Unimelb Field Guide

Gilblin Eunson Library

7 June 2017

There are forty pot plants in the Giblin Eunson Library. They are placed on the shelves, and above the study desks. Their leaves look glossy. You cannot tell if they’re plastic or alive.

On Wednesdays, a man arrives to water them. He appears at 10am wearing a fluoro vest, like the vests ticket inspectors wear on trams while checking Mykis (when they aren’t disguised in track-pants and wool beanies). The man also wears a badge. It is silver and it says Flora Inspector.

He flashes the badge at students who tell him the plants are fake. Students always tell him the plants are fake — he appears at their desk, holding his retractable hose (with the nozzle that has fourteen pressure settings), and they laugh. They ask him if he’s an actor.

The librarians do not believe him either. They are polite when he is around, but one time — while behind a shelf — he heard them all agreeing that the plants are artificial. They still smile and ask him about his weekend. But he now knows that they think him superfluous. They think his job a waste of time.

He’s discussed this with the woman who waters the plants on Thursdays, and she’s told him that he shouldn’t think about it. She says most people don’t know much about plants. They probably couldn’t tell a palm from a peace lily.

Before he was a Flora Inspector, he majored in plant science. He also spent eight years in gardening, and co-authored a book on evolutionary ecology. He understands intraspecific variation, so he knows that plants morph to meld to their localised conditions.

He knows that each plant in the Giblin Eunson is unique. There is one on the first floor who has grown to love linguistics, as it is placed above the desk where this second-year always sits while he’s studying phonetics, and it reads over his shoulder. It soaks itself in the language.

Some plants in the Giblin Eunson specialise in economics. Others are nourished by business, or pedagogical theory. There is one with spiked foliage who is quite fond of Marxism — and a soft, flowering one obsessed with impressionist painting.

Perhaps we are this absorbent. (Or — perhaps — the plants are plastic. In which case, we are all wasting our time.)

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