Owned By A Houseplant

By Piper Bayard

This is my orange tree. It owns me.

You may well wonder how I came to be enslaved by a houseplant. It’s a sordid tale because it all goes back to the fact that I’m a killer. I kill things. It’s what I do best.

I don’t mean kill things in the assassin sense, unless you’re a plant, that is. But it’s a fact. My houseplants all want to run away from home. They’ve seen what I’ve done to their friends over the years. . . . The cactuses that died from lack of water, the orchids I’ve drowned, and, worst of all, what I did to Quintilla.

Quintilla started out with five stately stalks, nearly as tall as I am, each with a spray of pointed leaves at the top. This is what’s left of Quintilla after a few years of my neglect careful ministrations. . . . Not that leafy top on the right, the dead stalk on the left. The one behind the shrinking cactus.

So a few months ago when my son asked for a small orange tree at the hardware store, I warned him that he would have to be responsible for it. Of course, he agreed.

We brought it home, and he happened to notice that the best light in the house was in my office. Okay. It could live there. But he would have to take care of it.

At first, I tried to ignore it, but then I saw that it was looking a bit peaked, its soil dry and crusty, and its leaves unhappy. I took it in the bathroom and gave it a shower.

Before I knew it, I was moving it about from place to place in my office all day to keep it in the sun. I would get up at night to make sure the shade was closed so it wouldn’t get too cold. I even started talking to it now and then, trying to ascertain whether it needed to be turned to the left side or the right side that day.

And then it happened. A tiny new leaf. Within two weeks, that little spark of growth became three branches with several new leaves, and more, buds. The orange tree was going to bloom! I didn’t even know they did that as container plants.

About that time, I started to notice a smell in my office. Fragrant at first. Not too pungent. As the little buds grew, so did the strength of the perfume. Then, yesterday, I was rewarded. . . .

One moment please. The sunlight shifted. . . .

One beautiful blossom. . . .

Oh, my! Her leaves look a bit wilty. Why would that be?

Along with this miracle, I suddenly noticed all that delicious fragrance in my office was giving me a headache. What to do?

Well, there’s only one thing I can do. Go back to the coffee shop to work until she’s finished blooming, of course. Because I can’t give up on the only plant that’s ever shown signs of thriving in my care.

Oh, good. A touch of water perked her right up.

I’m owned.

I’m thinking that, if I’m going to be a slave to a houseplant, that plant needs a name. I believe it wants me to call it “Master,” but I have core-deep authority issues that prevent me from pronouncing that word.

So I’m asking you. What’s a good name for the orange tree that owns me? I’m also curious. What plants, animals, or objects own you?

All the best to all of you for a pleasant and fruitful servitude.


82 comments on “Owned By A Houseplant

  1. JM Randolph says:

    Orangina is the best I can come up with. I’ve killed every plant I’ve ever tried to own. I also used to live in Arizona with tons of orange trees in my neighborhood. They’re intoxicating when they bloom. You are sooo enslaved!

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Hi JM. It smells amazing, even with the headache. I wish they grew in my neighborhood. Orangina is an excellent suggestion. I’ll ask her how she feels about it. Good to see you. 🙂

  2. Piper! I just started writing something similar, so I can’t spill it here. But… I will say that I inherited a houseplant when my grandfather died. My grandmother had it for at least 20 years, and I got it in 1982! And something amazing just happened that has never happened before.

    Can plants be antiques? 😉

    • Piper Bayard says:

      They can be antiques. I have an ivy that was started by my great grandmother. Fortunately, ivy thrives on neglect, and other people in the house water it now and then. I’m looking forward to reading your story. 🙂

  3. Elizabeth says:

    The Duc L’Orange 😉

  4. Haha. I’m a plant murderer too. I keep trying every trick I know to pay them enough attention rather than allowing them to die (or accidentally freezing them or drowning them). The only thing that remotely works for me is naming them and keeping them in my line of sight. Though maybe if I had a pretty orange tree it would motivate me 🙂

    • Piper Bayard says:

      I’m suspecting the “line of sight” factor could be substantial. The orange tree is the plant that is most present because of its location. Good to see you, Marcy. 🙂

  5. If you want to go classic you could use Audrey II. Other than that Orangina is good.

    As for what owns me… Well I confess to being a cat lady. One of my feline masters is obnoxious and will knock items off of counters or shelves when he wants to be fed. If I am watching TV he jumps up and blocks my view, only moving when I get up and take him down (fake outs do not work). The other one is cleverly disguised as a cuddle puss who simply jumps on my face at every opportunity.

    Good luck with the plant!

  6. Running from Hell with El says:

    Love this–reminds me of The Little Prince. You’re not just owned, you’re tamed. “You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed” and “It is the time you have devoted to your rose that makes your rose so important.” You could name the plant “The Fox.”

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Exactly! That’s my favorite part of that book, and I’ve never forgotten that bonds are more than for our own love and support. They are also responsibilities that we should choose carefully. The Fox is a great idea. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, El. 🙂

  7. EllieAnn says:

    You killed a cactus? I’m impressed! LoL.
    I didn’t want to say anything, but I totally know who wears the pants in your relationship with your plant. You’re so cute together, though. =)
    Great post!

    • Piper Bayard says:

      I hardly even have to try to kill cactuses. They find out they are in my “care” and they seem to commit suicide. And you’re right. The orange tree totally wears the plant pants. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  8. lwsapir says:

    How about Sigfried? Or Elmore?

    I, too, have what I like to call a “black thumb” – plants don’t ever want to see me coming. I might as well be wearing a hooded cloak and carrying a scythe.
    If I managed to keep a plant alive I might have to dress it up for seasonal holidays, include it in family holidays, and take it everywhere in a little carrier. I’d be THAT excited.

  9. Julie Farrar says:

    Totally owned by a dog, here. And by books. When I renovate my house and take down a wall soon, it will be to give my books breathing room.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Lol. Renovating your house to give your books breathing room? You are totally owned, for sure. How does your dog feel about this attention and effort you give to the books? Is he jealous? Thanks for stopping by, Julie. 🙂

  10. andrewmocete says:

    Here’s a name no orange tree has.
    Just like Gwyneth Paltrow’s kid. Apple the Orange Tree or ATOT for short.

  11. Since the orange tree sits in your office where you write:

    Navella. Part of what she produces. An abbreviated version of what you produce.

    Perhaps she could call you Wise and Wonderful Author–WAWA.

    Be careful not to over water should she grow fond of the name and frequently call you.

    Gardening and houseplant decor are a spectator sport for me. It’s healthier for both of us to keep it that way.

    Congratulations on your achievement.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Lol. Navella is definitely appropriate, and I love the idea of being called Wise and Wonderful Author. If she called me Brave and Beautiful Author, too, then I would be BABA WAWA, and we all know how successful she is. Thanks for your excellent input, Gloria. 🙂

  12. malia says:

    My dogs own me for sure…then when Nellie died and the vet sent me a plant in her memory, that plant owns me in her place. The bad thing is, I have a tendency to kill plants as well (although I am getting better) and I don’t want that plant to die, so I am obsessively taking care of it the best I can. I do hear that plants respond to touch, talking, and MUSIC! Hopefully this one will live a long time:)

    • Piper Bayard says:

      If you have your plant around while you’re playing your flute and piano, that will be the happiest, healthiest plant ever. I’m so sorry about Nellie. We were very fond of her, too. That was a beautiful gesture from your vet. Thanks so much for commenting, Malia. 🙂

  13. tomwisk says:

    After long thought I think Richard M would be a perfect name. The namesake was given up for dead so many times he had a portable tombstone made up so he could lay down under it when the press, public or the Republican Party declared him dead. As for anyone owning me Sophie the Mouser pretty much has me in chains. Yeowling for food, jumping on me at one a.m. and occupying my couch when she has a perfectly good one of her own. She’s watching me as I type this. If I don’t post again you’ll find my body buried under the compost pile in the field next door.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Lol. That’s a great idea, Tom. I’ve had more than one plant I’ve given up on and stuck out on the porch to perish, only to notice months later that they thrive in my complete absence. They could have used portable tombstones. Sounds like Sophie knows her man pretty well. So glad she let you stop by and comment. 🙂

  14. gojulesgo says:

    Ha! I am so impressed! I don’t have the best track record either, but I think talking to it makes all the difference. I have a long history of talking to my Christmas trees, and have managed to keep an ‘impossible to kill I swear’ house plant alive from my mother-in-law (it’s inside, in the shade, and only needs a glass of water once a week…that and compliments).

    Definitely agree your slave driver needs a name… Maybe Minnie. Short for Vitamin C, of course. 😉

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Minnie is a most logical choice. Thank you. As for Christmas trees, I gave up having live ones, and now, even my fake one is starting to look like it wants to run away from home. Perhaps I’ll start talking to it. Good luck with your plant from your mother-in-law. I hope she doesn’t hold it against you if it doesn’t make it. Good to see you, Jules. 🙂

  15. Who could expect a girl from Clovis to know anything about citrus plants? Or any other plants, for that matter . . .

  16. Author Kristen Lamb says:

    Call her “Catniss” because she survived against all the other plants in the Thirsty Games. She is a rugged survivor who clearly has won you to her side even against cuter cacti that promised they needed far less attention and hydration.

    • CF Winn says:

      Curses!….LOL! I posted a comment before I read through the old ones! I thought I was the only one clever enough to include a reference to the Hunger Games!

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Good one! The odds are clearly in her favor. They have to be for her to have made it this far. Perhaps she will get a sponsor to send her a bit of water. Good to see you, Kristen. 🙂

  17. Andrew says:

    Uhh…no idea. How about…Bob? That’s what I call my Trilobite =P

    And my cat believes he owns me, and is entitled to climb all over me or wake me up whenever he pleases. Silly kitty and his dictatorial ways…

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Lol. Andrew, you silly boy, you. Don’t you know that your cat is totally entitled to climb on you and wake you up at all hours? But don’t you dare disturb him when you roll over in bed, right?

      “Bob” is nice and simple. I’ll bet even the orange tree can spell it. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  18. I kill plants, too. In fact, I’m pretty sure I once decimated an entire garden section at a large home-improvement store just by walking past it. I have a brave philodendren in my kitchen that has survived despite the odds. A cousin sent it to me three years ago after my father died and I was determined to keep it alive. So far it’s worked even though I actually re-potted it a couple of years ago!

  19. Amber West says:

    Piper, I have the black thumb as well, but I recently have been taking care of a plant that is making me question my “death to all plants” ways.

    It is also a citrus tree. (Lime)

    Maybe they are spraying us with some mind-controlling chemical, disguised in those sweet little blossoms. Mine doesn’t have a name yet, but sometimes we chat about his scurvy fighting ways over a glass of water.

    Enjoy your orange tree. Tell it that “Limey” from Florida says “Stick with the mission”, whatever that means.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      I think there may be a conspiracy here. When I gave the orange tree Limey’s message, I could swear the leaves shifted in a non-existent breeze. I’m thinking they may be telepathic. We’ll have to keep close tabs on this in case they’ve been watching too much “Rise of the Machines” action and getting ideas.

      Thanks for stopping by and cluing me in to this devious alliance. 🙂

  20. Catherine Johnson says:

    An orange plant sounds lovely! I’m exactly the same with plants, I don’t even keep any more in the house.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Mine are pretty minimized. I do recommend an orange tree, though. The smell is lovely, and clearly it has a strong will to live. Good to see you, Catherine. 🙂

  21. Susan Spann says:

    I’m owned by my smallest cat and my seahorses. No question. The cat even managed to snag a role in my mystery series (Oobie is entitlement in feline form and her fictitious doppelganger is no less so). The seahorses…well, you have to have owned a suicidal fish to understand, but suffice it to say I spend far more hours than I should taking care of that aquarium – and loving every minute of it.

    As far as a good plant name…I’m going with Albatross. You can call it Al for short.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Lol. I’m surprised you have time to write with so many masters. I’m guessing Oobie only allows it because you’ve included him.

      Albatross is a great idea. I wouldn’t call it “Al” though. Bad boyfriend experience in my youth. Besides, Albatross would look better etched on the golden name plaque the orange tree has just requested I have made for her pot. 🙂 Good to see you, Susan. All the best to Oobie and the seahorses.

  22. CF Winn says:

    I think you should name it Zoe. Loved this post. What a wonderful chuckle I had! Good luck and may the orange aroma be ever in your favor!

  23. Imelda Evans says:

    How about calling it ‘your Honour’? Because you are desperate to prove to it that you aren’t a killer…

    I’m guessing this would not be the time to tell you that, if it does keep growing, you will need to pot it on? Or plant it outside? Sorry if you’re now sweating!

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Imelda, you just gave me hives. . . . I’m sure she would love “Your Honour.” It’s pretty close to “Master” and she does have a bit of a dominating element to her. Thanks so much for stopping by. 🙂

  24. Yolanda! Perfect name for her.

    I’m owned by my cat Penelope. She knows just how to play the humans. The door to the attic is in my bedroom. So she’ll go downstairs and beg my grandma to let her out. I think it takes her all of 30 seconds to get to the attic where she starts scratching at the door and yowling like she’s been outside for weeks. Like a good little slave, I let her in. Not 5 minutes later, she’s back at the door asking to be let in, again… Yes, she has us trained and probably laughs as she’s running back down the stairs to go out again.

  25. Ella Slayne says:

    Loved this post! I’m a plant killer too but I’m in denial. A realtor recently suggested I lend some of my plants to a friend to look after and she replaced them with fake ones! Why don’t you call it Migraine if the smell is giving you a headache? 😉

  26. Citraon (as pharaon) or Orangenie (not in the bottle though).
    I’m a slave to my sea anemone Nematostella, I can’t even go on vacation for longer than a week, they need to be regularly fed with freshly hatched shrimp.
    And teysting you if you don’t wear gloves.

  27. OMG! I thought I was the only one! For ten years I have been held hostage by a monster tree on my kitchen counter–planted by the little girl who is about to head off to college. I was so touched by this act of faith, and that this tree actually grew from the seed of a seedless satsuma by a child who loved and watered it daily for at least a month. It has been infected with little buggy things almost from day one, and I have to bathe it regularly in dish soap, and once I cut it down to nothing, hoping to either de-bug it once and for all or KILL it. But it came back to haunt me!

    Didn’t mean to rant, but if anyone could understand, it would be you. Fun post. Good luck!

    • Piper Bayard says:

      I totally get it, Naomi. You put a monster tree with the fact that it was your little girl’s, and there’s no way you’re not owned. So glad you understand and embrace your servitude. Thank you for stopping by and sharing your experience. 🙂

  28. darcyflynn says:

    Two English Setters and two kitty cats! I’m also owned by every object in my house that needs dusting! They “hound” me daily!

  29. brennagrimes says:

    I have 3 plants. Only one has a name because quite honestly, I thought the other 2 would die by now. I might try to name them though. The other one was my very first plant when the hubby & I moved in together 4 years ago…her name is Perle. We’ve almost killed her 14 times. She hates us. Best of luck with the orange tree. Some names: Olivia, Paige & Mallorie.

  30. K.B. Owen says:

    Love the story, Piper! You could go two ways: give her a valiant name (for surviving in the face of adversity), like “Braveheart.” Or, you could be a tad insubordinate; a bit of rebellion, so to speak, in response to the current master/slave relationship, and call her “Stinky.”

    Good luck!

  31. Seriously, you are a woman after my own heart. Or black thumb, take your pick. My daughter is amazing with plants. Me, I kill them just by walking near them at the gardening store. They turn away and plead with the plant Gods, “No, don’t let her pick me. Go for George over there. He’s not long for this world anyway.”

    As for a name? How about Blossom.

  32. Piper, I’m impressed. It used to be that the only non-human things that could live in our house were bloody scorpions. Thankfully they’re gone and now were working on vegetation (no sarky comments about your truly at this point please). Either way, its been a long time since we’ve had something green that looked like it wanted to stay.

    So, naming it? It’s a pithy question (sorry, I’ll skip the equally lame seed and germinate puns).

    Maybe, if you like to kill things, Bloody? That way you could introduce it as you bloody orange tree. Or Darth?

    I would suggest “Kristen,” but I won’t zest she punches me the next time we meet.


    • Piper Bayard says:

      Lol. Those are great suggestions, Nigel, and some juicy puns, as well. You know, Holmes can tell you that I’m pretty ornery. It will now be hard for me to NOT name her “Kristen” just to find out if she punches you. 🙂 So good to see you, Nigel. Looking forward to DFW.

  33. Julie Glover says:

    I too have a brown thumb. I shop for plants with the question to the nursery worker, “What’s the hardest plant here to kill?” I am seriously considering putting plastic ferns in my outdoor hanging baskets. That orange tree looks lovely! We do have a loquat tree in our yard that blossoms and bears fruit and two pecan trees which we could harvest if the squirrels would leave the nuts alone. Good luck!

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Lol. I’ve seriously considered fake ferns, too, but I can’t quite bring myself to take that step. They would probably look dead from lack of dusting anyway. Good to see you, Julie. 🙂

  34. LOL Piper! DH and I used to have an agreement; he grew the veggies, me the flowers, because if we reversed it, everything died. (We also agreed he handled more than four legs, I handled less; snakes freaked him out and spiders freaked me.) But what I really want to know is where that lovely blue couch of yours was when I was looking for exactly that color???

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Sounds like you and DH balanced each other beautifully.

      As for the couch, I got it back in early 2005 at the Lazy Boy store. It’s a sleeper love seat that provides us with a guest bed when folks come to visit, and it’s actually comfortable. DD and I went through the store pulling out every single bed and lying down on them. It was a fun day.

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your experience, Justine. Good to see you. 🙂

  35. Jane Sadek says:

    So there with you on houseplants. I groan inwardly every time someone gives me one for an occasion. I know their well-intentioned generosity is about to wipe another being out of existence, because I too am a plant killer, albeit with no malice. Thankfully, it is just a houseplant thing. My yard humbles even the greenest thumb with irises, Don Juan climbing roses, magnolias and more.

    Congratulations on your blooming orange tree. I hope you’ll get eh chance to make some orange juice, soon.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Wow, Jane. Could you drop by my yard? I’m incredibly proud of the fact that bulbs I planted last fall are actually blooming now. That’s a first for me.

      Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  36. Fabio Bueno says:

    Brilliant post, Piper. I empathize. I’m a pet of two parakeets.
    Sorry I’m late for the party. I’d like to suggest names based on cocktails with orange juice: Mimosa, or Screwdriver, depending on your owner’s personality 🙂

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Oh, I like that. I enjoy mimosas, and it’s almost a bit threatening sounding if you’re saying it to an orange tree. Sort of like naming a calf “Soup Starter.” Thanks for stopping by and sharing your ideas, Fabio. 🙂

  37. keliwright says:

    The name?


    Sympathies and felicitations from a fellow black thumb.

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