovery; the succulent is way overwatered, the pepper plant is past its prime; the Chinese evergreen is doing great!

I did learn that my bamboo plant might need a complete change of water, and maybe the water should be distilled or stand for a day. The Chinese evergreen that looks like autumn leaves year round, and that I fell in love with at New England Botanic Garden at Tower Hill, is very healthy but is ready for a bigger pot, and the spot it’s currently in provides just enough indirect light–but the peace lily next to it, all droopy and not producing flowers–is just not getting enough light. I immediately gave it a drink and relocated it to the kitchen table. In general, I think I do not repot or fertilize often enough.

The swiss cheese plant needs more consistent watering and a snack; the droopy peace lily needs more water and more light.

While I do know a plant doctor who makes house calls (or who will diagnose from a picture on my phone, I felt very empowered after flipping through this book and making some changes. I was also surprised and pleased to realize I have more plants (and more types) than I thought, and I have kept them alive longer than I anticipated! We will see how things look in a month.

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  1. Pingback: Happy Birthday to Meeee… | Hip Librarians Book Blog

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