Bonding with Ursula

15 12 2017


A few weeks after my friend Elizabeth passed away suddenly (heart atack), I was offered one of her plants. I thought it would be nice to have something, in addition to her hand-drawn holiday cards. Arrangements to pick up the plant were complicated by a snow storm and ultimately included breakfast at Friendly’s with a long-time friend/twice boyfriend.

Before I even knew much about this particular plant, another friend named it Ursula. That reminded me of a spider because a local shop is named Ursula’s Web. It suggested an octopus (from The Little Mermaid) to my daughter. But it turns out she was a fern of some type. Which was perfect because my friend Elizabeth had been one of the co-authors of the newly published Peterson’s Field Guide to the Ferns.

Ursula arrived in a box, covered with a black plastic garbage bag, so I was unprepared for her stunning beauty and uniqueness when I unwrapped her. Placing her in a wrought iron stand, I stepped back to admire her. She was solid, lush, and a bit disheveled… kinda like Elizabeth.

Her rhizomes (=root in a fern) were cinnamon and furry, kinda like Elizabeth’s hair. Somewhat like a tarantula. Or an octopus. I later learned she was a Rabbit’s Foot Fern (Phlebodium aureum), again perfect as my last name means rabbit in French. I was in love with this plant, as I’d never been before. I could envision Elizabeth in one of her (very) silly moods running her fingers along one of the rhizomes, petting her fern, and saying in a breathy voice (followed by a deep throated chuckle), “Calm down, dear, it will be okay.”

When I had a chance to look at Ursula more closely, I discovered she had many fertile fronds (=leaves) whose undersides were covered with symmetrically spaced spores. These are the fern’s reproductive equivalent of seeds; this can be an indication of either a very healthy plant or one under stress, trying to be sure there is a next generation.

brown tips

Two observations caused me to wonder about the stress factor. Many of Ursula frond tips were brown, perhaps a sign of too little water or too much fertilizer, but definitely an indicator of a problem. When I read about her species, there was a lot of discrepancy in the suggestions on temperature, humidity, and watering. I decided I needed to remove all the brown tips, so I could judge if I was caring for her properly. I got out my nail scissors and began the delicate operation. While doing so, I remembered my last visit with Elizabeth. She had been to a salon for the first time in decades to make some order out of her chaotic hair. Her hesitation at cutting much off was forefront in my mind, as I assured Ursula that I was only cutting what needed to be removed.

I also saw some areas that might be scale, an insect pest. I couldn’t determine if it was clusters of detached spores (an OK thing) or the pest. I erred on the side of removing most of the white clumps and will watch the others. If I were Elizabeth, I’d take out my loop and figure it out. Aw, heck, she’d probably know without needing her hand lens.

Which brings me to the reality of my situation: I have this plant, this lovely Ursula, because I (and the 200 other friends who attended her memorial service) no longer have Elizabeth. I stop writing, look out the window, and wonder why.




13 responses

15 12 2017

Beautiful tribute

15 12 2017
Beth Lapin

Thank you!

15 12 2017
Leslie Starr

Hi Beth,

This is SUCH a lovely story… thank you so much for writing it. And yes, the coincidences are astounding, although I’ve been told there are no coincidences. I feel very lucky, and have since ever since she gave me half of her onion plant, which has split many times now and pieces have gone to other people. Having something from a special person is wonderful.

I’m glad that the service was well attended and very glad that you did get the plant.



15 12 2017
Beth Lapin

I have such memories of that onion plant!! Both with you and her.

15 12 2017

What a beautiful tribute to your friend, who obviously meant so much to you, and to Ursula, who I knew before you met her, would become a fast and long-term friend.

It’s perfect that Ursula now resides with you, and as a person who cherishes special friendships and makes meaningful relationships the way you do, I feel good knowing that the two of you are together for a very long time.

This was just lovely.❤️❤️🌿

15 12 2017
Beth Lapin

Thanks for her lovely name and your hopeful future for us (I just wish her frond tips would stop turning brown…)

15 12 2017

She’s adjusting to her new house and environment. Don’t over water her. She’s in shock and it’s only been a few days. Fingers crossed.

15 12 2017
Beth Lapin

I am hopeful..

15 12 2017
Susan Scott

How lovely to have this delicate plant to remind you of Elizabeth, Beth! And for you to tend to Ursula in Elizabeth’s absence, means (also) that she is present ..

15 12 2017
Beth Lapin

Lovely reframing… thank you.

16 12 2017
Karl Moore

Hi Beth,That was beautifully written… Thank you so much! We are in the airport in London, our original flight had a snow delay, missed our connection in Dublin, and now have pieced together two more flights to Barcelona. Karl.

Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android

20 12 2017
Beth Lapin

Karl, thanks for your part in transporting her to me. I hope your trip continued in a more organized way and you were able to relax and enjoy your vacation.

7 01 2018

My condolences.

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