M. Giant's
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Sunday, November 16, 2008  

Putting Down Roots

Our friend Bitter moved out of the house this week and into her new apartment. We miss her already, but the household has a new member that I'd like you to meet. Here it is:

i has a windo

It's a hibiscus tree that M. Edium got me for Father's Day. It spent the summer outside on the patio, generally at the mercy of the elements and how often I remembered to filter some water through the fibrous mass in its pot. It even bloomed once, before it came home.

Now that it's moved inside and officially become a houseplant for at least the winter, I'm finally paying it some attention. But let me back up a little. About 18 years.

I've always been a little weird about houseplants. When Trash and I first moved in together, we got this little one-and-a-half-leafed fichus that I got way too invested in. Like Jean Reno in The Professional, only with not so many guns. I misted it and gave it plant food and talked to it. We made grand plans for our future together, when I would be a professional writer and it would be a mighty specimen straight out of Little Shop of Horrors.

Then we got cats and they started eating it, and the sprayer started to get used on Strat and Orca more than it did on the plant. Months, this went on. Finally I had the genius idea of placing the plant where I thought it would be out of their reach or at least out of their everyday awareness, on the high windowsill of our garden-level apartment. I should have predicted the outcome: the next time Orca decided to enjoy a green snack, it ended in a loud crash and a pile of terracotta, dirt, and dismembered fichus. Three leaves were all it ever had.

From that day on, I resolved never to let another plant into my house -- or my heart -- again. I loved my cats, and couldn't change them, so why let myself in for all that grief? It was an overreaction in the other direction. In fact, years later, when a coworker gave me a small cactus for my desk at work, I ended up letting it die out of neglect. It took several years, but I managed it.

And now there's this hibiscus tree, which was only supposed to be in our house for the few days between the first frost and the time when my parents could stop by to bring it home to their place for the winter. But a funny thing happened in those few days. Well, not really funny, per se, unless you think water is funny. But not long after the sad, droopy, Charlie-Brown-Christmas-tree hibiscus came inside and I had watered it a few times, the sparse leaves that had been hanging in a limp gray fringe for weeks started turning back to green and spreading out horizontally, in a clear and mystifying defiance of the laws of gravity. What was up with that? And what could I make it do next? Certainly not go home with my parents.

Since then I've been maybe a little too solicitous of this tree. I keep its non-absorbent root-ball as moist as I can, make sure I keep the blinds open during the day so it can get plenty of sunlight, chase Exie away from it, and yes, mist. Now this week, the ends of some of the branches are starting to develop these funny pointy green things. What manner of magic have I birthed?

You don't need to worry about me, though. I'm not going to lose perspective again this time. I haven't run right out to buy a bigger pot for it, or the most expensive potting soil I could find, or plant food to dissolve into the spray bottle, and I hardly ever talk to it so far. Although I will confess to being a little concerned about where we're going to keep it when the Christmas tree goes up in its current spot.

You don't think I could talk Trash into letting it be our Christmas tree, do you? Because just imagine what that could do for its self-esteem.

posted by M. Giant 2:01 PM 4 comments


If you want to explore your obsession with houseplants further, or even just protect the hibiscus from Exie, you might invest in a bottle of Bitter Apple spray (available at pet stores). The stuff is magical in terms of convincing kitties that your houseplants aren't their own, personal salad bar. The stuff smells a wee bit funky when it is first sprayed (sort of a cross between past-their-prime raspberries and alcohol, like a weird, cheap hairspray) but the smell dissipates fairly quickly. If you have a smarter cat, they'll catch on in short order that the plants taste icky and leave them alone. (If you have a less intelligent feline, like our present crazy cat, you may need to keep re-spraying every few weeks forever. Fortunately Bitter Apple comes in extra-large bottles.)

Also, if you are still considering sending the plant to your parents' for the winter, make sure it doesn't get cold. We once killed every houseplant/tree but one (a ficus, actually) by moving them from one home to another in January. Turns out they can get "shocked" by the cold and then their leaves turn black and they die if they're a more exotic plant, like a palm... *sniff sniff*

Good luck with the hibiscus - please post some pictures if and when it blooms!

By Blogger Heather, at November 16, 2008 at 2:26 PM  

A lovely, wistful, funny children's book that features a hibiscus early on: The Marzipan Pig, by Russell Hoban

By Anonymous Anonymous, at November 16, 2008 at 3:19 PM  

My cats are easily distracted from my houseplants by cat grass that I buy at the pet store (along the lines of this stuff: http://www.petsmart.com/product/index.jsp?productId=2755041)

The hibiscus might stand a fighting chance against your pets if you give them something else to snack on.

By Blogger Vegas, at November 18, 2008 at 3:30 PM  

I think you'll be fine. It's pretty friggin hard to kill hibiscus. Trust me, I'm like the angel of death when it comes to plants, but my two hibiscus have been alive for 6 months.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at November 20, 2008 at 4:46 PM  

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