Untying the Mother-in-law's Tongue

For years I’ve had one of Grandma Mills' plants: the mother-in-law’s tongue. It has never been that healthy or prolific under my care. I couldn’t even get the leaves to stand up straight. I’ve had wooden chopsticks and twine anchoring up the tall spiked leaves.

They are dark green from age. They look fragile. Tired. I moved the plant to the deck for the summer, and I removed the sticks and the twine. The plant was in a corner where there was room for it to splay its leaves a bit.

A few days later, I hovered over it with the watering can. Looking into the middle of the plant, where all those spikes radiated from, I saw a short, light green point.

In all my attempts to help the plant stand up straight, I had been suffocating it: new growth erupts from the middle. The place I had committed to darkness with the leaves pulled together so tight it kept out any sun or air that might have generated a young spike years ago.

With water, it lived. With the untying of the string, it’s thriving. Multiplying.

My mind spins with the symbolism.

(There is another other heirloom plant in my care, Grandma Murphy's Christmas Cactus: How to Get a Christmas Cactus to Bloom.)