Gary, the blooming Christmas cactus, inside the entrance to the Mountlake Terrace Police Department, where he has served and sat for 40 years. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Gary, the blooming Christmas cactus, inside the entrance to the Mountlake Terrace Police Department, where he has served and sat for 40 years. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Christmas cactus named Gary is 40-year veteran of Mountlake Terrace police

He has grown a lot over the decades. Once a year he lights up the station in pink. He needs a haircut.

MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — To get to the front desk, first you have to get by Gary.

He’s a 40-year veteran of the Mountlake Terrace Police Department.

He wears blooms, not a badge.

What’s up with that?

Gary is a flowering Christmas cactus.

He’s as wide as he is tall, with hundreds of long spindly scalloped leaves dripping bright fuchsia flowers. He weighs about 30 pounds.

“He needs a haircut,” said Tammy Custer, evidence tech and animal control officer. “He’s hanging pretty low and getting heavy.”

She’s his caretaker out of commitment and love. It’s not in her job description.

“I’m looking for someone to give him a haircut,” Custer said. “Don’t apply for his haircut job unless you know how. You have to show me some credentials.”

Gary blooms in Mountlake Terrace. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Gary blooms in Mountlake Terrace. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

No joke. No pay, either.

Gary’s age and background are unknown, and not under investigation.

“It was gifted to us in the early 1980s. The person at the counter took it and started taking care of it,” Custer said.

Gary was an “it” then, just an ordinary houseplant. That is, until Custer came on board in 2008.

She took over caring for the plant, which was considerably smaller then, and named it Gary for no other reason than that she liked the name. No last name.

With her TLC, he just kept growing and growing. He blooms for about a month every year, lighting up the monochromatic lobby and littering pink on the gray carpet.

Even in his hot fuchsia glory, many people see Gary as just a nameless plant in the lobby. Most workers in the Mountlake Terrace Civic Campus don’t know he has a name.

He’s in the police station corner of the stylish, newish complex for the town (pop. 21,428, plus Gary) that sits between Lynnwood and Shoreline.

“He offers a moment of respite where a lot of serious business occurs in the name of public safety,” said Rikki Fruichantie, the city’s community relations specialist. (You might remember her as Rikki King, a Daily Herald reporter for nine years.)

Gary has the cushiest job of the 197 city employees.

“He just sits there all the time. That’s it,” Custer said. “Gary doesn’t have a life.”

His pot is on rollers, so she can slide him around.

Gary, the blooming cactus, lights up the lobby of the Mountlake Terrace Police Department. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Gary, the blooming cactus, lights up the lobby of the Mountlake Terrace Police Department. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

He’s mostly parked by the entrance, near a drug takeback box for residents to dispose of unwanted meds. Please don’t get confused and feed these to Gary.

Water is his drug of choice.

“I just do two pitchers full, every other Friday,” Custer said. “I just pour it in there. Whatever comes out of the sink. No plant food.”

She doesn’t talk to him.

“He has a mind all of his own,” she said.

Christmas cacti are known for longevity. There are accounts all over the internet about these diehard plants, which are really succulents that hail from the rainforests of Brazil.

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle had a story about generations of a family caring for a 145-year-old Christmas cactus that arrived by wagon train. A newspaper named the Daily Herald in Chicago reported a woman in Lisle, Ill., had a 100-year-old flowering plant.

A senior cactus named Martha made news in a Colorado paper. She and Gary would sure make a cute couple.

Gary already has some offspring.

Rebecca Guillen, the Mountlake Terrace public records officer, got a Gary start several years ago.

“It was a little branch falling off,” Guillen said. “I didn’t know if it would take. I put it in a little bit of water and took it home and now we have this beautiful plant.”

“I do not call it Gary Jr.,” she added.

Custer is pragmatic about the plant she named Gary.

“Don’t make him more than he is,” Custer said.

Is there a person, place or thing making you wonder “What’s Up With That?” Contact reporter Andrea Brown: 425-339-3443;; Twitter: @reporterbrown.

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