Friday, September 21, 2012

A Plant as a Companion

Our asparagus fern rules the sunporch
The other day I was reading E.B. White's One Man's Meat again, and in the particular essay I happened upon, he was talking about a rubber plant:

"This rubber plant is one I bought thirteen years ago on West Eighth Street and it has been my companion ever since. As rubber plants go, it has been a success and I am attached to it in a curious sort of way, as a man does get attached to anything that manages to last thirteen years under the same roof with him."

E.B. White is exactly right, I thought; a longtime plant does become a companion. In my case it's an asparagus fern. I am attached to it. In fact, the whole family is. My daughter named him Prickly for the tiny sharp spikes on his stems. Whenever he sends up a new shoot that will grow into another diaphanous leaf, I call everyone to observe: "Look, Prickly has a new shoot!"

My daughter firmly believes that Prickly has a mind of his own. He grows whenever he wants to, sending up new shoots in the cold of winter when the sunporch, where he lives, is icy and drafty and you'd think that's not exactly a nurturing environment. He also goes through drier periods when his tiny leaves brown and sprinkle the floor, and he blooms, sporting miniature cotton ball puffs, but not necessarily in spring, when other plants do.

Unlike E.B. White, I am not sure how long ago Prickly joined the family. I can't remember our apartment without him, and we've been here seventeen years. He sat on the mantle for a while, but started to loose leaves there, so I moved him to the sunporch where he gets a lot of light. Now he rules that space. I yell at the kids when they horse around and step on one of his longer stems sprawling on the floor. I check for new shoots when I water him as if I could do anything to guard their progress into the air until they arch down as gravity takes over.


The building where my grandfather
used to live still stands. He grew
his cacti in the windows below
this turret.
It's funny how history repeats itself: My grandfather used to grow cacti in the sunny alcove of his city apartment in the former Reichenberg, now Liberec, in the Czech Republic. My dad's cousin, who was really an aunt to me, told me how he once summoned the whole family in the middle of the night to see his Queen of the Night cactus bloom. It is a cactus that blooms rarely, and if it does, only for one night. Our Prickly blossoms more often, but there's still a family gathering in a city apartment behind old fashioned windows to appreciate the doings of a plant.

4 comments:

  1. In a former home I had a wall of windows and a forest of plants. When I make renovations on my present house I,all include better plant space because I need to rest my eyes on green every day, especially in winter

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    1. Julie - that's a lovely way to put the value of plants: they do provide us with a little green to rest our eyes on, even in the grey of winter!

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  2. I'm not even sure what kind of plant my first large houseplant was, but I'm not known for my green thumb and I couldn't kill it. It moved with me everywhere, even when the movers said that they couldn't guarantee the plant's survival in the back of the moving truck. But it did survive, even moves in the dead of winter, from Chicago to New Jersey to Pittsburgh to South Bend, IN. Maybe it was the loving way my cat Taylor would chew on its leaves that kept it going all those years. I gave the plant away to a neighbor before my move back to Chicago, knowing I wouldn't have the space for sprawling branches. It was like saying goodbye to an old friend, but I knew I was leaving it in even better hands - someone who remembered to water and talked to her plants.

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    1. Jennifer - it does sound like you dumped an old friend, even if that plant is in better hands now, it was still so faithful, wasn't it?

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