I wish that I had a photo of what was once a beautiful houseplant – my beautiful houseplant – in its glory days. Even if you don’t recognize the name, you’re all familiar with this iconic specimen. You’ve no doubt seen it at the grocery store or an aunt’s house or on a shelf alongside a stack of three-year-old Redbook magazines at your dentist’s office. It’s the Pothos. The Golden Pothos.
The claim to fame of this unassuming little houseplant is its unwillingness to die. It can go weeks without water, wilt and then rise from the dead with just a little spit of water, old coffee or whatever murky liquid is at hand. It’s the golden retriever of houseplants, yearning for love, rebounding with just an affectionate glance.
For this reason, I brought a Pothos home shortly after our cat died. Our cat loved fresh greens making owning a cat and a houseplant at the same time an unrealistic dream. Not that I feared that the cat would be poisoned or that the plant would die a needlessly horrible death by gnawing but that the cat would shamelessly vomit leafy green and bile as it skulked through the house. “The day that cat dies," I told Michael, "I’m filling our house with plants.” All these years later, I have two plants – the Pothos and the aloe. Both are on borrowed time.
Shortly after the death of my beloved cat and the homecoming of the Pothos, I splurged on an oversized urn that was meant to hold the plant on top of the book armoire. I did not recognize the foreshadowing of the urn at the time, though it’s really not the kind of urn meant to hold cremains but rather, a Greek-style urn, an open vessel.
Every few months the Pothos would trail several feet over the sides of the urn, draping its leafy limbs down the sides of the armoire. This ability to cascade is often what draws one to the Pothos. Its seemingly infinite growth proof that we possess the ability to nurture. I have seen Pothos branches pinned along the perimeter of living rooms as if the owners were trying to break a Guinness record for longest indoor plant sprawl. We are Americans after all, it’s what we do as a culture – display our superlatives.
In this, as in so many other realms of life, I seem to fall ever so slightly outside the border of popular taste. I prefer a Pothos that has more UMPH to it, is tighter and rides a little higher. I started to trim back the lank every few months, shortening the trailing stem in hopes of encouraging a bushier growing habit. I’ve done this for months, maybe a year now.
I am devoted to this plant that can tolerate its fair share of neglect and after having just finished the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts, I am inclined to believe that the Pothos may not tolerate neglect so much as prefer to be left alone. But, as I said, I am devoted to the thing and thought that I might reward it by repotting it in new organic potting soil, the kind that you say to yourself while comparing stacks of soils, “This is worth the extra $3” while images of a thriving Pothos vine trails across the imaginative plane of your brain.
So, repot I did. I remembered decades ago, replanting a spider plant, which was root bound and sending out little spidery over hangings as if they were SOS flares. Back then, I removed the plant from the pot, took a hacksaw and sawed the root ball in half and stuck it in a new pot of soil and voila! It grew like nobody’s business.
That may have worked like a charm on the spider plant but what I was soon to find out is that a Pothos is not a spider plant and resents being treated as such and not only that it is not shy, it has no qualms whatsoever, about telling you so.
The Pothos did not take the repotting well.
I thought it did at first. It looked almost like it always did just a little thinner. A few days later I found a yellow leaf on the floor and a few days after that, I barely touched a wilted leaf and it fell to the floor. Soon the leafy stems were looking like freshly made spaghetti noodles draped over the sides of the urn. I took the plant down and watered it. I absolutely refused to believe what was happening. I was witnessing the slow and painful and spiteful death of the Pothos. I take all plant failures personally. How can I not?
If it loved me, it would try. It would at least make an effort and there was not indication that this plant was even trying to meet me half way. The aloe did. The aloe – it’s near death experience being a post for another day – did make an effort and now, not only do I have a healthier aloe, but aloe babies so take that Golden Pothos.
I refuse to remove the urn with the spaghetti stems down from the armoire. I know this is a recipe for bad Feng Shui but I refuse to give up on it. It is probably just in a dormant phase I keep telling myself. Any day now it will sprout a new leaf, it will green up. The only upside to this little tale, which I must repeat is not over yet, is that although there have been missing and dying leaves, there has been no trail of bile to mop up. The lesson here being to take whatever glimmer of goodness you can from a bad situation.