Lipstick plant, 9 North Dod Hall, Princeton University, September 1978

I am a good mother to the humans and furry critters in my life, but when it comes to plants, it’s always been a different story. If they’re going to survive in my household, they’ve got to be tough, self-sufficient, and willing to be neglected. I’m reasonably reliable about watering, except when I’m not, and nobody gets fertilized or repotted. Ever. And yet there’s a small coterie of plants who have hung in there with me for decades. Which is why I’m a little heartbroken over the loss of my lipstick plant this week. Lipstick plant was the elder stateswoman of the group. The cause of death was a combination of neglect by me and excessive attention from the resident kitty.

As part of outfitting my freshman college room, in August 1975 my mum took me to a new plant shop where we chose three plants. Lipstick plant was the coolest, and hung in a place of honor in a macrame hanger (so 1975, right?) in my dorm room in Pyne Hall.

Lipstick plant has been with me ever since. She traveled from Connecticut to New Jersey and back again multiple times. She went with me to my first apartment in Gastonia, North Carolina and returned north when I got married and moved to Salem, Massachusetts. Under the same succession of roofs (twelve of them) we’ve progressed through college, two careers and a whole bunch of jobs. We’ve lived with my parents, six roommates, one boyfriend/eventual husband, two children, four dogs and four cats. We’ve rejoiced and grieved and done all the mundane things that happen over forty-six years of living. Forty-six years with the same darned plant!

I’d had this plant (why didn’t I ever give her a name–“this plant” seems cold now) for years before she ever bloomed, and it only happened a couple of times, but the blooming of a lipstick plant is an event. First she developed a deep red, waxy trumpet, which looked exotic enough to satisfy me. And then came the magic, as a bright red “lipstick” slowly emerged from the trumpet.

RIP, dear plant. I’m sorry I let you down, but I’m glad we shared this journey. I hope you bloom forever in the after life.

P.S. I’m completely unapologetic about acknowledging the life of a plant here on my family history blog. Just to be clear.