My Brush with the Elusive Mikado Plant

Will I ever see one again?

Sunday, May 22, 2016

By Kenneth Setzer

While in Manhattan during July 2014, my wife and I took the train north from Grand Central for a 20-minute ride to the New York Botanical Garden.

Why? Well if you are reading this you probably don’t need to know the reasons for visiting a public garden. I had some plants to hunt down and photograph, like the extinct-in-the-wild Franklin tree (Franklinia alatamaha) with its connection to early American scientific exploration. I also searched for and miraculously found Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora), the haunting myco-heterotroph. The latter can’t be cultivated; I found it by sheer luck and the kindness of a chipmunk. Neither plant grows here in the far south.

But back to my point. The Mikado plant, Syngonanthus chyrsanthus. Naturally we explored the gift shop at NYBG. And they sell lots of live plants. You may not think this unusual, but botanic gardens, aside from plant sales, don’t regularly sell lots of plants; that’s what a nursery is for, and it involves a lot of labor.

Then I saw them. Atop a table in the NYBG gift shop were a dozen or more of what they called the Mikado plant. It looks like a rosette of short, spiky grass with a few flower spikes emerging from the center of the clump. They were nearly all still in bud, and unopened—which is the best part. While the flowers are nice, the buds are shocking, alluring, pillow-shaped and metallic gold!

Gold, not just golden, but metallic gold miniature pin-cushions floating above the foliage! They look very space-age modern and would fit right in with any midcentury modern design.

They are apparently native to marshy areas of Brazil, and like damp, acidic soil, not unlike other bog plants.

Did I get one? No. I had a week to go in the city and didn’t think I could get the plant home safely. I’m not even sure airport security would allow it as a carry-on. I didn’t even take a photo, though I had my SLR and cellphone camera. It’s haunted me ever since.

I thought surely the plant would be for sale elsewhere. Well, I can’t find it anywhere, even online.

Do an image search for the Mikado plant. It’s so cool! And if you find a source, let me know.

I. Must. Have. One.

Mikado plant images


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