What do you do with a poinsettia after the holidays?
Don't tell me. Plant lovers already have. Put it in a dark place (my clothes closet?), don't water it, don't speak to it, until the new moon passes overhead every month, and then wave mandrake root over it while murmuring incantations.
Whatever it is, I'm not going to do it.
So what do you do with it?
There is a proper time for poinsettias. Christmas. But there it sits, still blooming away, performing like an opera singer past her prime.
I don't have the heart to throw it in the garbage while it's alive. And I can't bear not to water it and watch it die of thirst.
In fact, I water it and any plant in my care every time I get thirsty myself, in a sort of anthropomorphic misconception. I'm told that's why all the leaves have fallen off, and why there's that green jungle rot around the pot.
It's going to look ridiculous, bare and moldy, next to the lilacs that should be blooming before too long. And can you picture a poinsettia plant beside sprigs of forced forsythia?
At least I didn't have to wrestle with it as I did with the amaryllis that came to spend Christmas with us. "Would you mind looking after it while we're away?" asked a neighbor. "We've given it lots of plant food, so all you have to do is water it."
The plant was about a foot high, with not a bloom on it. I was hoping it would bloom. I remembered a short story I had read about a lonely old man whose blooming amaryllis changed his life.
I'm not a lonely old man. But that amaryllis did change my life.
First, its stems, growing at an alarming rate with all that plant food nourishing them, made the whole thing top-heavy. It toppled off the table by the second night, spilling vermiculite all over the rug. I replanted it in a larger pot, added potting soil, and placed it on the floor near the Christmas tree.
Buds appeared. Then the first showy, magnificent bloom. Even as we admired it, it began listing toward the tree, the pot teetering in the copper bowl. Quick action saved the decorations on the lower limbs of the tree. The exotic but too-heavy amaryllis bloom was intact, but swaying like a drunken sailor.
It took two of us to handle it. While one held the plant upright, the other ran for twine and scissors to shore it up. I turned the plant so that the heaviest stalk, the one in bloom, faced the room, pulling against the twine that was tied to a gateleg table.
In the confusion, we overlooked another bud that was about to burst. It did, the next day, when no one was around. But it was on a stem growing opposite the first one, so that the whole plant fell into the table legs, choking on the twine when we found it.
By New Year's Day, three gorgeous, gigantic amaryllis flowers were steadied by guy wires and twine criss-crossing half the living room. I took pictures to show the owners, who arrived the day the last flower dropped from the stem.
"Sorry we missed the show," said Mike. "But at least I'm glad you had the pleasure of it."
I have no natural instincts about caring for house plants, and no desire to learn. The one on my kitchen windowsill is proof. A little tab identifies it as a "Fittonia Argyroneura . . . NERVE PLANT. Evenly moist. Filtered light."
The name is apt -- it makes me nervous. And what's "filtered light"? I don't have a light filter.
A friend asked me to take it when she moved to Colorado. I didn't know how to say no.
I'm not against plants. I just don't know what to do with them. They make me feel inadequate.
Few things in my life have made me feel so inept as the avocado seed I got conned into growing.
"We can grow a plant from this seed. Did you know that?" asked a medical student with whom I shared the house. He was already getting out the toothpicks. Someone had told him that you suspend an avocado seed in a glass of water with toothpicks, so that half the seed is submerged.
We did that. Nothing happened. He did further research. "You're supposed to peel the seed first," he said, in a tone that made me feel like an ignoramus.
We peeled it. No results. The water began to smell, so we threw it out, along with the seed. He got another avocado, impaled it on fresh toothpicks and suspended the peeled seed in water once again.
"Hey," he called out as he came home one day, "a girl in one of my classes says you're supposed to suspend the seed with the pointy end in the water. You've got it in sideways. That's why it hasn't rooted."
My cholesterol was now up 40 points from eating avocados. We started another seed, peeled, pointy end down, and scored -- a piece of advice offered by one of my friends. Pretty soon this one split, so we threw it away. When the next one also split, I called a nursery.
"That's what they're supposed to do," the nurseryman said.
After almost a year, and maybe a dozen avocado seeds, roots sprouted, filling the glass. We planted the thing in potting soil in a medium sized pot, then, as it grew, in the biggest pot we could find. I felt threatened.
I called a friend I had worked with, who had grown not a plant but a tree by her office window. When she left the job, she had to get a moving company to take it away. "What was that plant you grew in the office?" I asked her.
"That was an avocado tree," she said. "I grew it from a seed."
That was all I needed to know. While it could still be moved without a giant crane, we put it out to pasture, at a house in the country that could handle it.
Now I think I'll ask that nurseryman if he will take my poinsettia and put it down, as they say in veterinary circles.
It's the kind thing to do.