November 04, 2022

Cacti, Succulents and Bonsai Trees for the Senior Radiologist

Steven Birnbaum, MD, FACR

Collection of bonsai plants cultivated by Steven Birnbaum, MD, FACR     Collection of cactus plants cultivated by Steven Birnbaum, MD, FACR
 Collection of succulent plants cultivated by Steven Birnbaum, MD, FACR

I am now 70 years old and still working as a radiologist at the UMass Memorial Medical Center and UMass Chan Medical School where I very much enjoy mentoring the new generation of radiology trainees. But one of my true loves/hobbies is growing house plants and bonsai trees.

My first house plant was a $0.99 jade plant from Sears and Roebuck in Rochester, NY, which grew despite my neglect as a first-year medical student. I had that plant for 20 years and was hooked.

I subsequently filled our house and backyard with a variety of cacti, succulents and bonsai trees, which I have slowly but surely learned how to mentor in their own way, similar to the radiology residents whose careers I help nurture. I’ve had some of these plants in my possession now for 30 to 40 years. My feeling is that the weirder these plants are, the more I want them in my collection.

During the New England winter, the frost-sensitive plants come indoors before Halloween where they thrive under a complex grow-light system in our basement. My frost-tolerant, outdoor bonsais stay outdoors until Thanksgiving, and then I bring them into our garage for the winter where they get some well-deserved rest.

I also own a 36-gallon fish tank complete with real plants. When I change the water every two weeks for the fish, the wastewater provides a nutritious, low-grade fertilizer for my ubiquitous house plants.

I hope to continue these hobbies for the next 20 years, provided I am physically able. And if none of our heirs are interested, I hope to donate the good ones to a local arboretum or college greenhouse. It has been a great run!