Bad dye jobs: get the paint off the plants!

Lisa Towery (Flickr Creative Commons)

by Erica Grivas

Plants and color are two of my greatest sources of happiness. But when I see a dyed plant—whether it’s a blue orchid or an oddly ochre heather—I’m instantly enraged.

Courtesy of Callunas d’Alsace

You can find painted or dyed plants in nurseries, box stores and supermarkets. How did we get here? A French nursery claims to have invented painting heathers because their fields looked dull in fall as the heathers browned. As the image above demonstrates, you can probably see them from space.

Why does this make me so mad? So many reasons. It it unnecessary; these plants offer rich color variation naturally. They don’t need to look like superheroes. It’s also misleading. The color, which may or may not be advertised as fake, doesn’t last. That blue on the orchid’s blooms (achieved by adding food coloring to the plant’s water) will leach away with each watering.   With plants that have been sprayed, like succulents, air plants, or heather, you don’t find out until new growth sprouts.

But my bigger fear is that in the same way fast food has souped-up our taste buds to require sugar and salt, these hypersaturated plants train our eyes to demand ever more glitz from the garden. In the process, we are losing our appreciation for delicate beauty and diluting our knowledge of the natural world. With the constant assault of stimuli from our phones and computers, we have less and less time or inclination to slow down and observe seasonal changes in the garden.

Now, even plants need to scream for our attention. How else can they compete with the magnetic attraction of your text alerts? One can imagine sequins, or lights, next. Oh, wait. Too late:

Courtesy of Eurocactus BV

This is from the “Chameleon” line of echeveria; the vendor, Eurocactus, states; ”These plants have been treated with a specially developed paint that does not harm the plant or the environment. This treatment endows the plants with a unique aura. The colours will continually change, depending on the light.” They’re mood ring succulents. This company also states that they grow their products “as organically as possible,” and, strangely, includes a Native American in headdress and warpaint in its logo, because …. cactus?

It used to be that people used plants to create their own homemade fabric dyes; now, that system seems to have been reversed. If you want to spray-paint cut flowers or dried seedheads, that’s fine with me. Mostly. But please, leave the live plants alone.

Gardening always weaves between nature and artifice: where do you draw the line?

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. I despair. Oh, the huplantity…….. The people who think of these things should be hunted down, stripped naked, sprayed with adhesive, painted and glittered, then put on full public display.

  2. I could have written this rant! I totally agree. The air plants are usually a little more subtle than the glow in the dark cactus or blue orchids, but this just makes it worse. Some Tillandsias (air plants) turn bright red just before flowering, so you buy a red one and then it doesn’t flower because it was just paint!

  3. I work in a big box that sells these hideous things. The orchids were bad enough but the succulents, spray painted are awful. Please don’t encourage our vendors by buying them!

  4. Hi Erica, as a fellow garden and plant-lover, I totally agree with you on this…a plant grows into how it should look and dying/painting it is just plain wrong.

  5. There’s usually always a good reason or intention behind developing new technologies. But our history tells us that it’s what’s done afterwards with that technology that we should be concerned about.

  6. Well due to the recent snow where I am, we have not had a chance to appreciate ANY plants and flowers so far this year. Hope this changes, as well as the neglect – in my opinion – that some people show to our god-given nature.

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