Sunday, September 16, 2012

Joseph's Coat of Many Colors

I have been taking an accounting of plants and flowers 
that happily soaked up the heavy rains
that fell through much of August and early September here.
I would have expected the impatiens to be thriving since they like lots of water. 
But apparently they do not like this much,
for I have only 3 flowers blooming 
among what had been hundreds this spring.
The real winners have been a few herbs, the Boston ferns, creeping Jenny,
begonias, and most of all, my Joseph's Coat,
also called parrot leaf or calico plant.

The Joseph's Coat I have is the plant 
that my maternal grandmother potted for me when I left for college the first time. 
It has been tended by my family since that time, 
making it a plant that is well over fifty years old.

As near as I can tell, the variety my grandmother 
gave me is alternanthera ficoides;
but while I was researching that, 
I found it far easier to say what it is not, rather than what it is:

I wondered when or from whom my grandmother might have acquired it,
since she never explained its provenance.
 I thought I could at least find out a little general history of the plant;
for example, when alternanthera plants were
first brought to the US from South America.
But as is sometimes the case, I did not find much useful information.

On the other hand, I did come across what may prove to be a very interesting book:
Potted History: The Story of Plants in the Home, by Catherine Horwood.
Horwood has researched the history of keeping plants
inside the home for ornamental purposes.
I assumed this pastime began in the Victorian era,
but it appears the practice extends back to Roman times and before,
proving there is something irresistible about having plants nearby.
That predisposition may explain why people will keep a sickly houseplant
in their homes, refusing to give up on it even when it looks ready for the trash heap.

This spring one bare stalk of Joseph's Coat I had planted from a rooted cutting
looked completely inert and incapable of growth. 
I debated whether or not to toss it, but I thought I detected
the tiniest leaf pushing off from a stem.
And indeed it was.
Considering how lush and full it is today, I'm glad I gave it a chance
even though at times I felt that my tending one sickly looking stalk
was hopelessly optimistic.

That's one of the great things about Joseph's Coat--
it is persistent, a real survivor. 
Like its namesake Joseph from the Book of Genesis,
this little plant also prevails against all kinds of adversity
while arrayed in a coat of many colors.

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