Years ago, some joker gave me a poinsettia as a gift. Can you imagine that? As a ‘self-absorbed’ bachelor, I’m not experienced in taking care of anything but myself. Certainly not a ‘needy’ houseplant. It was probably a misguided attempt by a female relative to shape me into a more ‘responsible’ adult. Against the odds I’ve kept it alive for the past thirteen years; but not without some rookie missteps along the way.
I’d forget about it for long periods and then find it near death. Then I’d overwater it in failed compensation. I didn’t even know how bad regular tap water is for plants because of the chlorination. Being totally ignorant to the needs of any plant, I stuck it in the windowsill in direct sunlight. At least there I saw it every day as I walked out the front door. It was my visual reminder to water it. Looking back on it now, I must have broken every rule in the book about caring for a poinsettia but the damn thing was tenacious. It wanted to live despite my unintentional abuse.
It came back from the brink a dozen times after too much sun or too little watering. I’d had it for years before realizing I was supposed to change the potting soil periodically. It was still in the original supplied soil when a lady friend noticed how wilted it looked and suggested I change it. I had no idea plants leech nutrients from their dirt. She thought that was hilarious. I believed they only need sunlight and water. I could have thrown it out at any time over the years but keeping it alive became a matter of my male pride. I wanted to disprove the stereotype that single men were incapable of looking after other living creatures. It was that stubbornness and ignorance that kept me hanging on to the responsibility. I learned later that most people toss them out after just one winter.
You’re probably wondering what the point to all this is. After all, it’s just a disposable holiday houseplant I’m blathering about incessantly, right? I’m getting to that. Bear with me. All of this background information is necessary for you to understand. A week ago, it had wilted again from my inconsistent watering. It looked as dead as I’ve ever seen the thing but since it’s came back so many other times, I doused it with water and hoped for the best. A few days later I found the container on the floor. Oddly, the plant wasn’t in it. There was just the black plastic pot and the decorative red foil wrapper it came with.
I assumed my female friend’s cat had knocked it off the sill. I agreed to watch the fur-ball while she was out of town. Considering how poorly I do with plants, you’d think she would want to avoid me watching her pet. I guess she was desperate. Either that or she hoped I’d do better with a more evolved creature which demands direct feedback. Honestly I didn’t mind the little shit when it wasn’t knocking over things or missing the litter box. It was kind of fun having it around but I only agreed to watch it, to win brownie points with her. Considering what I found later behind my couch, that seems unlikely now.
Normally the cat would skulk under the furniture most of the time after I came home; and then spring onto my lap as I was trying to watch a ballgame. Unlike the poinsettia, it knew how to get my attention when it needed something. It would harass me until I refilled its food and water bowl, or pet it. When ‘Muffin’ didn’t follow its usual pattern and come out of hiding at the normal time, I grew a little worried. I started calling it. I couldn’t bring myself to call it by such a cutesy name; but it’s not like a cat wouldn’t come, even if you called it by the wrong name. No matter what, they usually come when you call them by ANY name; as long as it suits their prerogative. If they don’t want to come, hollering for them from the rooftops makes no difference.
I checked all the usually places and came up empty handed. The food bowl was almost full and the litter box hadn’t been defiled. It was a very bad sign. I started frantically looking under my furniture. In the back corner under the couch I saw it’s distinctive ringed tail but it didn’t come out when I called. I coaxed and pleaded for several minutes on my hands and knees. Nothing.
Then I remembered a relative telling me years ago that poinsettia leaves are highly poisonous to cats. Ugh! I assumed the worst and realized it was time to turn the couch over and retrieve the body before it stunk up the entire place. How was I going to explain that ‘precious little Muffin’ died on my watch? She’d never forgive me for that! So much for my chances with her.
I didn’t think things could get any worse until I tipped the couch over on its side. ‘Muffin’ was definitely dead. That was obvious right away. I was pretty sure she hadn’t eaten a poinsettia leaf though. The entire top of the cat’s head was missing! At first I worried I’d crushed her by plopping down too hard on the seat springs above her hiding spot but the missing ‘Muffin top’ wasn’t stuck to the underside of the furniture. It was completely gone. Gnawed off. I made a mental note to call a pest control company ASAP. It would take a pretty large rat or even a colony of them to take down a fully grown cat. Frankly I was terrified at the idea of falling asleep with vicious animals like that in the house.
Something I didn’t connect at first was a small pile of dirt near the body. It wasn’t ordinary household dust congregated there by years of my lax housekeeping. It had tiny white fertilizer specks like potting soil. Only later did I get the significance. There was a fuzzy trail of cat fur leading along the wall and out of the room. I followed the tufts into the bathroom. Over in the corner beside the toilet was the missing poinsettia plant but it had changed drastically. It was much larger and had vibrant looking green leaves and red petals.
The last time I saw the poor thing, it looked completely devoid of life. Now it was almost like a totally new, healthy plant. Strangely, cat fur was visible along the toilet seat and rim. I couldn’t make any sense of it. Had the cat tried to drop the plant in the water before it was attacked by a swarm of rodents? Maybe the rats were drinking the water, or using the sewer as an escape route. None of those wild-eyed theories made me feel comfortable in my own home but the truth was infinitely worse. I just wasn’t ready to see it yet.
I picked up my plant and was about to reunite it with the plastic pot when I felt a stinging sensation on my finger. Somehow I’d jabbed myself with a thorn or sharp root. After I finished replanting the ‘reborn’ poinsettia, I treated my bleeding wound. It was almost as if I had teeth marks where I picked it up!
That night I was awakened by a scraping noise in the other room. I leapt out of bed and cursed the exterminator for not being able to take care of my rodent problem yet. It was going to be hard enough to break the news to Stacy about her cat without learning the ugly truth about how it died. The exterminator was scheduled to arrive at my place around the same time she was supposed to pick up the cat. It was going to be incredibly awkward handing her a plastic shopping bag with her headless cat inside.
Now the damn vermin were back at it and breaking things. I picked up a broom handle and was prepared to smash them to mush when I flung open the door. On the floor was the empty planter again. Inexplicably, the poinsettia was gone!
I followed the messy dirt trail to the bathroom. There was no sign of the rodents but the plant was back beside the commode. It’s roots were dangling into the toilet water as if it just got thirsty and crawled over there. I still wasn’t ready to accept what the scene was telling me. The plant was bushier than I’d ever seen it, but the leaves were somewhat dull and wilted. There was no mental preparation for what happened next. Like an errant octopus, it raised up from the toilet seat and crept into a dark corner away from me!
I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was utterly impossible but I swear I saw it happen. I even pinched myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. I drew a little closer to see if rats were somehow pulling it along (like a puppeteer behind the leaves) but the poinsettia itself adopted a very defensive posture in response to my presence. All the limbs and leaves flared up like a peacock trying to exaggerate its size. When I lowered the mop handle, it also relaxed and deflated slightly. My poinsettia was absolutely alive. More than that, it was completely cognizant of its surroundings and reacted to danger.
I don’t know how but after thirteen years of inconsistent watering, inadequate soil replacement, improper sunlight and harmful chlorination, it developed the ability to crawl and eat small animals. Rats may not track potting soil around with them, but mutated carnivorous poinsettia plants do. We have an unspoken truce. I leave it alone and it doesn’t bother me. It’s made it abundantly clear that it doesn’t like direct sunlight. It mostly stays in the bathroom since there are no windows in there. It can help itself to the toilet water when necessary and more importantly, it can feed itself. With any luck, it’ll keep the rodent and insect population down. I do occasionally give it a goldfish or raw hamburger when it looks wilted though. At night I hear it crawling around outside my bedroom. Hopefully it never learns to unlock doors. I’m afraid it may want to mate.