November 18, 2010

Mid-Autumn Monster Plants and Gender Mojos

The middle of November in the center of South Carolina brings a much anticipated event: the annual migration of house plants from outside to indoors. Not everyone survives the journey, especially those who were the victims of their own success and grew too large and unwieldy for their containers. One such plant is the Devil’s Ivy, aptly named because it cascaded ten feet down from its container then rooted itself into the ground for another five feet. Pulling these botanical wonders back indoors for the winter is a task that is happily put off. The trick is to play chicken with the frost and wait until the last possible moment to lug the heavy ones in. Sometimes the frost wins. Plant life or death for the winter months can also be pinned to the vagaries of having out of town work or a cold on frost day.

The truly problematic plant this year was an overgrown tree philodendron which needed to be repotted in something about three times the size of the original container- something so huge it devoured an entire bag of potting soil. The aerial roots on the plant tangled themselves so profoundly inside the pot that the plant simply could not be removed. The only thing to do was to destroy the pot to free the plant. The plant of course had to be preserved not only for it being such a grand specimen of a tree philodendron but because it came from my late mother-in-law’s home. ( I had over the years become the keeper of all specimens of greenery from friends and relatives who left them at my doorstep like orphans. Okay, some I adopted myself off of street corners and I have even been known to cultivate plants rescued from the cracks in sidewalks).

I tried to pry the plant loose from the pot at first with a wonder bar but to no avail. My husband decided that my continued efforts would break the pot anyway and so he suggested that I just clobber it with a hammer. Easy for someone who did not purchase this vessel to say. But I reluctantly and somewhat tepidly started to fracture the fiberglass pot with the wonder bar. The pace of my efforts seemed to go too slowly for my husband’s patience and he decided to take over the job.

Getting a huge axe, my significant other took the plant outdoors and bid me not to look lest his concentration fail. This caused a feeling of deja vu. I distinctly remember times in my youth when my overlooking the proceedings of males bonding over car repairs was frowned upon. What is it about the scrutinizing gaze of the opposite gender that causes such discomfit? Is it the fear of relinquishing forbidden knowledge? Or is it a feeling that a task can never be accomplished well under the scrutinizing, critical stare of the other. With regard to the other being a member of the opposite sex, this has been known to take on disastrous consequences. I recalled here reading in a book on the history of musical instruments about the bull roarer, a primitive instrument that only men were allowed to play. Women were not even allowed to look upon it under the threat of death! Needless to say, that is a rather extreme example, but certainly points to how serious superstitions about the scrutiny of the opposite gender can be.

One would think such fear of derailing competence the other gender’s watch might be would be confined to the woman’s gaze upon the man’s work. Yet this very noon, as I write this, I found that try as I might, I could not do the necessary repairs on a broken drawer while under my husband’s critical scrutiny and had to wait until some quiet time alone before I could analyze the components, find the right tools and do the job.

But getting back to the seasonal removals of plants, the monstrous tree philodendron was finally released and given a new home. The other large polypodium ferns may just have to survive the winter outdoors - so many leaves, such tangled roots, so little space!

For now, I’m posting my drawing from my notebooks of a cat watching a tropical plant in Italy. And when I finish making my first bull roarer, I’ll post an image of that as well.

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