Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Lost Opportunities from a Pitcher Plant Put-Off

By Christine Clark

Carnivorous pitcher plants and their dangling cylinders with self-shutting lids have an odd, captivating appearance. After catching its prey, the pitcher-shaped flower’s lid swings shut and it digests its meal in the liquid inside the pitcher. Carnivorous plants like bloodthirsty Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors and other films are magnified to gigantic proportions and look like they could swallow you, or me, or a cow! Most carnivorous plants, however, are insectivores, although a variety named Nepenthes attenboroughii eats rodents (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1207076/Rat-eating-plant-named-David-Attenborough.html).

Nepenthes pitcher plant
A huge display of pitchers caught my friend Lisa’s eye at the Vero Beach, Florida, Gardenfest! last month, where over 77 vendors tempted gardeners with plants and other delights. Smitten by the plants, Lisa bought one. The woman selling the plant informed us that pitcher plants do not need fertilizer and that, if fertilized, pitchers get “lazy” and will not catch their meals.
Several booths later, we neared another vendor selling pitchers. One was identical to the one Lisa just purchased. Another species was so striking Lisa was tempted to buy it. The vendor noted the pitcher Lisa carried and asked if the seller told her how to fertilize it. He shook his head when we said we were advised against fertilizer. “Wrong. They need fertilizer,” he said. The opposing instructions perplexed us, so we asked if he sold the fertilizer. In a peevish tone, he replied that he sells fertilizer with the plants he sells. Should we buy a pitcher from him, he would sell us the food and advise us on the plant’s care. His manner was rather arrogant. In essence, he said: Buy from me and I, the expert, will tell you what you need to know. Otherwise, you are on your own, and your plant will probably die.
Stung at his dark demeanor, we edged away from him. Lisa did not plan to buy another plant, but she might have if the vendor had educated rather than alienated us. After the way Mr. PPV (Pitcher Plant Vendor) treated us, no way would we buy anything from him.
His behavior surprised me on many levels. We were potential customers. Teaching a customer about a product is a great way to engage them and create a buying relationship. The value of firsthand information and expertise go far beyond a price on a hanging plant. Did Mr. PPV forget that he is in the twenty-first century? I retrieved the dates and times of Gardenfest! from the Internet. Plans to attend Gardenfest! were made over the Internet. Did he forget that typing the words “care of pitcher plants” into Google would provide more information than we have years left in our lives to absorb? He, indeed, forgot the Internet and that few people need him or his expertise. Face-to-face contact is not even necessary to buy pitchers; on hundreds of Web sites, a mouse click can purchase a plant.
He also forgot the downside of the Internet: lack of face-to-face, human interaction. The Internet has abundant information about pitchers, but no voice to go with it, no eye contact, no smile. The woman who advised against feeding the pitchers even gave the plants a human characteristic when our eyes met and she said, “They get lazy.”
His healthy plants showed that Mr. PPV has the expertise. Had he shared that with us, face-to-face, eye-to-eye, how different might our interaction have been… I imagine him saying, “This is why I feed these plants…” and showing a leaf or a bloom. He could have said, “This beauty gets its color from X nutrient.” Perhaps he might have said, “X Island, these plants’ native environment, has the pitcher plant proliferia insect [a made-up name], which exists only there. My fertilizer gives them the nutrients they would get from eating that buglet [another made-up word] family.”
Had Mr. PPV treated us with common or even uncommon courtesy, Lisa might have purchased the fertilizer and been nudged toward buying a plant. Rather than seize those opportunities, Mr. PPV rebuffed us. We walked away feeling edgy and I doubt he will be on our list to visit at next year’s Gardenfest!
In the meantime, unlike Mr. PPV, I want to become more aware of opportunities that exist, even in the face of disappointment and discouragement, for human interaction. I can find more information than I ever want or need to know on the Internet, but the Internet lacks the value of people in real time—face-to-face, eye-to-eye, and voice-to-encouraging voice.
How can you focus on or change a face-to-face interaction today? Can you seize an opportunity to relate to people other than through social media, e-mail, text messaging? Can we simply speak to people we encounter, acknowledge them, and have an interaction, even if it is just a smile?

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