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Spider-plant update

I got a spider plant in April, a gift from the manager on my last contract. She has an elaborate garden where she grows all kinds of flowering and fruiting plants, and she often brought in lemons, oranges, tomatoes, and cuttings from houseplants. One day she brought in a large, covered Tupperware container with a dozen spider-plant cuttings in an inch or so of water, their roots already long enough for potting.

My mother had dozens of houseplants while I was growing up, and watering them must have been among my chores, but I seem to have blotted it all out. I must have seen dozens of repottings, yet my only memories of how a plant grows, or what to do with one, are memories of nature shows, time-lapse films of a plant growing from a seed in a cutaway-view box.

When I moved out of the house, I initiated a series of doomed experiments in the window box of my apartment. I had a fantasy that involved the box overflowing with alyssum. Attempts to grow it from seed were a dismal failure, and a bid to coax small plants into survival fared no better. This was confusing as well as disappointing to me, because I lived in a city where alyssum was as common as dirt. Fragrant hardy carpets of the stuff covered vast spaces not a dozen feet from the dead zone that was my apartment.

Then I got a cat, and it was all over. I won't actually admit to spoiling cats, but I believe they can't be trained. I know I don't have the patience to train one myself, especially to train it to stop chewing on plants. (They just start again the minute you leave the room, out of spite if not out of desire.)

My apartment had been cat-free for three months when my manager brought in the spider-plant cuttings. She stopped at my cubicle with a spider plant in a styrofoam cup and asked me brightly if I would like to have it. I hesitated for a moment and then accepted, feeling ready for a rematch. My friends and family gave me reassuring news, "A spider plant is hard to kill." Most said the same thing, word for word.

My spider plant continued to live in the same styrofoam cup for about a month. On someone's advice, I changed its water periodically while I dithered on potting supplies. Eventually I realized that the main thing holding me back was, amazingly enough, not knowing what to buy. It sounds ridiculous, even though I freshly remember the blank I drew when I thought about making a list for a trip to the local hardware store.

I am lucky to have two good hardware stores within a few blocks of my apartment, and they're very helpful, but it was my friends to the rescue again with the obvious advice about what size pot to choose and so on. Dirt was available only in 10-pound bags; I suppose people tend to have more than one plant. Mid-May I cleansed my apartment, and I potted my plant, and it was truly the end of an era of helplessness within my surroundings.

The plant seems happy. My usual interface with a living thing in my home has been to watch the cute things it does, and I sometimes find myself standing and looking at the plant as if it's going to roll over or chase a bug. Please spare me comments; I am only reporting, not making the slightest claim that this is rational.

My plant has one notable behavior: it is phototropic. As I glance at it now, it is clearly oriented toward the kitchen window, its longest leaves reaching up and out, not unlike fingers emerging from a grave. Aww.

June 8, 2002