asparagus fern
Our asparagus fern Prickly rules the sunporch.
The other day I was reading E.B. White’s One Man’s Meat again. In the particular essay I happened upon, he was talking about a rubber plant:

“This rubber plant is one I bought thirteen years ago on West Eighth Street and it has been my companion ever since. As rubber plants go, it has been a success and I am attached to it in a curious sort of way, as a man does get attached to anything that manages to last thirteen years under the same roof with him.”

E.B. White is right, I thought: A longtime plant does become a companion.

In my case it’s an asparagus fern. I am attached to it. In fact, the whole family is. My daughter named him Prickly for the tiny sharp spikes on his stems. Whenever he sends up a new shoot that will grow into another diaphanous leaf, I call everyone to observe: “Look, Prickly has a new shoot!”

My daughter firmly believes that Prickly has a mind of his own.

He grows whenever he wants to, sending up new shoots in the cold of winter when the sunporch, where he lives, is icy and drafty. You’d think that’s not exactly a nurturing environment. He also goes through drier periods when his tiny leaves brown and sprinkle the floor. He blooms, sporting miniature cottony ball puffs, but not necessarily in spring, when other plants do.

Unlike E.B. White with his rubber plant, I am not sure how long ago Prickly joined the family.

I can’t remember our apartment without him, and we’ve been here seventeen years. He sat on the mantle for a while. When he started to loose leaves there, I moved him to the sunporch where he gets a lot of light. Now he rules that space. I yell at the kids when they horse around and step on one of his longer stems sprawling on the floor. I check for new shoots when I water him as if I could do anything to guard their progress into the air until they arch down as gravity takes over.

Turret window with cacti
The building where my grandfather used to live still stands. He grew
his cacti in the turret windows. Now someone else does!

It’s funny how history repeats itself: My grandfather used to grow¬†cacti in the sunny alcove of his city apartment in the former Reichenberg, now Liberec, in the Czech Republic.

My dad’s cousin, my Aunt Herta, told me how he once summoned the whole family in the middle of the night to see his Queen of the Night cactus bloom. It is a cactus that blooms rarely, and if it does, only for one night.

Our Prickly blossoms more often, but there’s still a family gathering in a city apartment behind old fashioned windows to appreciate the doings of a plant.