Cambrian: Slice of Life


It’s time for my annual rite of folly — I just bought some poinsettias.

My name is Kathe, and I’m a poinsettia killer.

Do you know how truly awful a potted poinsettia can look in July? One long, thin stem one brown-edged, pale-green leaf. It’s pitiful.

Doesn’t matter. I still can’t throw it out.

Me killing poinsettias isn’t murder one, a calculated execution, unthinking, unloving, toss-it-in-the-trash-like-I-don’t care. It’s accidental poinsettia homicide, with a sentence of 20 years to life with nothing but an Australian stick tree.

I really do try to coax my poinsettias into surviving for more than 15 minutes, or at least until our work staff holiday party is over, please.

Funny how a scruffy poinsettia can kill a Christmas party mood.

Despite all my tender loving, finicky handling — including long conversations with it in poinsettia language, a shared shower or two, careful observation of the direction and intensity of sunlight, judiciously applied water and Kool Aid-looking plant food, even consultations with nursery folks, plant experts and an astrologer or two — inevitably my poinsettias die before their time, usually even before all the red bracts have fallen off.

It just doesn’t seem very Christmassy, somehow.

But then, indoor plant-growing isn’t my horticultural trump card. I can even kill a head of lettuce, sometimes before I can get it home from the farmers market.

So, why would brown-thumb me try to preserve a plant as notoriously finicky as a poinsettia? Because, as I said, I just can’t bring myself to throw away a plant.

It’s the horticultural equivalent of ignoring the baby hummingbird that knocks itself loopy by flying into your window.

Tossing out a plant is almost like tossing one of my kids into the recycling bin.

Just imagine my surprise when, out of the six or eight plants I got last year, one of them actually survived the Tanner Curse. Declare a holiday! Broadcast the news! What a surprise.

I had wrested it back from the spindly stick stage, and it has oh, eight or 10 leaves on it.

None of them are red, of course.

If I can’t even keep a philodendron alive, how could I possibly hope to master the intricacies of when to water a poinsettia and when to ignore it, when to trim or when to lock it in a closet and keep it dark just to get the red bracts atop the green.

But I’ve got that solved, just in time. Shhhh. No one will ever know.

Amazing how credible it looks with a couple of stems of red silk poinsettias stuck in the pot with the plant.

Sure, it’s cheating. But it still beats being a plant killer who throws away a Christmas poinsettia.

This column ran first in The Cambrian on Dec. 11, 1997.