A Case of the Human Condition: I Want to Kill My Snapdragons

Maroon snapdragons growing in a garden. Photo by BF Newhall

The offending snapdragons. Photos by BF Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

I don’t like the snapdragons growing in my front yard. Their color, somewhere between scarlet and maroon, gets on my nerves. I don’t like scarlet. I like maroon even less.

The snapdragons are innocent. They are doing what they are supposed to do. They’re sending down roots, sucking up water, opening up blossoms. If I rip them out of the ground in full bloom am I an assassin? They may be ugly, but they are alive.

When I spotted the six-packs of baby snapdragons at the nursery, top of huge cypress tree california. photo by bf newhallall I could see were a few creamy buds. And something pinkish. They looked good to me. But now they are taking over my garden.

Their dark, aggressive coloring shouts in my face, leaving the more modest blossoms in the yard, the lavender and the bacopa, to go unnoticed.

My mother, who turned 92 on Wednesday, has shelves and tables of potted plants growing with fervor out on her patio. One plant, philodendron, is not doing so well. It has only a few leaves, most of them dead or yellowing.

top branches of a big cypress tree. photo by bf newhall“Do I throw it out?” she asks. “It doesn’t look very good.”

I think of my snapdragons. And my cypress tree. And my mother, for that matter. She doesn’t look very good.

When Peter was little, we found out he was allergic to cypress. “Hmm,” I said to the pediatrician. “We have a cypress tree growing in our back yard a few feet from the house – and Peter’s bedroom.”

“Cut it down,” the doctor said.

Jon and I conferred. Our cypress was massive — five stories tall —trunk of massive cypress tre and older than both of us put together. It was a magnificent tree, timeless, a steady presence at our house. Its branches had grown over and around our deck, so that you could go out there at any time, day or night, stand inside that tree and forget where you were in time and space.

No way were Jon and I going to get rid of that cypress tree. Peter would have to take antihistamines. Or grow out of his allergies. We’d move to another house.

Peter outgrew the allergies. The cypress tree, as stately and self-sufficient as ever, lives on.

base of seven-story cypress tree. photo by bf newhallBut the awful snapdragons? The scraggly, deadish philodendron in the pot on my mother’s patio?  They’ve got to go. Somehow.


Photos by BF Newhall

Find out what happened to the snapdragons.

a yellowing, dying philodendron in a pot. photo by bf newhall



  1. My mother passed away in December. Her philodendron is long gone. But I have a jade plant from her apartment that makes me sad to look at. And, of course, the cypress lives on. bfn

  2. DurianJoe says:

    Dear Ms. Falconer Newhall,

    I am responding to your thoughts about killing plants and vegetarianism, and why vegetarians might feel it is alright to kill and eat plants, but not animals.

    As a vegetarian, here is my answer: first, animals are central nervous systems or are otherwise far more complex than plants. Animals think and have emotions and, as common experience and science tells us, animals have the capacity to suffer both physical and mental pain. There are no indications that plant do likewise, either from observation or scientific research (the one 1970’s study purporting to show that plants can think has been thoroughly debunked as junk science).

    Another reason is that we vegetarians believe in eating as low down the food chain as possible, for a number of reasons, but usually to minimize the amount of suffering we cause by eating. Even if plants experience pain on the most primitive of levels — again, never shown nor supported by science — by eating only plants, we minimize the suffering we cause.

    Yet another reason is that when one eats animals such as a cow, one is also eating all the plants that were intentionally raised and fed to that cow so, even if plants feel some primitive form of pain, by not eating animals we are not supporting a practice where plants are raised and killed to feed animals, who are then raised and killed.

    There are other reasons too, such as environmental and health, but from an ethical point of view, there is your answer.

    By the way, some people ask why vegetarians do not eat simple shellfish such as oysters, which though animals are practically plant-like in their sentience. The reason is that this is probably a gray area — does an oyster feel pain? — so we give them the benefit of the doubt. My own personal experience is illuminating. Back when I was becoming a vegetarian in stages, by first giving up red, then poultry, then fish, I was down to shellfish. I bought some live mussels to cook, something I’d never done before. To cook a mussel one holds it in one hand and trims the “beard” off the outside a the shell with a knife (the beard being the tendrils that hang outside the shell that the mussel uses to obtain nutrients from the water). I found that every time I sliced off the beard, I felt the muscle jump inside the shell. Now of course, this is probably as primitive a pain reaction in the animal kingdom that you can find, but I reasoned that primitive though it may be, to the mussel is was pain, and so that night I gave up shellfish and became a complete vegetarian.

    Yours truly,


    • Bob Calvert says:

      I read your letter,and found it profound and enteresting. Keep up the good work. Bob Calvert

      • Thanks, Bob. I’ve got some pansies coming up in the front yard today that I’m not crazy about. But I’m thinking maybe I should look at them more closely. Get to know them.

  3. Wait…aren’t snapdragons those flowers that look like dragons and are a beautiful, vivid dark red color? I love those!

    Unless they behave like a weed and take over the whole garden I think you should keep them and/or try to have them in only a small area where they do look good.

    Also, I’m not sure cutting down that cypress tree would have solved my problems as I was allergic to seemingly everything. Although getting rid of it may provide an even better view.

    • Oh, no! Too late. A word from my dear son Peter probably would have saved those maroon snapdragons. But sigh, they are now in a vase in the kitchen, their roots in the compost bin.

      Snapdragons come in lots of nice colors. Pink, yellow, white, maybe even lavender. The white and yellow ones are still standing. See tomorrow’s post. Love, Mom

    • And . . . yes. If you squeeze them, their jaws open and they look like scary dragons.


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