I'm sure the great philosophers must have been gardeners. Gardening teaches so many life lessons, indoor as well as out. Indoor gardening means houseplants. I only admit to having thirty. This is down considerably since moving here ten years ago, but many more than moved with me. Only the 'special' ones came, the Clivia, the cactus dish garden, Killer (a Barrel Cactus now thirty-nine years old which has nailed everyone at least once and sent one family member to the emergency room), my Christmas Cacti, a Saddle-leaf Philodendron start and the Pony-Tail.
Liking a challenge and wanting to do something different, twenty years ago I bought five Pony-Tail (Beaucarnea recurvata) seeds from Thompson and Morgan, a specialty seed company. Most books speak of the Pony-Tail as a novelty plant of not much beauty, but I disagree. It grows thin, tough whips for leaves, all emerging in one generous splurge from the top its main attraction, a swollen stem that enlarges over time to form a bulbous base. The enlarged stem is a survival mechanism, a water-holding reservoir for the arid habitat of the Pony Tail's native Mexico. Because of this, the plant makes a great houseplant, interesting looking and capable of surviving neglect.
The seeds arrived with some brief instructions which I followed and set the pot aside to sprout. It took months for the one seed that emerged to make its appearance. It grew into a fine small sprout that in a few years developed a nice bulging stem with an airy mass of long green leaves that look somewhat similar to a horse tail held straight up in the air. They remind me more of an umbrella with coiling straps flowing down over the stem.
A February storm marred our move from Missouri, a five-hundred-mile trek in freezing rain and snow that ended in Grand Rapids. Overnight luggage and the houseplants were moved into my in-laws house for night. The next day the houseplants were delivered to a friend in Lansing to care for until I could take them back. That night, back in Grand Rapids, I found the Pony-Tail, frozen solid, still tucked inside the truck in a safe place for the trip. It had never made it inside, and it was a sad-looking thing, its fresh green leaves frozen an olive brown.
I was going to throw it out, but my son said no, let it go and see what happens. Give it a chance. He didn't understand -- gardeners hate looking at dead plants. All winter it remained a blot on my existence, a dead trunk of a plant, a shadow of its former self, but no one would let me get rid of. In spring I put it outside, under a tree and out-of-sight.
One day while watering plants I noticed swollen bumps on the enlarged stem of the Pony Tail. In another month, leaves sprouted from a dozen places around the stem. Two years later, six of those bumps had green leafy tails jutting up over the basal stem. A few years later the base began to enlarged again, and it continued to thrive. Now I just need to keep the cats from pulling the leaves off. Even if they tear off all the leaves, I'll know not to give up because the Pony Tail won't.