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When Your Houseplants Answer You

My Christmas cactus is a houseplant that communicates with me when it needs to be watered.

You know you’re in a pandemic when you talk to your houseplants.

You know things have taken an ugly turn when they respond.

Before you judge me, though, remember that plants have communicated with animals for as long as they’ve had flowers and fruit. That beautiful orange daylily blossom shouts, “Pollinators! I have food!” That bright red crabapple? It screams, “I’m delicious!” to seed-spreaders. A rose’s thorns warn, “Don’t mess with me.” Poison ivy’s speechlessness merely advertises its wickedness.

It shouldn’t be a complete surprise, then, that all of my houseplants wail, “Water me!” in different languages. (The few that suffered in silence are no longer suffering.) The fronds of the Boston fern yellow at the merest hint of dry soil. (I watered it at least a month ago.) The ivy drops its leaves. The rosemary’s newest needles curl and wither. Luckily, all start perking up after the lavish application of fluids to their roots.

The asparagus fern makes bolder statements. Its tendrils grab its neighbors that occupy sunnier spots, and its thorns threaten anyone who ventures too close.

The most unusual entry in my list of communicating plants, though, is the Christmas cactus I’ve owned for twenty-odd years. It emits a distinctive odor that goes away as soon as I water it. Is it coming from the dry soil or is the vegetation releasing distress chemicals? I don’t know, but it’s as effective as waving a red flag.

So here is my question to you, dear Readers: How do your houseplants communicate with you?

And if you have any that hold witty conversations, please leave their names in the comments below because I want one—at least until the pandemic is over.

6 responses to “When Your Houseplants Answer You”

  1. Sadly, Gladys, the houseplant at my office, died because of the pandemic–because of remote work, no one was there to water her and her shriveled remains still accentuate the space beside the copier.


    • Poor Gladys! I typically hide the evidence in the compost bin as fast as possible, but perhaps you could convince visitors to the office (when you return) that it’s an artistic statement about the impermanence of…something.


  2. I have two plants that I rarely water, and that staunchly refuse to die for reasons that go beyond my comprehension. If I had me as a plant owner, I’d check out.


  3. While I don’t converse with my plants, I did give one a name. The Pink Rebel is a Xmas cactus (or a Thanksgiving cactus, if U want to draw the distinction) that blooms when it damn well pleases.

    I keep the soil moist all year, with a little diluted fertilizer in the water. The plant gets as much light as my window will give it, with no enforced darkness or coolness. Experts say a Xmas/Thanksgiving cactus so treated is unlikely to bloom at all, let alone during the daffodil season. But unlikely things do sometimes happen. Don’t bet on when or where.


  4. Interesting–I have one that does the same thing. (Not the one that lets me know when it needs to be watered.) I treat it the same way you describe, though I’m not always good about the fertilizer. I wonder if it’s an unusual variety. It currently has three blooms and a lot more buds. I’ve been known to refer to it as our Advent/Lent cactus.


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