MARTHA SEZ: ‘She thought that maybe a mouse had died inside the wall’
Spring has come on suddenly this year, right on March 20, the vernal equinox. For the first time in months I can see over the top of the mountainous snowpile made by plow trucks and snow removal vehicles before inching out into the road in my car.
People are reporting the earliest flowers, crocus and galanthus snowdrops and budding hellebore. Jupiter the cat went out the window and down the apple tree into the yard and soon returned with a mouse, which he generously gave to Orangy, the other cat, to throw around the house. I hope spring, and with it the ability to hunt and kill rodents again, will break the cycle of Jupiter’s anxiety and depression. I think the cat videos I was showing him helped some, but there is nothing like the real thing.
Indoor plants are perking up, as spring sunshine pours in through the windows. I have few experimental seedlings on the sill. Generally speaking, of course anyone would be thrilled to see her houseplants bloom, but there is one I am watching with suspicion, ready to snip off any sign of a flowerbud. This plant has a past and a story.
My friend Darla went through a difficult period a few years ago with a pervasive foul odor in her kitchen. This smell was noticeable only at night. During the day, she might forget about it, thinking the problem had gone away, but as darkness fell the smell returned with a vengeance.
“It smells like dead mice,” she told me at the time. She thought that maybe a mouse had died inside the wall. The refrigerator was clean. The odor persisted, and she began to suspect the kitchen sink. Clogged drains? Malfunctioning garbage disposal?
Darla called in the plumbers, a crew of several brothers, who worked normal daytime hours and for that reason never smelled it at all. They took her at her word, however, and took the garbage disposal apart in hopes of locating the problem. No dice. The disposal was in good working order and the drain pipe wasn’t clogged.
Since Darla was renting at the time, her landlord was paying the plumbing bill, which probably was what inspired him to pay her an evening visit. He wanted to see–or smell–what was going on for himself. As evening fell, the kitchen was permeated with a foul odor, like that of rotting meat. Convinced, the landlord called in the plumbing crew again, to no avail.
“Then one night,” Darla said, “I happened to be walking past that potted plant. It had long vining tendrils, and several clusters, like balls, of pale pink flowers. Each little flower had a drop of sticky liquid inside it. I thought, that’s it! That’s where the smell is coming from.”
Moving the plant to the back porch, Darla found that one of the flower clusters had drooped and glued itself to the floor. “I had to scrape it off,” she said.
I had heard of flowers that give off scent only at night, and in fact I had grown some. Night-blooming jasmine, nicotiana, four o’clock and night-scented stock attracted moths that pollinated them. I had also heard of carrion flowers that attracted scavenger beetles and flies with their scent of rotting flesh.
“Put it out on the picnic table,” I told her. “See if beetles come.”
One day a neighbor came by and complimented Darla on the plant. “It’s really pretty,” he said. “My mother would like it.”
“I didn’t like his mother,” Darla said, “so I told him I was clearing out some of my houseplants and he was welcome to take it.”
“And you never told him about its bad habit?” I asked.
“No,” Darla said. “Let her find out for herself. Although her house is so messy she will probably never even notice.”
I had already taken some cuttings of the plant because I thought the vine was pretty, but I had never liked even the look of the flowers, so waxy and sticky. Also, I was intrigued with the idea of owning a carrion flower plant, although I never intended to let it bloom. So far it hasn’t even tried, but I’m keeping an eye on it.
“What did your landlord say when you told him?” I asked Darla.
“Oh, I never did tell him,” Darla said. “I would have been too embarrassed, after all that.”
Beware gardeners bearing carrion flowers, and have a good week.
(Martha Allen lives in Keene Valley. She has been writing for the Lake Placid News for more than 20 years.)