As everyone around the periphery of the federal government knows by now, there is a trade association, lobbying group or professional organization for every cause, from the Automotive Dismantlers & Recyclers of America to Zero Population Growth.

Now the plant people have one, too.

Not manufacturing plants. House plants, or whatever house plants become when they leave home and go to work, greening up some shopping center corridor or office building arcade.

To ensure that no unsuspecting business is ripped off by a fly-by-night plant sitter, the industry has organized the National Council for Interior Horticultural Certification.

NCIHC (as in hiccup) "is a non-profit organization with the purpose of maintaining high standards within the interior plantscape industry by the establishment of a certification process whereby interested professionals in the field undergo careful testing and examination of their educational and professional backgrounds, their current business projects and their reputation in the interior plantscape industry."

The verbiage could use a little pruning, but when you get to the root of it, the plan is to turn ordinary plantsitters and dracaena dealers into card-carrying interior horticulturalists.

The next time someone strolls into your office with a watering can and scissors in one hand, a bottle of fungicide and a can of fertilizer in the other, stop them before they get to the plants. Demand to see their credentials. A green thumb is not good enough.

Imagine the danger if the hanging gardens of Georgetown Park were planted by an uncertified horticulturalist. Overwatered, underfertilized, ill-pruned plants could turn brown before the eyes of horrified shoppers. If untested plant freaks tampered with the hanging pots, California-style fern bars could revert to ordinary watering holes. Oh, Greenery! Holy Houlihans! Save the ferns!

And be thankful that the interior horticulturalists caught deregulatory fever and backed away from their initial inclination to seek government licensing of the indoor plant industry.

That idea germinated in the dank dampness of some greenhouse and was mercifully nipped in the bud by Charles Blumberg, an architect and interior designer for the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, and a board member of NCIHC.

Blumberg chairs the Design Research Committee of the Institute of Business Designers, the professional organization of commercial interior decorators. His committee did extensive research on whether decorators, like architects, ought to be licensed. When the interior horticulturalists began organizing, they asked Blumberg to study direct government regulation. If hair dressers can have government licenses, why not plant dealers?

"We determined the environment just wasn't right," said Blumberg. "We saw the handwriting on the wall with sunset laws" in many states that are doing away with boards that license cosmotolgists, funeral directors and the like.

The dearth of regulation over interior horticulture is matched only the absence of abuses to regulate. Neither Blumberg nor NCIHC President Donald Gammon could name even a horticultural misdemeanor, to say nothing of a felony against flora.

But the plantscapers persevered. If government safety nets could not be extended to protect plants and their owners, the industry would raise its own standards through "self-regulation."

Now certified interior horticulturalists can hold up their heads with the same pride as Realtors with a capital "R," Chartered Life Underwriters (the all-pros of the life insurance league) and Certified Gemologists (better known as wedding ring dealers).

Not since Peter Sellers stumbled out of his Washington garden in "Being There" and Chauncey Gardiner became a confidant of presidents have plant people gained such status.

The appointment of the initial group of 75 certified interior horticulturalists may prove as dangerous as the appearance of the first aphid on a philodendron. If interior horticulturalists can, without government subsidies, institutionalize peer pressure and self-glorification, can other unregulated occupations resist the trend?

Self-regulation could spread like mealybugs to every adjoining species. Politicians may catch it next and then, horrors, journalists. Quick, grab a can of Raid.