Behold the poinsettia.
Wanted, treasured, appreciated in December, by the ides of February, it’s the equivalent of snow in March — pointless and weirdly out of place.
The problem of what to do with a poinsettia that stubbornly refuses to die even after three months of neglect has escalated in recent years, thanks to Home Depot.
A few years ago, my friend Diane informed me that on Black Friday, Home Depot offers free cookies, watery hot chocolate and 99-cent poinsettias.
Since poinsettias cost upwards of $5 the rest of the holiday season, this seems an incredible value, and early morning shoppers at Home Depot aren’t as violent as the ones at Walmart are. So to the perennial dismay of my young daughters, Home Depot now tops the Black Friday itinerary, which I control since I’m the driver. (They get revenge by putting Forever 21 second on the list.)
There, eyes shining like the Grinch when his heart grows three sizes, I scoop up armloads of poinsettias, some for my home, others to inflict on friends. They’re 99 cents! Whatta deal! I rush them home and arrange them just so, and they blaze merrily on the hearth, atop the piano, on window sills, throughout December.
Then comes January with a palpable regret.
I can’t stuff them in boxes like the ornaments, stockings and other holiday bric-a-brac that seems so charming in December but looks like detritus of a bad yard sale by the first day of Lent.
But being so obsessed with the preservation of life that I water blades of grass growing in a dusty stall and rescue worms on flooded sidewalks, I can’t throw them away.
This recent neuroticism arose when I read that scientists had grown a plant from a 32,000-old-seed.
Or better, don’t.
Because if you think on it too long, you’ll be like me, unable to pitch scraps of tomato or cantaloupe in the trash, lest a malevolent voice in your head hiss “seed killer.”
So, the remnants of last year’s poinsettias make ugly the kitchen, their spindly stalks bereft of leaves, or equally bad, still crowded with leaves since the gaudy red goes with nothing but Christmas, and a few of the leaves have spots that seem to signal early onset fungus.
One night outside would kill them by morning, but I can no more do that than chunk a spider outside in winter.
The internet advises that poinsettias can be saved for next year, by engaging in a process that seems rather brutal. It involves depriving the plant of water and light at specific intervals, and is quite complicated, the equivalent of adding another small child to the household, which I have no desire to do. (WikiHow says to fertilize every fifth watering. The Mother Nature Network says to make sure they get 12 hours of sleep in a dark room every night. As if.)
One poinsettia endures from Christmas 2017.
It was a hardy fellow, amiable enough and not too demanding. I planted it in a nice pot I picked up on the side of the road and water it when it gets dry or when I remember, which are not always the same. The plant did not turn red in 2018, which raises a question:
Do poinsettias really want to be red, or is redness something we foist on them, like foisting 99-cent poinsettias on friends?
The plant, however, might possibly want friends since I don’t have time to talk to it. Far as I know, there’s been no research on the social lives of poinsettias, as has been done on trees, which communicate with each other and entwine their roots affectionately.
So this year, I will try an experiment. Poinsettia 1 — let’s call him Fred — can continue his uncomplicated life in my beautifully free pot.
Poinsettia 2 — let’s call him Dead — can have water and sun and Miracle-Gro and we’ll just see what happens.
And Poinsettia 3 — cue a deep sigh of weary resignation — will get the 12-hour nap come October, like the internet advises, although if it gets to go to bed at 5, I think I should, too.
I will report in November on what has happened. The hope is that this experiment will break my poinsettia habit for good.
As for what to do with Poinsettia 4, a stubborn old buzzard that threatens to bloom until Easter, suggestions are welcome. Better red than dead seems to be its motto.