Enthusiastic Children and Vines

Pay attention, indulge, wait, and be delighted.

This month my buddy’s pre-teen boy is into magic. He’s showing me a card trick with a fake deck. He’s been through Egyptian mythology, dinosaurs and bigfoot.  His dad’s endless patience amazes me. The magic show commences with an elaborate introduction,

    “On the death-day of the great Houdini, I honor the risk he took to share magic with us by putting a chopstick through my arm. And then, I’ll pull a coin out of your ear.”

I’m thinking to myself, “That intro ended on a downbeat; work on that son.”  My thoughts wander, my eyes land on some papers on the table, a comic book ad for magic tricks, itching powder, and rigged cards.  The same ads I remember from the 70s.  Dad stay’s in the moment, leaning forward,  “Fascinating!”

Itching powder advert. Contains Mucuna!s wander, my eyes land on a comic book style magic catalog on the boy’s table. It’s exactly the same as it was in the ’70s when I was into magic tricks. Simple pencil sketches. In one, a wide-eyed, crew-cut guy wraps his arms around his torso. Itching powder, $3.00!!!!!

The chopstick pierces, we all clap as the two dangling bits hang precariously. I need a new beer. Dad continues cultivating the passion,” Is that spiral hypnotizing medallion real?” His interest will pay off.  One day too soon, that boy will tell stories of how his Dad indulged some passion that turned into a career or extraordinary hobby.

Like I can. The itching powder thing triggers and random, old memory of vines.  One of my long-time plant passions. Most grow quickly, show off and die off in a season. But one took years to produce more than a few flowers. After twenty years together, I love its odd charms.  On a road trip to Texas, about 2000 or so,  Peckerwood Garden’s creative force, John Fairy, let me dig a cigar-shaped root cutting of purple jade vine, Mucuna cyclocarpa,

She seemed a tame grower at first. The stems get knocked back in winter. For a few years, they seemed about the same size each summer. But underground fleshy tubers added mass.  Once I dug down a foot just to see them —  mesmerizing things like the thigh muscles of a football player. From that underground store of energy, apple-green tendrils emerge April first and soon reach 9 feet on the deck.  May brings cap-sized, three-part leaves in a complete curtain to 15 feet.  June and it’s romping over the clothesline. Everyone stops hanging out clothes in July, grudgingly, indulging my passion. Thank housemates for indulging my passion.  Rich purple flower clusters hang like pendants all summer. She needs a better place. She could dangle and show off from an overhead pergola.

Thick rubbery flowers need strong-jawed tropical bats to pollinate them. Here, I have to do the transfer of pollen from male to female parts myself. Then the waiting and watching the progress of the pods. Those hairy, twisting pods, cyclocarps, bring memories of my encouraging Dad, a favorite naturalist, Jack Putz who wrote The Biology of Vines, a Texas road trip, patterns, cycles in my life.

Sometimes when I look up into that vine, I see only intimidating bean pods.

The stiff spine stick into your skin but can be rubbed off with brillo pads.

Needle-like hairs, (called spicules) don’t really hurt going into your skin. Later, you can rub them out with a brillo pad. To get the seeds out, I crush the pods inside something flexible like a coffee bag. Spicules and trash stay in, big black, rock-hard seed roll out. On this hot day, I use my wet t-shirt and get a dozen beautiful seeds.

The next morning, same t-shirt washed and dried immediately makes my whole torso itch. What the devil? Was I working with insulation? I look closely at the fibers. Tiny golden hairs stick in the red cotton.  Ah. Some tendrils in my mind make connections; hairy bean pods, that pencil sketch in the comic book magic ad, my indulgent Daddy, a textbook entry explaining Mucuna pruriens, toxic seed hair’s is the source of itching powder.  Itching powder. $3!!!

Encourage passion.


                NOTE:  Easy to grow but hard to propagate, we have a limited number available. Plant now for root establishment and mulch in the first winter. Cold hardy to Zone 7.

Order your vine now.

Jade Vine flowers.

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