Wednesday, January 14, 2004

In the beginning there was philodendron

That's what the five-and-ten stores sold. It and ivy were the only houseplant offerings, together with holders for pots that could be hung up on the wall. Bars had sansevieria plants, and sometimes a dusty palm or aspidistra, in the window between the glass and the cafe-type curtain that obscured those at the bar from passers-by outdoors. In the 'fifties there was a tremendous fad for African violets. CCH knew someone who showed them and often gave away the loosers. African violets must be watered from the bottom, because the leaves will spot and perhaps even shrivel up if wet. African violets are not a favorite. As with pets, this household does not go out and deliberately acquire houseplants. But they arrive anyhow. Courtesy of Thompson & Morgan, we have actually grown asparagus ferns and baby tears from seed. They lasted a long, long time but are no more. Except for the three 25-cent sansevieria plants that were left out last winter on the wrong night, for years and years all houseplants have been gifts. One is the schefflera, a house-warming present for this establishment, that grew to be 10 or 11 feet tall before it was left outdoors on the wrong cold night. This is the plant that became so heavy that not even two people could deal with it. It's the plant that drove us to buy a hand-truck. It is very busy regenerating itself from the roots. Other houseplants and some plants in the yard are courtesy of our late neighbor, who lived next door far into her nineties, complete with unnaturally bright red hair, hair that almost glowed in the dark, until her relatives "did something" about her. These are not plants that we'd ever have bought, but we've grown fond of them: a not-pretty but very healthy dieffenbachia, orange kalanchoe and its offspring (faithful bloomers every year), common ivy, and a jointed succulent with green leaves edged with creamy white that turn pink when subjected to too much cold. It must have been in the 'sixties that pothos supplanted boring old philodendron as the plain-vanilla houseplant, often in a hanging basket, sometimes held in a macrame net.


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