Houseplants have stories to be told

Houseplants — there are a lot of them in my sunroom, about 80; most are interesting, all of them have a story.

The plants used as herbs include rosemary, Cuban oregano and bay leaf. Fruiting trees include a lemon, a key lime, a couple of figs and an Australian cherry. For spices, there are cinnamon, allspice, vanilla, cardamom and turmeric.

The cinnamon was a gift from a former student. It is flowering now, and new leaves are a lovely pink color; I use the leaves and pieces of bark in my tea. The lemon tree was given to me by a friend who was tired of picking up all its leaves, which it dropped when brought in each fall. I started bringing in the plant earlier, September, and fewer leaves drop during the transition. The tree produces lemons, about two dozen last year, and I always give my friend a tribute lemon in thanks.

The hoya vine, clumps of pretty flowers that smell bad and drip sap on the floor before they fall to the floor, was a cutting from the vine of a mentor in Texas. My mother picked up a camellia for me when returning to New York from Florida. I know transporting plants in a car is a challenge. Camellias are a southern shrub and bloom throughout the winter into spring, easy in South Carolina, but they need the sunroom here for warm temperatures. I have a couple of plants from my sister Gwen. Gwen died several years ago, and we gave all her plants away to her friends and family.

The elephant in the room, so to speak, is a large Norfolk Island pine. The plant still had its cotyledons (a whorl of seed leaves) when it was purchased. I was pregnant. That tree, and my son, are 42 now.

We started in New York, moved to North Carolina, then Texas, back to New York, back to North Carolina and finally Ohio. That tree has seen some miles, and there are a few photos of my son and his tree through time. Some day I hope he will claim it.

The tree reached the ceiling of the sunroom several years ago, there was no place for it to go, so the top is growing sideways along the ceiling. Some years, it gets decorated for Christmas. I am so used to it that I forget its impression on guests: “he has a tree in the sunroom!” Actually, three trees, the allspice and a lemon eucalyptus besides the Norfolk Island pine.

Plants are not just green things, they are the repositories of wonderful stories and memories. A friend recently asked Janet DelTurco about a hoya she acquired that had been her grandmother’s, and last year at the Master Gardener’s class someone told me of a plant that was a cutting from something in her bridal bouquet.

Think about the plants in your house, share their stories. Probably one of the reasons there are so many plants in the sunroom is that each has a story, and they are my friends.

Susan Carty is a local gardener and a professor emerita of biology at Heidelberg University.

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