field notes by missy j. kennedy
Every now and then, one of my rubber plants grows a heart-shaped leaf.
The other one, the younger one, doesn’t do this. But it’s happened at least a few times now on the older one. It has one of its little heart leaves right now. When the first one opened like that, like a heart, I was pretty captivated. I meant to study what happened to it, that first heart leaf, to see if it would somehow unspool itself into a full leaf or if it would drop itself to try again—a sacrifice—because maybe the idea is to try for full leaves, not accidental heart leaves, and the plant saw what it had made instead and said, oh, hell, while I, in my ignorance, said, !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
But it was the same as when any new leaf finally opens, which begin as little red sheaths that pop up and slowly unfurl. You try to sit and watch and wait for it but it just happens while you’re at work instead.
I can’t find any information online about why my rubber plant sometimes grows me these valentines, or if it means there’s actually something amiss with it or its care. This is, of course, my fear. But I’m not too worried because the plant is otherwise thriving. Growth has been steady and full, with plenty of shiny, waxy leaves and a new baby shoot coming in straight up from the roots. It leans slightly because it’s getting too big for the pot and it’s time to repot it in something bigger. (I will have to do this next weekend, pretending my bathtub is a patio and the faucet a spigot for an outdoor hose.) It’s becoming more of a floor plant than a desk plant, but I don’t have any floor to spare in this apartment, so I guess it can just have the desk when the time comes.
Rubber plants, ficus elastica, require a few simple rituals. They need only bright, plentiful light that isn’t too direct—precisely the kind I get because I only get the kind of direct light that pours in and scatters little prisms across your walls during golden hour in the summer. Though you’d think that would happen in winter, too, just earlier, and that I’d catch it on the weekends when I’m at my desk by the window, but that never seems to happen. I water them a little less, maybe every other week, in the winter. But in the summer, it’s every weekend, hoisting them onto my hip like I imagine a parent might do with a toddler and carrying them each to the bathtub for a shower. Then you need to dry off the leaves, and then you clean them. Water and vinegar will ward off pests, but you can only use that every so often. Water and lemon juice is best for weekly care, and good for shine, too. So is water and milk, which is probably what your grandmother would have used—it’s probably what my grandma used, too, since she kept them. I keep meaning to ask my mother if she remembers.
This letter was originally sent via TinyLetter on February 11, 2019.