The Story of My Norfolk Island Pine
Keep any plant long enough, and your life stories start to stick to them. When you tend the plant, you’re not just watering and pruning, you’re remembering all those stories. These are the stories that have stuck to my Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla).
My mom was visiting me in San Francisco. It must have been 1997. This is back when I was living on Prosper Street, in the Castro. We walked through the shops on Castro Street and ducked into Hortica, a lovely little garden store that’s still there and still lovely.
It was around the holidays, so they were stocked with little trees. We don’t celebrate Christmas, so I felt that buying one would save it from being decorated. I picked a small, fluffy tree. Mom bought it for me. I carried it back to the house, people on the street wishing us “Merry Christmas.” I thought about how nice it would be to someday plant the tree in the yard of a house I owned.
Years later when my girlfriend and I broke up, the tree came with me. My new place was tiny, and the tree was twice its original size. The only place it fit was in my kitchen, and it took up most of it. Fortunately it had a bright window and loved it there.
When Heather and I moved in together in 2001, we schlepped the tree upstairs. It was now as big as me. I put it by a similar window, this time in the bedroom. One night while I was away on a trip and Heather was sleeping alone in our bed, the tree’s soil got very dry and it became top-heavy. Heather woke up when the tree came down on the bed, its long branches reaching out for an inappropriate botanical hug.
When I got back from my trip, we moved the tree into our office, where it thrived in the bright light from the windows and would not be tempted to put the moves on my girlfriend. Over the years the tree became simply massive.
We moved again in 2008 to an apartment where it was never very happy (none of us were). Then, finally, in 2009, we bought our current place. When I was pointing out which plants should be moved to our movers, I said, “The Norfolk Pine.”
“You know, the pine tree, right there.”
“Oh, the CHRISTMAS TREE.”
Sigh. “Yes, the Christmas Tree.”
Once we were moved in to our new house, I picked a spot, dug a hole, and put this wonderful tree I’d had for 13 years in the ground. It felt like setting a caged bird free.
I think it had quite a shock when it went into the ground after being a houseplant for so long. It dropped most of its lower branches. But the green crowns of the new growth signal a new era of prosperity, both for the tree and for us.
The story continues.