Tuesday, November 12, 2013

cereus business

Our huge Cereus lamprospermus is a night bloomer, and so I was astounded when I stepped outside on Saturday morning and saw this magnificent blossom facing our front door. It had bloomed during the night, but stayed open in daylight due to a rare set of conditions: shaded by our street tree, facing due west and thus not struck by November sun coming from the southern sky. I was glad my little camera was charged up and ready to go, to catch not only the full-blown cactus blossom but also the sun highlighting a Eugenia hedge across the street.

Our Cereus usually blooms in late spring or summer, but this fall it has produced four buds. We totally missed the first opening a couple of weeks ago, but kept a vigil for the second, which never opened fully because it was blocked by one of the plant's five tall trunks. This, the third blossom, is a rarity. The fourth and last bud faces south; it will close early, and, since it's only a foot off the ground, we will have to kneel on the sidewalk to see it.

Tonight Steve and I will both be going to rehearsals, and I hope we'll remember to check on the progress of this bud when we get home.

In Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, Thomas Gray (1716–1771) observed: "Full many a flow'r is born to blush unseen, /   And waste its sweetness on the desert air." This is an apt though unintentional description of our experiences with night-blooming Cereus, but I'm willing to bet Gray wasn't talking about any kind of cactus. The word desert, in this context, simply means deserted, and blush is an obsolete synonym for bloom. It was not until the following century that explorers and botanists began bringing African and South American cacti home to Kew Gardens and private plant collections where English poets could see them. A Cereus would have frozen to death in Gray's celebrated country churchyard.

Thomas Gray is best known for his widely misinterpreted words "ignorance is bliss," from Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College. This would be a good poem to read while waiting for a night-blooming Cereus to bloom. Or, you can watch lovely time-lapse photos of Cereus openings at YouTube.

It is not blissful to be ignorant of cactus blossoms in one's own garden.

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POSToccupations by Frances Talbott-White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License