Steven Birnbaum, MD, FACR
Cacti, Succulents and Bonsai Trees for the Senior Radiologist
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!