The symbolism of plants: Suggestions for the D.C. office of Alaska’s new congresswoman

In a former life, I spent a tremendous amount of time in Washington, D.C., lobbying. Those visits always included sessions with the Alaska delegation.

Invariably, someone on one of the staffs would ask about a plant in the office that wasn’t doing well. I guess when an important contributor gives you a plant, it makes sense to keep it thriving and healthy. And when you are a congressman who was in office as long as Don Young, you had some pretty old plants on hand.

Lu Young, the congressman’s late wife, would find out I was in the office and interrupt our meetings to make sure I didn’t leave without spending a bit of time with her making the rounds of the plants in the congressman’s offices.

Now we have a new representative, Mary Peltola. I am sure she inherited some of Don’s office plants and will give them the same great care she will give us. However, she probably needs a few new ones. This being the case, perhaps I can make a few suggestions for our new congresswoman. I promise her staffers that these are all very, very easy to care of.

In Victorian times a language of flowers and plants developed, allowing people to communicate secretly. As a result, today most plants have symbolic meanings. This helps in making my suggestions for our new congresswoman.

I am going to start with a Monstera deliciosa plant, aka the Swiss cheese plant. It is said this plant represents honor, respect and a value for family history, which seems perfect for the first Alaska Native to be elected to the House. Indirect light and water once a week is all the plant really needs.

Next, how about a pot of aloe vera? This easy-to-grow plant symbolizes healing and protection. After a long, long election season, COVID-19 lockdowns and missing snow crab and subsistence salmon, Alaskans — and this country — need both. We need a representative who can make sure Alaskans are not forgotten during the legislative process and who can reach across the aisle to reduce partisan tensions. Aloe, which just needs a bit of water every week or so, can help.


All offices definitely need some large plants and I can’t think of a better one for Congresswoman Peltola than a Strelitzia, aka bird of paradise. This plant symbolizes freedom. It just needs slightly moist soil that is allowed to dry out between weekly waterings. Do put this one by a window or the front entrance as it will need light.

Of course, we all want peace so how about a peace lily, or Spathiphyllum? With its obvious symbolism — peace, yes, but also hope and sympathy — its presence in the office will surely signal some of the essence of our state and our new representative. It is best to keep the soil slightly moist and give the plant some light.

As unlikely a choice as it might sound, a snake plant, Sansevieria trifasciata, surprisingly represents peace and sympathy, positivity and good fortune. It is also the easiest plant to care for. Forget that it is called mother-in-law’s tongue. In the world of feng shui, these plants are considered barriers against negative energy. Given the divide between Rs and Ds, it could really come in handy for Congresswoman Peltola.

Finally, I suggest someone on the staff order several jewel orchids, also known as lightning bolt orchids. It is a beautiful plant, grown for the markings and patterns on its leaves, not its small flowers. Like our congresswoman, this plant is a rare find — but most definitely available via the internet — and strong. Its scientific name is Macodes Petola.

Rare, strong, beautiful, and it seems “Macode” is derived from Greek and means “length.” Alaskans should want a congressperson who will be in office for awhile in order to secure some of the benefits of seniority. And we should want a congressperson who has the power of lightning so she can use it to protect and promote Alaska, Alaskans and our country — which I am sure Congresswoman Mary Peltola will.

Jeff’s Alaskan Garden Calendar

Brighter Winter Nights: The light display at The Garden is fantastic. Check, it out and reserve a spot for your day between now and Jan. 21.

Thrips: Gnat-like flies lay eggs in the top inch of soil. If you have gnats, reduce waterings and cover soil with newspaper or cardboard which makes it very difficult for thrips to properly lay eggs.

Poinsettia season: Make sure your plants have adequate drainage and are placed where there are no drafts. Water well and let only the surface dry out.

Jeff Lowenfels

Jeff Lowenfels has written a weekly gardening column for the ADN for more than 45 years. His columns won the 2022 gold medal at the Garden Communicators International conference. He is the author of a series of books on organic gardening available at Amazon and elsewhere. He co-hosts the "Teaming With Microbes" podcast.