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Finding Joy in a Plant

A tall snake plant sits in the corner of our dining room, and that simple plant makes me happy.  Recent weather forecast for frost signaled the time to bring potted plants indoors.  It felt good, almost soothing, to wipe the dust and grime off the long, narrow, strong leaves.  Partly because when I clean, I want to see a difference and this plant was dirty. But mostly, because it once belonged to my grandmother.

             A tall snake plant in a white pot always set on Grandma and Papa’s front porch.   She called it a mothers-in-law tongue, and her mother gave it to her.  As a kid, I didn’t really like it. The pointed, sharp leaves hurt when I brushed by arm or leg against them and I didn’t think it was pretty.  After Grandma’s death about thirty years ago, my aunt moved the plant to her house and shared two starter plants with me.  Grandma had few material things to pass on so I was really glad to have something that was hers; something she had nurtured.

            Snake plants require little care.  In fact, leave them alone and they grow well.  In the summer, I sat the pots outside and prided myself that the leaves were green and healthy.  When frost threatened, I moved the plants into a garage corner for the winter.  After many weeks, I noticed the tall leaves were limp. So, I set the pots in a bucket and poured water around the soil and left the plants in water all day. In fact, I left them for several days, and the leaves began to turn yellow.  I’d broken the #1 rule about care for snake plants: don’t overwater.

            Root rot killed one plant. Aunt Doris gave me detailed instructions to save the other one and she offered new starter plants, but I was determined to bring my small plant back to life. And I did, and now truly appreciate it as Grandma did hers.  

            The long, narrow, strong leaves earned this plant the name snake plant and prompted other names. Mothers-in-law because we mothers sometimes struggle to hold our tongues.  In Spain, it’s known as Saint George’s sword.  It’s also called viper’s bowstring because the stiff fiber in the leaves are strong. 

            Snake plants are succulent plants and their leaves retain water, similar to a cactus. I finally learned to water mine only when the top few inches of its soil are completely dry and to never pour water on the leaves.  I just learned that snake plants clean the air better than most plants because not only do they give off oxygen, they absorb high amounts of carbon monoxide and filter toxins in the air.  I’m sure Grandma didn’t know her plant helped to keep her healthy. 

            Now, the tallest leaf on my snake plant is about 40”and there are dozens of leaves, so many that it must be divided.  Next spring, I’ll give starter plants to my children.  Who knows how many generations might enjoy a simple snake plant?

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