There’s a giant squid on my right arm. He was my first tattoo. It only took me 35 years to work up the nerve, but once I did, I knew the left arm was next, and I knew I wanted something botanical. Plants have been such a big part of my life and I wanted one on me, but which plant? It only took me another five years to figure it out.
Once you start thinking about getting a botanical tattoo, you see them everywhere. The rose tattoo is so common it’s practically the default. But in San Francisco I met people with extremely specific botanical tattoos. Everything from Sarracenia to Dahlia to collections of local flora. It’s always interesting to talk to them about why they chose that particular plant. Often, it’s about connection to a place, or personal story about the plant.
So I started thinking about the plants I have a personal history with. I considered a giant Agave americana, the plant that tortured me as a kid, but it’s basically just green, and I wanted something with more colors. I seriously considered the various elephant ears I love – Alocasia and Colocasia – but they really need their largeness to impress, and I didn’t want a solid green arm. When shrunk to be small enough to fit on an arm, they just look like Pothos. And as much as I love orchids, they’re a pretty common tattoo and I wanted something more unique.
And then it hit me. The plant that’s been on almost every house I’ve ever lived in. The flower that’s complicated, a blend of masculine and feminine, and incredibly variable. The vine that’s tough enough to kill a tree. The plant that, like me, is not from here, but thrives in San Francisco. My botanical tattoo would be a Passiflora.
And six sessions later, there was a Passion flower taking over my left arm. It’s no Passiflora in particular. It’s realistic, but to absolve myself of responsibility to any true botanical experts, I’ve made up a name for the particular plant growing on my arm: Passiflora idealii – my personal idealized Passion flower.
People without tattoos often ask how I could choose something, anything, to have on my body forever. It’s a good, serious question, and one that kept me from getting a tattoo for so many years.
But if it’s one thing gardeners should know, it’s that nothing lasts forever. Every plant we’ve ever nurtured, obsessed over, and tended with love will someday be gone. Maybe in a century, maybe in a decade, maybe in a year. That doesn’t make our connection to them any less meaningful. Perhaps it makes it more important.
My Passiflora tattoo will not last forever – it will last exactly as long as I do. Just like every plant I’ve ever loved, I have an end date. I hope to make a small difference in the world in the time I have, and I might as well surround myself with the things I love while I’m here.