At 10:50 a.m. Friday, Sept. 13, members of the William and Mary Botany Club laid out rows of miniature plants in the Sadler Center lobby. Immediately, students descended like a pack of piranhas, clamoring over which plants to buy, and thrusting dollar bills into the fray.
Ten minutes later, only a few scraggly plants and a pile of cash remained as evidence of the Botany Club’s annual plant sale.
“We always sell out pretty fast, but this I think was a new record,” Botany Club secretary Kendall Kin ’20 said.
Botany Club’s plant sale is popular for many reasons, but the most obvious is because their plants make great decorations.
“Dorm rooms can be very plain and very spartan, and a little bit depressing, I know my freshman dorm in Griffin B in GGV was a little bit of a shoebox when we got there,” Botany Club president Hannah Call ’20 said. “The plants just really help people bring greenery into their space, and there’s a lot of studies that show that it’s really good for you mentally — they can lower your stress level.”
Call argues that plants can be beneficial to college students’ health.
“I personally think it’s very important to have something that relies on you for care,” Call said. “So when you get an F, or a C, or a B-, and you’re like, ‘that is horrible, I am an A student only,’ you can be like, ‘my worth is not my grades, I am the mother to this plant, I water it, I care for it, I make sure it gets light,’ and that can be another way to sort of distribute your mental energy in the world in a positive way.”
All of the plants in the sale were grown in the greenhouse on the roof of the Integrated Science Center, mostly tended to by Botany Club members.
“We teach people in Botany Club how to take a plant and make five plants out of it,” Call said. “Plant sales are the result of that, because we start with a set number and we just multiply it like crazy, and then we run out of space, so we gotta sell them.”
Plants weren’t the only commodity sold at the Botany Club’s event. Scattered among the plant pots were tiny plastic dinosaurs in neon colors. With each plant sold, a student got a dinosaur, upholding a Botany Club ritual.
“It’s a tradition that started before my time,” Call said. “No one knows why it started, but people also love dinosaurs. They look great next to the plant, because the plant looks like a prehistoric tree, and you’ve got the megafauna underneath.”
With a stack of cash left on the table, and a large Venmo balance, Botany Club has to decide what to do with their plant sale earnings.
“We make donations to the greenhouse with some of it, because the greenhouse budget is actually really tiny,” Call said. “Other than that, we use it to subsidize stuff like going to botanical gardens.”
Members of Botany Club have a large range of expertise, abilities and interests. Some, like Kin, are looking to go into botany as a career.
“I’m majoring in biology and anthropology, and so those two tend to work together pretty well,” Kin said. “But within biology I’m specifically doing botany, and through Botany Club I was actually able to meet the greenhouse manager and other people that I’ve been able to network with, and now I’m doing research in botany, so it’s been really helpful.”
Other members, like Finn Mayhew ‘21, simply joined the club for fun.
“I just like the social experience going on every Sunday and hanging out with friends and just playing around in dirt and repotting plants; it’s really relaxing and calming,” Mayhew said. “I don’t know anything about plants at all, so I’m always at a loss when people ask me questions.”
Call says Botany Club is looking for new ways to reach out to students and help with any plant-related problems.
“‘Re-Pot Your Plant Day’ is something we’ve thought about, because no one has a bag of soil in their dorm room, but a lot of people actually will bring a plant from home,” Call said. “So, we’re probably going to do a day for people to come to the greenhouse, bring their plant, bring the pot they want to put it in, and we’ll supply dirt … soil, technically.”
Apart from the plant sale and some outreach programs, Botany Club spends most of their meetings in the greenhouse, where students tend to different varieties of plants while learning a bit about botany.
“You don’t even have to be a biology major or anything, we just care about plants, and we hang out in the greenhouse for an hour, and we get to grow things and see all of the cool plants that are growing in the greenhouse,” Kin said. “It’s honestly just a group of nerds who enjoy plants.”