My Indoor Jungle

Tim Bass is coordinator of UNCW’s bachelor of fine arts program in creative writing.

A friend gave me the first peace lily, the big one.

My mother gave me the second peace lily, the bigger one.

My neighbors gave me the plumeria. Last year, a branch snapped off during a storm, and I’ve coaxed a root out of the orphaned section. So that’s two plumerias.

I’m not sure what you call the one growing in the blue pot, but I bought it.

Friends gave me the little leafy one. I have no idea what it is.

I also don’t know what the bushy one is, but it looks like miniature elephant ears, an oxymoron that should give you an idea of what a horticultural moron I am. I got that plant at work as a single, fragile stem nestled in a green coffee mug that bore the slogan “Here We Grow Again.”

Now that stem occupies three containers, and if it grows again, I’ll need a fourth. The first peace lily volcanoes out of a ceramic pot weighing about 70 pounds. Same goes for the second peace lily, which got so big that I cut it up – subdivided, as the experts say. Now I have the main plant and seven smaller ones, all threatening to overwhelm their hefty pots.

During spring, summer, and most of fall, these plants live outside, occupying a shady section of my yard and thriving in the fresh air and regular rains. Soon, though, the change of seasons will bring the deadly bite of winter, and before it comes I’ll have to haul everything indoors. Then I’ll spend months living in a jungle.

And possibly among jungle creatures. Last year, a tree frog slipped inside with the plants. All winter, the tiny monster stayed hidden in the greenery, often cranking up a racket in the middle of the night. Finally, one morning in the spring, I opened the back door and watched it hop out leisurely, off to annoy the rest of the world.

Then there was the year a snake rode in with the plants.

That one I evicted.

It’s said that plants add to a healthy home. They produce oxygen and the occasional reptile, and they remove toxins (though they refuse to vacuum rugs or clean bathrooms). I just have too many plants, and I need to thin the forest. I’ve tried selling them, even giving them away, but no luck. Still, I can’t simply toss them. These plants are alive, and while ditching them is not a crime – not like, say, abandoning a person or pet (and let’s be clear: I have no experience with that) – it just seems rooted in the wrong side of morality.

So I care for them while struggling with the question of how much responsibility I should bear, and for how long, because someone thought I needed another houseplant.

I think I’ll do what my friends and family did to me. I’ll force the plants on others.

Be warned: If you come over for a visit, you won’t leave without a flowering lily. If you bring mail to my house, you take away a pothos whose vines will eventually consume your truck. And with Halloween approaching, I can hear myself now: “Sorry, kids, no candy here.

But how about a nice plumeria? Won’t your dentist be proud!”


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