A jumble of plants crowded together, all vying for a spot in a patch of weak, early spring sunlight in the far corner of my kitchen. Suddenly I noticed my mystery tree appeared to have blossoms. Stepping closer for a better look, I quickly realized the unexpected white blossoms belonged to the spider plant on the shelf above. One of its dangling spider babies hung perfectly within the cluster of the mystery plant’s green leaves.

Shaking my head, I vowed to put most of the plants crowding the counter, including the mystery tree, outdoors as soon as the weather was warm enough to plant my garden. As I began to make breakfast, I debated leaving the mystery plant outdoors next winter. Would it survive? Did that matter?

Two years ago as I was preparing the garden for winter, I’d found the mystery plant growing in one of the rows. The small tree already had a woody trunk. Its leaves were a deep, glossy green. To my surprise, I discovered sturdy thorns at branch points. I consulted Google, asking it what sort of plant would have these characteristics. Google answered, “Most citrus trees have thorns.” Of course, that meant I just had to put the plant in a pot and take it indoors.

Each summer I enrich the garden soil by burying scraps from my kitchen: potato peels, egg shells, banana skins, apple cores and juiced lemons. The two bags of Meyer lemons I’d bought earlier in the spring came to mind. So, I knew why a lemon might have started to grow in my garden. One of the seeds I’d buried along with other scraps must have thought it had been planted.

Pouring myself a cup of tea, I chuckled to myself about how I’d thought for a moment that my lemon tree, or whatever the mystery plant was, had started to blossom. Another time I’d been flower-fooled popped into my mind.

When I was a child Mom and Dad spent a weekend in northern Wisconsin every summer and I usually went with them. Three of my uncles and an aunt lived there. One visit to Uncle John’s the year I was ten was especially memorable.

John and his wife Stella lived outside of the tiny town of Goodman, Wisconsin. They had a large, well established garden in their backyard. Weary from the long drive and motion sickness, I clambered out of the family car and looked around. Every plant in the garden was in bloom. I gasped and exclaimed. John laughed. Mom and Dad looked about with surprise but then stepped back and just smiled as I continued to rave over the flowers.

At home my mother had many flowerbeds, so at ten years of age, I could recognize and identify many plants. Slowly, I began to notice there was something strange about these flowers. Their shape and color didn’t match the plants they were on. Laughing and slapping his knee, Uncle John confessed that he’d wired a whole bunch of plastic flowers onto his plants. I’d been flower-fooled by his prank.

Shaking my head and smiling at my childhood memory, I filled a pitcher with water and began to wet the soil in the green countertop-garden. I liked the glossy leaves on my mystery plant. Its thorns were far and few enough between to not be a hazard. But it was growing fast and becoming large, so I needed justification for it to continue taking up space in the house next winter. I strongly suspected that it wouldn’t survive a Wisconsin winter.

Blossoming was the only thing that would save the life of my mystery plant. Dribbling more water onto its soil I pleaded, “Come on, if you’re a Meyer Lemon tree and you want to live, you’re going to have to blossom before the first frost this fall!”  


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