While we were sleeping

So much of what I admire about the Crown of Thorns plant is the drama it imbues in the paradoxical nature of its gangly cactus-like vegetation.

With dense woody stalks that ooze a sticky latex substance when cut and shoots bearing super prickly thorns, the Crown could double as a lethal weapon. That is until producing dainty clusters of red blossoms, disguising itself in lush flora.

Legend has it that the actual crown of thorns placed on the head of Christ was made from the pliable stems of this plant, which easily can be shaped into a circle.

At one time, I had this variety, otherwise known as Christ Plant, Christ Thorn or Euphorbia splendens. My story began when a slip was ceremoniously bestowed upon me as a parting gift from a dear friend, who was a surrogate, vigilant mother to my husband and me and a doting grandmother to my then infant daughter.

The day my young family would depart on a 200-mile journey west across the Iowa, Joyce trimmed a good-sized branch from her towering mother plant and ceremoniously wrapped it in layers of wet paper towel. Her fingers, thick from a lifetime of farm work, cautiously dodged each long thorn, and then carefully tucked it in a plastic bag for our move to Sioux City.

That was 1974. During the 17 years that followed, a single slip flourished into a beautifully towering conversation piece, reaching some four feet high.

Over time, I had fallen in love with my Crown of Thorns, keeping watch over it, nurturing it, relying on it as a vivid reminder of all that Joyce meant to us. It was a tangible symbol of the lifeline she had extended to us as newcomers in our former town.

That was until the waning hours before dawn one summer day in 1991, when someone stole my "friend" from our front porch.

Distraught and completely mystified over why anyone would want this awkward beauty, I later learned such an item could bring upwards of $50 or more.

In some ways it was comforting to hear we weren't the only ones whose property was ravaged by menacing marauders while we slept.  After morning light illuminated our neatly situated dew-kissed yards, neighbors up and down the street reported a trail of stolen pink flamingos and pinwheels, chase lounges and charcoal grills, wind chimes and whirlygigs, bird feeders and birdbaths. You name it – if it was bolted down, it was gone. According to the rumors, Gypsies were the culprits.

I imagined my Christ Plant on a cold street corner somewhere in Sioux Falls, Fargo – who knows, maybe even Minneapolis – only to be greedily sold to an unassuming stranger.

You may think I'm a bit over the top. Try to understand that sometimes people are really attached to plants. Under our watchful eyes and not-so-green thumbs, they become loyal friends, constant, unshakable companions.

Yes, I suffered loneliness over missing my Crown, and I fretted over who would care for it as dutifully as I had for so many years. Who would water it and pick up after it? Who would nurture it and keep it alive?

I sometimes wonder if it's alive after all these years. Still longing for it, I probably wouldn't recognize it. That was one beautiful houseplant! I wonder if other slips were cut and passed on.

Who knows, maybe there's an entire extended family out there…somewhere.

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