Sansevieria trifasciata. That’s the scientific name for a “snake plant” (also Viper’s bowstring hemp, mother-in-law’s tongue or Saint George’s sword if you really want to get in the weeds about it).
It’s a homely plant. You see them in malls and lots of public places because they’re easy to grow inside, require almost no maintenance, and while unusual in appearance, they (barely) fulfill the need to liven up the lifeless interiors common to most modern public environments with something green and alive. I never gave them much thought, and you probably haven’t either.
For me, that changed just a little over 22 years ago. Kathy and I were living in our first apartment together. We weren’t married yet, and had very little money. The apartment… well, it wasn’t nice. It had those lovely parquet wood floors common in apartments that seemed to scream “this is a transient space.” It was a first floor apartment and the only nice thing about it, other than that we could just barely afford it, was the little patio we had. But since we had no money, it didn’t really have anything on it, but there was at least the potential.
We had money for food and necessities (barely!) but not decorative plants or other niceties. We also had neighbors who were frankly slobs (as in “Oh, that’s where the damn roaches are coming from!”). We’d occasionally find trash thrown off their balcony outside our patio. All-in-all, not a nice place, but we were together and young, and that made it better.
One day I happened to notice a green leaf (really almost a long, flat stalk) on the ground outside our patio. Probably no more than 6-inches long, it was pointy on one end, flat on the other, and rigid. It wasn’t even the whole thing, but for some reason I got it into my head to see if I could get it to sprout. Honestly I had no idea if it would work, but not knowing what I’m doing doesn’t often stop me. So I brought it in and plopped it into a container with some water. Weeks passed. And then a tiny little root (technically, I think, a rhizome) appeared. Success! We waited a few months and then planted it in a small pot I believe we salvaged from somewhere.
The plant grew. New leaves popped up, spreading out from that central one. Years passed, and we moved it to a bigger pot. It grew some more. More years passed, and we separated the leaves into two pots and watched them grow. Those two plants got their own new, larger pots. The plants grow slowly – just a handful of inches a year, but they never really stop – the leaves get to be about three feet long and new leaves appear every so often.
And now we have this:
They look still rather as homely as any other snake plant. Nothing about them will ever be remarkable, botanically speaking. They live and grow, and we water them, move them outside during the summers, and back inside in the winters. They are, in essence, just sort of boring.
But today marks the 22nd anniversary of Katherine and I getting married. And those plants have been with us every single day. They’ve been there for our first fights and for the late night discussions where we talked about how to be better people. They were there for our cats to brush up against (and occasionally knock over) and they were there when we had to say goodbye to our cats. They were there for the birth of our two children – and their first steps, their first words, and all the other firsts. From the looks of it, they’ll be there in two more years when our oldest gets his drivers license, and probably will still be here when our youngest moves out on her own. Hell, they might outlive us both. (They say 20 to 25 years is the most that can be expected but honestly I don’t think these plants can die!)
In short, these plants are the most magnificent fucking plants that ever lived. They came into our lives by accident, they grow very slowly, and we have whole gardens of plants now, but they’re still spectacular.
My wife and I married almost a year to the day after we met. We were young and not even complete adults yet. And in the years since our kids were born, time seems to only move faster and faster. But I look at those plants and can see the years that have gone by – and remember.
When you’re young and just falling in love, it’s all about roses and other traditional floral selections. And when we pass, it’s all about the flowers again. But in that middle bit, when you’ve been married for more than two decades, and have kids and a mortgage, it can sometimes just be about that unassuming little plant you first got when you were just starting out. The value is not in the thing itself, but in what value you invest in it and how you recognize what it symbolizes – in short, it’s sometimes just about being able to appreciate the little things. And happiness is seeing the big things, which are really too big to even be perceived or think about, reflected in those little things.
Thank you Katherine. Thank you for seeing that even though I wasn’t complete yet, with the right kind of love and attention, I’d grow into being the person you always believed I could be. And thank you for supporting my dreams, even the silly one where I thought I could get a sad little leaf that was thrown away to sprout and grow into something that thrived. Twenty-two years seems an odd anniversary to commemorate, but when have I ever been a slave to expectations or tradition? Love you!