Gardening legend has it that bullying is just about the worst thing you can do to a plant short of outright throwing it in the trash. Just ask Ikea, who last year took two house plants and placed them in a school for the sake of an experiment about bullying. The plants were put about 10 feet apart and students were encouraged to praise and compliment one plant while berating and insulting the other. As you might have predicted, the plant that was treated nicely flourished while the bullied plant wilted and became all-around pretty sad-looking. Ikea’s not the only one to do this kind of thing either: Similar experiments have been done with flowers and rice.
The overall message of any of these experiments is that bullying is bad — a statement that only an outright psychopath would disagree with. I do, however, take issue with shonky science and making misleading claims, and come on, this plant stuff does kinda sound like bullshit, right?
Given my natural curiosity and undying dedication to the truth — like when I discovered the dark secret of the Domino’s Pizza Tracker — I decided to conduct my own experiment. I’m going to buy three plants. Over three weeks, I will water them equally and give them equal sun, but one will be complimented and adored; one will be treated indifferently; and the third… the third will be bullied mercilessly.
Now let’s get this plant-murder wagon rolling.
I head to Home Depot to try to find the best possible plants. Only having three weeks and not having much of a green thumb, I knew I didn’t want to grow anything from scratch. Also, I didn’t want something too robust, like a cactus, as I wanted the effects to be as noticeable as possible — also, I figured that if I fucked with a cactus, he’d eventually get his vengeance upon me one way or another.
I picked three flowering plants that my wife identified as being impatiens (my wife, by the way, abhors the very idea of this experiment and has made me promise that no plant-bullying will take place in front of either her or my daughter). I go for the three of the most identical-looking plants I can find — each is about the same height, each has two flowers and each cost $1.88. Done.
Next: Naming. Digging into my daughter’s sticker collection, I find some emoji stickers that’ll work nicely, then give them all names: Sweetums, who I will lavish with love and compliments; Phil, the scientific control; and Asshole McFuckface, who will become the target of all my rage and frustration.
For my first round of love and hate, I pick up Sweetums and softly whisper, “I love you, Sweetums. You’re a beautiful plant. Yes, you are.” I compliment his leaves, his flowers and his overall good spirit. I do all this away from his brothers, so that Asshole would hear none of this nice stuff and Phil would be equally unaffected. I then return Sweetums to his rightful place and pick up my new victim, Asshole McFuckface.
“Fuck you, Fuckface! You are disgusting. You disgust me. I will destroy you!” I spit in hateful, whispering tones, out of earshot of the other plants. I then place that disgusting plant back down, address Phil with a manly, indifferent nod of the head and that’s it. Things are off to a promising start!
It’s only Day Two but already things are going wrong: After watering the plants and telling Asshole McFuckface to go fuck himself, I notice that one of Sweetums’ flowers is already looking a little droopy. Since I deeply love this plant, I’m more than a little concerned. I hope he’ll be all right.
Sweetums’ flower is looking a little worse today, and to make matters worse, I notice that both Phil and Asshole McFuckface have new flowers about to bloom. Needless to say, this isn’t going the way I anticipated. Perhaps it’s still early and this only reflects whatever energy they absorbed from Home Depot? I don’t know, but I reassure Sweetums that I love him no matter what and that he’s still beautiful. As for Asshole McFuckface, I tell him he doesn’t deserve the flowers he has and that he’s “the Hitler of plants.”
Sweetums looks worse and the new flowers on Phil and Asshole McFuckface have bloomed. This is going terribly.
In search of guidance, I reach out to Ma Nithya Durgananda, founder of Your Presence Heals and a yoga instructor and healer, who has previously conducted a similar (albeit perhaps less unhinged) experiment on bean sprouts. Ma Durga tells me that everything has energy, and that both myself and my plants are made of prana, which is life energy. She also explains that words have energy, and by saying negative words to a plant, it will transfer that negative energy to their own energy, which can hurt the plant and cause it to wilt, which is what ended up happening with her bean sprouts.
While I’m skeptical, it’s clear that Ma Durga is sincere in her beliefs, and I appreciate the wisdom and guidance of someone who has conducted a comparable experiment. She assures me that the way I’m conducting the experiment is correct: Insulting a plant for just a few minutes a day should cause it to wilt. With her bean sprouts, she says, this took only a week, and I’ve got more than two weeks left to see something similar happen here.
After shooting this, I realize that a new flower is starting to bud for Sweetums. Between this and Ma Durga’s encouragement, my hope is renewed!
Bad news: My asshole cat got into the flowers and both Phil and Asshole McFuckface have each lost a flower. I planned on keeping everything equal in this experiment, but now I have my cat to contend with, which throws off the science of the whole thing. Strangely enough, Sweetums was spared from the cat attack, which makes me wonder if the positive energy surrounding him protected him from harm.
Sweetums’ new flower is flourishing while Phil and Asshole McFuckface each have a flower that’s wilting now. I don’t think this has much to do with the cat attack, though — I suspect this is just the normal progression of the flowers.
I notice this morning that Sweetums has now lost a flower, which may be from the cat again, as this seemed to be a perfectly healthy flower. Obviously this is terrible news, as Sweetums is the most amazing flower ever to exist, but in a scientific sense, this may actually be good news as it levels back out the playing field: Each plant has now experienced the wrath of Lizzy.
My cat has reached a new level of destruction, getting into all three plants. This is vexing, since “How much can my cat piss me off?” wasn’t the experiment I was hoping to conduct. Phil now has zero good flowers and just one shitty old one that’s still attached; Asshole McFuckface has one that’s looking a little wilted and a shitty old one still attached; Sweetums is now doing the best of the bunch with one old flower, one beautiful one and two buds that will likely bloom tomorrow. While this should have been done days ago, I move all the flowers into the bathroom so that I can shut the door and the cat can’t get to them.
Losing faith in the experiment somewhat after noticing little effect from my adoration or terrorizing, I talk to Penn State’s Richard Marini, a horticulture professor who confides that he feels experiments like this are lacking in real scientific validity. “They’re not replicated, they’re not randomized, they’re not even an experiment, really,” he explains, going on to outline that a proper experiment wouldn’t only have a control (like mine) but that they’d also have to be replicated a half dozen times at least — ideally about 20 or so times for it to have any kind of validity.
Marini does admit that sound waves can have an effect on plants because they make them vibrate, and that vibration causes the plants to create ethylene, stunting their growth, but adds that sound would not cause them to wilt and certainly wouldn’t kill them. It’s important to note, though, that this only refers to the vibration, not the intent of what’s said, which is usually what these kinds of experiments — mine included — are trying to prove.
On one hand, I feel validated by Marini’s advice, as it affirms my belief that these experiments are bogus. On the other, I wish I’d measured my plants at the beginning just to see how they compare at the end. Either way, I’m going to try to up my game in how loud I am to that plant. Up until now I’ve been yelling for sure, but I’ve also been whispering threatening things, which apparently may be pointless. Marini said that it would likely take several hours a day of loud sounds to notice any change in the plant, and while I can’t quite dedicate that kind of time to this, I will do my best to be as vile — and loud — as I possibly can for the remaining days.
More screaming today. I notice that when I scream a lot, I begin to slip into an Adam Sandler-esque yelling voice. I also notice that Asshole McFuckface lost his single flower overnight.
This is the first day where I really start to notice a significant difference in the plants. Sure, they’ve had their ups and downs, but something about how they are today makes me think there may be something to this whole “life energy” thing. See, when I bought all these guys, they all looked the same, pretty much. Now that the kitty chaos is behind them, I notice that Sweetums is doing the best of the bunch with three lovely flowers, Phil has one nice flower and a tiny one starting to bloom, yet Asshole McFuckface has zero flowers and zero promising buds.
He also currently seems to be the shortest one — he hasn’t wilted or anything, but this is the first time he looks significantly worse than the other two. Perhaps my mistreatment of him has made him less resilient? Hard to tell.
More screaming today. In addition to my daily dose of, “Go fuck yourself, you motherfucking plant!” I angrily tell McFuckface, “I hate you more than I ever thought I could hate a plant — more than I thought I could hate anything. I hate you more than telemarketers, I hate you more than rude waiters and I hate you more than mushrooms, and I really hate mushrooms!”
Busy day — all I have time for is to give the finger to McFuckface and to make kissy sounds at Sweetums.
I pick back up with screaming my head off at Asshole McFuckface. I try to make up for yesterday by doing this four or five times, which frankly, is a bit exhausting.
That’s it: It’s fucking war now. There’s less than a week left in this experiment, and I’m annoyed by its lackluster results. I’ve said all I can say to Asshole McFuckface and have screamed all I can scream at him. While he still has no flowers and the others each have two, I want more dramatic results. I wanted that motherfucker to bleed.
So, it’s now the final phase of this project: My big escalation. I’m going to Clockwork Orange this son of a bitch and up the torture to hours a day. To start things off, I move Phil and Sweetums to my daughter’s room, safe from harm. Then I have McFuckface sit on the toilet — where the shit belongs, you dumb plant — next to an iPad, where I loop the torture scenes from A Clockwork Orange and the Saw films. Then I lock the door behind me and hope for the best/worst.
About six hours later, my family gets home and I conclude today’s batch of horror. Phil and Sweetums rejoin McFuckface on the window sill.
A few hours later, in the evening, some scary shit happens. No joke, my daughter goes in the bathroom and cries, “Oh no!” I run in to discover this sight:
Sweetums and Phil are lying on their sides on the floor, dirt everywhere. In the window, Asshole McFuckface sits contentedly, his poop emoji sticker grinning just the same as always. Honestly, I’m spooked by the whole thing. It was probably the wind — it had to be the wind — but maybe, just maybe, after hours of violent imagery, I turned McFuckface into a vicious murderer. This is easily the most exciting development in the whole experiment, and I can only hope that the next few days prove to be even more exciting (and more violent).
I notice that Phil and Sweetums look a bit wilted this morning — perhaps the fall really took a toll on them. McFuckface seems fine… a little too fine, if you ask me.
You can’t argue with results, so I decide to do today the exact same thing I did yesterday: Phil and Sweetums move out as McFuckface is subjected to torture porn.
With a disappointing lack of murderous violence out of McFuckface yesterday, I decide to up the ante and get a bit more personal with today’s video selection. I make a playlist of YouTube videos of guys weed-whacking and cutting their lawns, of which there are countless to choose from. My hope is that McFuckface not only hears the terrorizing sound of lawn mowers and weed-whackers, but that he also hears the tortured screams of each blade of grass as it’s cut down. I want this plant to puke in horror.
No violence, no mayhem, but I feel like I’m onto something here with my plant-murder playlist, so I add some tree-chopping videos and subject him to another five hours.
Opportunity! It’s a beautiful Saturday and a neighbor of mine begins mowing his lawn, so I take McFuckface outside so he can get a live dose of plant mass-murder.
To make sure things are even, I give Phil and Sweetums an equal dose of fresh air once the mowing has ceased.
I hadn’t realized when I started this experiment that exactly three weeks from when I began would end up being Father’s Day, so I decide to extend things one more day. Before leaving to go to Sesame Place for the day, I devise the most horrific torture I can possibly think of for that shithead plant of mine — something so horrible that I shuddered at the thought of it when it popped into my head.
Cackling at my own capacity for evil, I make a playlist consisting of hours of “the best of” The Big Bang Theory, the most annoying, unfunny, insufferable show ever made. I put it on a loop: If all goes according to plan, McFuckface will be doused with over 12 hours of poorly written jokes and a laugh track so relentless it can peel paint.
I almost feel bad for the little guy. Almost.
When I return home 14 hours later, the video is still going, but McFuckface appears to be fine. Perhaps he just has exceptionally poor taste in comedy? No. No way. This was more than sufficient torture. I’ll just wait until tomorrow to give a final evaluation.
After three weeks, the experiment has come to an end. At final tally, Sweetums has three flowers, Phil has one and Asshole McFuckface has zero, which has been the case since Day 11. The others, however, have lost and grown new flowers regularly throughout.
Ultimately it’s hard to say if the experiment was a success or not. It’s difficult to even say which one of my experts ended up being more on-the-money: On one hand, all the plants seem healthy and none have wilted, yet McFuckface’s lack of flowers does make me wonder if Ma Durga was right — that all that negativity affected his planty life-force, stunting the growth of his flowers.
Being that my attempt to bully a plant to death failed — and the experiment was, at best, inconclusive — I’m now left with just one question: What to do with Asshole McFuckface? Perhaps now that the constraints of the experiment are lifted, I can exact physical torture upon him and stomp him to death. Or perhaps I’ll just deliberately feed him to my cat. There are so many things I can do.
But you know what? After three weeks, McFuckface has actually gained my respect: He took daily abuse in all kinds of forms, and yet, he held strong. Flowers or not, Asshole McFuckface is one resilient plant, and I think he’s earned a reprieve. With that, I decide to put all three plants together in one large pot to place outside and let nature take its course.
Part of me wonders now if McFuckface’s negativity will bleed over to the other two, killing them all. Or perhaps Sweetums’ optimism may cure McFuckface of his anger. Maybe Phil’s average-dick energy will help them all achieve balance? I don’t know, but I have marked where each one is planted in the pot so that, hopefully in a few weeks or a month, I can see where they stand without my intervention.
I wish them well — although from the look on the cat’s face, as I catch her spying from a corner, it’s quite possible she has some future plans for them of her own.