Dulieu first asks himself the question: What is it that distinguishes the parallel plants from the supposedly real plants of normal botany?
For him there are clearly two levels, or perhaps even two types, of what is real, one on this side and one on the other side of the hedge. “On this side,” he writes, “in our everyday garden, grow the rosemary, juniper, ferns and plane trees, perfectly tangible and visible. For these plants that have an illusory relationship with us, which in no way alters their existentiality, we are merely an event, an accident, and our presence, which to us seems so solid, laden with gravity, is to them no more than a momentary void in motion through the air. Reality is a quality that belongs to them, and we can exercise no rights over it.
“On the other side of the hedge, however, reality is ours. It is the absolute condition of all existence. The plants that grow there are real because we want them to be. If we find them intact in our memories, the same as when we saw them before, it is because we have invested them with the image that we have of them, with the opaque skin of our own confirmation. The plants that grow in that garden are not more or less real than those others which bend and sway in the wind of reason. Their reality, given them by us, is quite simply another and different reality.”
That the parallel plants exist in the context of a reality that is certainly not that of “every day” is evident at first sight. Though from a distance their striking “plantness” may deceive us into imagining that we are concerned with one of the many freaks of our flora, we soon realize that the plants before our eyes must in fact belong to another realm entirely. Motionless, imperishable, isolated in an imaginary void, they seem to throw out a challenge to the ecological vortex tthat surrounds them. What chiefly strikes us about them is the absence of any tangible, familiar substance. This “matterlessness” of the parallel plants is a phenomenon peculiar to them, and is perhaps the thing which mainly distinguishes them from the ordinary plants around them.
The term “matterlessness,” coined by Koolemans and widely used by both Duluth and Furhaus, may not be a very happy one, suggesting as it does the idea of invisibility, which except for certain abnormal situations is not generally true of parallel botany. “Para-materiality” would perhaps be a more correct word to describe the corporeality of plants that are usually characterized by a fairly solid presence, sometimes almost brutally intrusive, which makes them objectively perceptible to the same degree as all the other things in nature, even if their substance eludes chemical analysis and flouts all known laws of physics.
But “matterlessness” does suggest that apparent absence of verifiable structure on a cellular and molecular level common to all the parallel plants. Each individual species has some special anomaly of its own, of course, and these are more difficult to define and often far more disconcerting, although they are always attributable to some abnormal substance that rejects the most basic gravitational restrictions. There are plants, for instance, that appear clearly in photographs but are imperceptible to the naked eye. Some violate the normal rules of perspective, looking the same size however close or far they may be from us. Others are colorless, but under certain conditions reveal a profusion of colors of exceptional beauty. One of them has leaves with such a tangled maze of veins that it caused the extinction of a voracious insect that at one time had threatened the vegetation of an entire continent.