Twenty years ago I made a long-anticipated move to Los Angeles with the intention that I would be the next host on Talk Soup. I would watch that show all the time and said to myself, “You could do that! So off to LA you must go.” Around the same time, one of my best friends who hosted me in Los Angeles for the prior 15 was moving on to Japan for his career. Though I was thrilled to create my next chapter in life, I was also bummed by the irony that he was about to start his somewhere else.
What he left me with was plenty of advice on Los Angeles…that, and a green twig (like the one pictured) in a 10-gallon bucket of dirt. That’s right, one twig and 5000 times its weight in dirt. Not potting soil….just road-side Malibu dirt.
John told me that his friend brought it back for him from Mexico. Or did he say it was contraband smuggled back as a souvenir? He also said, “Just wait, that thing is gonna be huge.” He had no instructions on care and feeding except: “Just wait.”
Not a week went by when I didn’t consider just tossing that twig and the bucket it rode in on.
John would never know. But he is the friend who would check on it occasionally over the phone from across the ocean. And I wasn’t gonna lie to him. So the little green twig became my only pet.
Of course I watered it. It was taking up space in my home and I had to make sense around that.
Also, HOW COOL to have a plant that shouldn’t be here. And how awesome that I was potentially aiding and abetting an illegal alien plant.
So “wait” and “keep this plant on the down low” I did, for what seemed like a lifetime.
Then, one day, out of nowhere, slight leaves appeared on the tips of that twig. Little did I know that these little bits of growth would be the next biggest branches that would make their own little upwardly mobile offspring.
Flash forward seven years and this little green contraband was seven-foot-tall contraband. Like a giant version of the Ker Plunk game I had as a kid with sticks going in all directions to keep the game marbles from falling, this unknown specimen was my LA Christmas tree of sorts.
This stellar, no-maintenance horticulture achievement also became a bit of good luck upon which I hung images of things I wanted to have happen in my life. I remember like it was last week reading an article on the hippest places (I was much younger then) in America. And the article focused on Northeast Minneapolis hung in the branches until it was time to say goodbye to LA and move to Minneapolis for my new chapter at ShopNBC (an earlier name for Evine).
Turns out the plant is not illegal after all. (Not the first time I fell for a good contraband story). Instead, it is available at nurseries around the United States and is called Euphorbia tirucalli, also known as aveloz, firestick plants, Indian tree spurge, naked lady, pencil tree, pencil cactus, sticks on fire or milk bush. It’s a tree that grows in semi-arid tropical climates, primarily in Africa.
If you are interested in having one of these plants, be fully aware that it produces a poisonous latex which can be very harmful to people and pets if eaten or touched on skin. So, as intriguing as this plant might be, it’s not for everyone.
When it came time for me to pack it all in, this plant was a prize I had to leave behind. So off to the home of one of my best friends it went.
Fortunately, I recently replaced it with one, much smaller, but on its way, from a neighborhood greenhouse here in Minnetonka. Surprisingly, it was only $20. And wait I will again, until this plant grows from one foot to seven feet.
Lastly, Talk Soup never signed me to be their next host. But many other, better blessings, came into my life in the form of amazing people that truly enriched my life, and plants that brought me good luck and taught me how to keep a little secret.