My mother was born with a green thumb. Her home overflows with large plants and flowers. She intuitively senses just how much to water a plant, in what type of soil it will prosper, when it is becoming diseased and what treatment it then requires.

Growing up amidst all this budding greenery, I, too, learned to appreciate how a plant can brighten even the dullest corners of a room — especially in the barrenness of our Canadian winters.

Unfortunately, though, I wasn't blessed with my mother's talent.

My mother will often present me with one of her many attractive plants. She'll painstakingly instruct me on watering and preferred location. But try as I might, a few weeks after I've optimistically welcomed this new addition to my home its leaves will invariably begin to droop and wilt. Before long, the once glowing plant is surrounded by a gathering puddle of its own fallen and dead leaves.

On its last leg of life, I'll return the plant to my mother for resuscitation. Surely enough, after a few weeks under her tender care the plant will return to its pristine condition, in full and glorious bloom.

She'll then offer me another of her many burgeoning plants, this time, perhaps one that requires less care and fastidiousness. But, consistently, the process will repeat itself, and has repeated itself so many times, that I finally became loath to continue my near murders. I became resigned that my huge southern facing window — the perfect setting for almost any plant — would remain empty of growing things.

Instead, I opted for a more practical alternative. I searched the stores until I came across authentic-looking artificial plants. Now, a striking, tropical palm tree (my favorite tree) graces my living room window and a large, fifteen-foot banana tree fills another corner.

I now no longer need to feel guilty over forgetting the weekly watering or otherwise neglecting an innocent plant to death.

Nevertheless, the other day my mother once again offered me a plant. She was grafting her very large cactus tree, which was getting too tall and wide to fit in her home.

"Don't worry, Chana," she reassured me. "The cactus plant will survive in almost impossible conditions. It needs almost no attention, and only a scarce amount of water."

Reluctantly, I took it home for yet another attempt. This time, however, weeks have passed and the cactus is alive, and has in fact grown and seems to be flourishing — as much as a cactus plant can flourish.

My husband wasn't particularly enamored with this latest addition. "You have so much lovely greenery — why the need for this ugly thing?" he wondered aloud.

But I stubbornly insisted that as long as the cactus plant continues to grow and live, it remains in our home. For, as exquisite as the other trees appear, they lack one essential and integral quality. They aren't real. They aren't alive. The cactus, with its bare thorns and irregular beauty, to me represents a life that is vibrant — pricks and all.

For a thing that is alive, no matter how prickly or apparently unattractive, grows and develops. Regardless of our deficiencies, difficulties and sufferings, the beauty, contribution and realism contained by each or our lives is incomparably more beautiful than any artificial imitation of life could ever be.

And that's what I see in the cactus that commands center stage in my front window.