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60 to 60: Strawberry Firetails

I love houseplants. Anyone who has ever been to anywhere I've ever lived over the years knows this. Houseplants live in every room, on counters, shelves, taking up valuable floor space, all for the Sun. Everywhere I look, there is green, abundant life. I guess I have a green thumb*.

To be honest, I might be a little attached to my plants. When I moved to Alaska for the summer, with my new boyfriend Jay in 1998, my friend Angie graciously took care of all of my plants, maybe 30 at the time. I could not bear to leave them forever. She did a great job, we still have a bunch! In 2013, our little town got flooded out in what is described as a 1000-year disaster. Told nicely but firmly by town officials to evacuate (as we had no water, no electric, no nothing) we dig out all of our travel duffles and pack up toys, school supplies, dog bowls, dog beds, dog food, books, games, crafts, the cat and what will become his leash, enough clothes and coats should we move into Winter before we get to return home. It's all unknown. For now, we're going to a residence inn-type of hotel. On the way out the door, I grab 3 plants. There's no way we are gonna live in a hotel or someone else's condo for an indeterminate amount of time without having some green life around.

Some people need their stuffies, their special coffee mug or their favorite pillow. Plant People need plants.

When it comes to a lot of things, I'm very frugal. I bet 75% of the plants in our home started out as free starters from friends' plants. I'll be at a gathering or getting my hair cut: Hey, can I have one of your babies? The answer is always yes. Plant People just get each other. Another 20% are my beloved 'clearance' department store, almost dead plants I work to bring back to life. (They always want to thrive.) We have several enormous monstera and ficus floor plants that originate from the Bargain Bin. Every few years, I treat myself with a beautiful new plant from the premium garden store in Boulder. I walk around. What catches my eye? What could bring a sparkle of joy to the day? Which plant here elicits a bit of wonder, perhaps for those less-than-wondrous days that hit now and then?

The moment I spot this, I know it's the one! This chenille plant (acalypha hispida) is also known as Red Hot Cat's Tail, Strawberry Firetail or Monkey's Tail. While the pistillate flowers are extremely delicate-looking, these are some tough plants, much tougher than you might think. The funky-looking tails grow in clusters along catkins. Originally from tropical parts of Asia, they are getting popular here in the States, because well, would you just look at this? It's so amazing in its pinkness. The tails are fluffy to touch, very soft. The little puffs are bizarre and whimsical. It's what my pal Cathy would call a "happy" plant.

It's not about cost or value or what anybody else may think. It's important to have things around our living spaces, however simple, that lift us up. For me, that means a lot of plants and as much gardening as I can squeeze in.

What do you have around your living space that lights you up?

* The term "green thumb" comes primarily from gardeners working with earthenware pots that can stain our fingers. Another more interesting theory is that King Edward I of England was so fond of green peas that he gave a prize to the serf who shelled the most and therefore had the greenest thumb.


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