Local woman donates Christmas cactus heirloom
Plant, at nearly 100 years old, now part of Melwood program
Dianna Worth recently lost her husband, and to help keep his memory alive, she recently donated a family heirloom to Melwood’s horticultural program.
Worth, of Dunkirk, said the Christmas cactus, which her husband Edward recalled from his childhood on the family farm, is about 100 years old.
“Edward remembered his mother having the cactus,” Dianna Worth said of her late husband, who was born in 1928. “Before his mother passed, she gave it to her son, and it just kept getting bigger and bigger and growing.”
According to Wikipedia.com, Christmas cacti belong to the Schlumbergera genus, which consist of six to nine species found in the coastal mountains of southeastern Brazil. In the Northern Hemisphere they are Christmas cactus, Thanksgiving cactus, crab cactus and holiday cactus. It’s not unusual for a Christmas cactus to live for 20, 30 or more years.
Because Dianna Worth was unable to care for the plant by herself, she decided it should be donated.
The botanical gardens in Washington declined to accept the 5-foot-tall plant, so Worth placed a call to Melwood, a nonprofit that provides jobs and opportunities for people with differing abilities in the Washington area.
“I thought she was exaggerating, because [that size] is just unheard of, but I had to go see it,” Melwood Greenhouse Operations Manager Edward Goodman said when informed the plant was nearly 5 feet high. “A lot of these plants are passed down as family heirlooms. It’s a common plant, but more [often than not they’re] the size of maybe a teacup or saucer. We have some in our greenhouse that we propagated two years ago that are only the size of two fists. This is the oldest one I’m aware of.”
But Goodman was in for a surprise when he arrived later that day to pick up the family heir-
“My jaw dropped; I was totally wrong,” he said. “I was expecting a plant much smaller and I walked in [to get it], my jaw just hit the floor. I’m thinking, ‘This is serious.’ You can tell it’s old by how large and callused [the branches] are. You can see it stops having these repetitive, fleshy green parts to it and it goes into this callused and really thick cankerous stem. I’ve never seen that [on this type of plant] before. It’s the largest and most unusual specimen I’ve ever seen.”
And for Edward Worth’s family, the plant was one of his most prized possessions.
“Oh, he loved it so much,” Dianna said of her husband, who died Aug. 20. “If people came to visit, that’s what he showed them first. It was his pride and joy.”
Edward kept the cactus in the sunroom of the family home for several months, and the couple had to heat the room specifically for the plant.
“I had to keep the house warm,” Dianna said, “because if he let it freeze, that would be one thing, but not me. He would get up in the middle of the night and check the [thermostat] just to make sure it was warm enough. He loved that plant. It was his mom’s plant and he wanted to take care of it.”
The cactus even occupied a place of honor as it sat atop a wooden table handcrafted by Dianna’s late uncle, Ward Harmon, who bequeathed it to the couple.
Edward spent his final weeks in the sunroom with the cactus and Dian- na said the death of her husband, and the departure of the cactus a few weeks later, shared several similarities.
“When he passed away they wrapped him up and then they wrapped the plant up, the hearse backed up to the garage and [the truck carrying the plant backed up] to the garage and they were both being held gently,” Dianna Worth said, her voice cracking. “It was very difficult.
Goodman, who showed up to take possession pf the plant the day after he received the call, said he’s honored to take possession of the Worth family heirloom.
“It’s provided a lot of closure for the family and we’ll continue to honor her late husband by caring for something he cared for his entire life,” said Goodman, who is also refinishing the small table. “I recognize the love her family put into it, and I would like to carry that on. I know how much they cared for it so that’s why I want to do her family justice.”
“I’m happy it’s there being taken care of,” said Dianna, who told The Calvert Recorder she planned to stop by and see the cactus over the holidays. “When you’ve had something all your life and taken care of it and nurtured it and she must have really loved it — his mother passed away, but he couldn’t let the plant pass away because it was a memory of his mother. It’s all he had left.”
Melwood Marketing and Communications Specialist Sara Newman, left, and Melwood Greenhouse Operations Manager Edward Goodman examine the family heirloom Christmas cactus donated by Dunkirk resident Dianna Worth.
Melwood Greenhouse Operations Manager Edward Goodman, left, and Melwood Marketing and Communications Specialist Sara Newman examine the family heirloom Christmas cactus donated by Dunkirk resident Dianna Worth.
Above left, Dianna and Edward Worth took care of a Christmas cactus that was previously owned by Edward’s mother, Mary Worth. Above right, Edward Worth recalled his mother Mary Worth taking care of the Christmas cactus when he was a young boy. Right, Edward Worth poses with the Christmas cactus in full bloom several years ago.