One of the nice things that has come from my complete breakdown of the last two years (thanks pandemic! and encroaching fascism! and illness! and–) is that I have picked up keeping houseplants as a hobby. I’m a reformed black thumb. I started out keeping succulents (mostly very rugged, hard to kill via neglect), so while I have around twenty different planters around the house with a variety of botanicals, succulents remain special to me.
Succulents are fun plants, in part because they’re so strange to look at. They come in shapes both organic and geometric. The variety is astounding even if you glance around the grocery store plant section: colorful orange tips on green fingers, miniature trees, violet florets, little barrels with cruel thorns.
I pick up most of my succulents in little discount bins. Some of them come to me from drugstores, tucked next to a register, where they want two dollars for a pup which has a straw flower glued to its head.
Others come from over-packed bowls at commercial nurseries, where they’ve been sprayed with so much pesticidal soap that the substrate is glued solid. Water can’t permeate, and if it does, it can’t evaporate, leaving these little jewels to rot.
It’s not hard to grow succulent pups. They’re “cheap.” A mother plant might spawn dozens of these in a season, and the pups can live mostly dehydrated for months. They aren’t meant to flourish like this. They’re made to look pretty and die.
Of course, that doesn’t mean they can’t flourish. I like little bargain succulents because it’s easy to help them live their best lives. If you break them out of hard soil and give them room to breathe, they can end up growing up lovely to produce pups of their own. The cycle goes on.
That’s what I’m trying to do. I’ve only started propagating succulents sincerely in the last few months, so I’m not very far into it. I don’t propagate with the plan of selling. I just want to fill my world with succulents. I keep sticking them in new containers. Cracked mugs. Old jars. Anything that can hold dirt can hold a succulent.
After a couple years locked in rigid stasis, paralyzed by fear, helpless to indecision, it feels like a relief to learn something new. And to use the new things I learn to observe change and growth in other life forms. I don’t always manage to salvage the succulents, but just going through the work of it calms my soul.