Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Baby Nuthouse: just my luck

Houseplants help clean the air, give off oxygen, and look attractive. But do they truly possess some type of symbolic power over our lives?

I really hope not. My money tree plant died during the move, and my lucky bamboo, well, it wasn’t so lucky after all.

My decision to purchase a lucky bamboo was not made in haste. Before bringing any living organism into my home I try to gauge the probability that I will keep it alive.
In our family, the order of priority for keeping things alive (which I assume is fairly standard) goes like this:

1. People
2. Pets
3. Plants

Aside from one incredible hybrid drought-resistant ficus plant that has lasted for three years, most of our houseplants only make it until I get distracted and forget they exist. Unlike children and dogs, plants do not whine. Come to think of it, that is one of their best qualities. Nevertheless, it works against them in terms of survival.

So, I took great care in choosing a new plant to bring into my home. The lucky bamboo seemed easy enough to care for. Bright green stalks in a bed of pebbles. Just add water.

Initially, it thrived. I didn’t notice any additional good luck, but I enjoyed seeing the healthy stalks sitting there in an attractive pot on my kitchen counter. After a few months, though, one of the leaves started turning yellow. Soon the entire stalk was yellow. I tugged it out of the pebbles. The rest of the plant looked fine.

Before long, another stalk turned yellow. I had to remove that one also. Looking back, this should have alerted me that something was wrong, but kids and dogs were whining, so I added a little water and went on with my day.

Things turned from bad to worse when I found some white fluffy growth between the leaves. Believing it was some type of mold, I decided to rinse it off in the sink. Rather unluckily, I underestimated the power of my kitchen sprayer and had to spend the next hour picking tiny pebbles from between and beneath the garbage disposal blades.

The white fluffy stuff came back within days. Then another stalk turned yellow.

It wasn’t until after I had tossed the cursed bamboo into the garbage that I finally found a spare moment to check the Internet for clues as to what went wrong.

As it turns out, so-called “lucky bamboo” isn’t really bamboo at all. It’s actually a member of the lily family. I learned that my yellow leaves could have been caused by the salt content or fluoride level of our tap water, or it might have been that I had never changed the water or added fertilizer. As for the white stuff, it wasn’t mold. Someone with the same problem had written to “Ask the Expert” on, and gotten this response from florist Jamie Jamison Adams:

“There is an insect called Cottony Cushion Scale that can effect lucky bamboo. Although it doesn’t look like a typical insect, it is an insect with a complete life cycle. Since it has more than one phase to its life cycle, you may be eliminating only the adults; thus causing a ‘re-occurrence’. You will need to clean both the container and the lucky bamboo. Use soapy water to clean the container and any pebbles or rocks. Rinse the container throughly. Take a wet soapy rag and wipe the lucky bamboo stalk from top to bottom; then take a clean wet rag and wipe the lucky bamboo again. Place the lucky bamboo back in the container and fill with distilled water. This process should remove the eggs and the adults, therefore stopping any re-occurrence issues. If you have a particularly difficult infestation of cottony scale, you may need to use insecticidal soap. Best of luck.”

Oh, too bad I threw my lucky not-actually-bamboo in the trash, I thought. I could have saved it after all.

Sure. You’ll find me using distilled water and insecticidal soap to care for a sick houseplant right after I polish the silver and alphabetize the children’s board books. Some things are simply not going to happen in this lifetime.

I guess I should just stick with the drought-resistant hybrid ficus.


Jamie Jamison Adams, Flower Shop Network said...


I am so sorry that lucky bamboo (from the Dracaena family) didn't work for you. You might try a ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata). I have one in my office and I completely ignore it and it still survives.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Jamie! That ponytail palm sounds like my kind of plant--I will give it a try!

Torrie said...

I"m just glad our outcome with plants doesn't determine how we'll do with kids. Otherwise.... I'd be in BIG trouble. I can keep one alive, but not the other.