Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Night Blooming Cereus

My maternal grandmother, Catherine Paulsen, always had a plant which intrigued us because it only seemed to bloom every seven or so years and only at night. When we got the call, we'd actually drive over to see the magnificent - and rare - bloom.
I know more about it now and it's not so rare. But it's just as magnificent as I remember as a child.
Behold a picture of the single bloom we were given on July 30.

Just before the Night Blooming Cereus bloom opens, it begins to unwind pink strands which seem to have been holding the flower tight. As they slowly drop away, the flower opens in a rush. Taken with a time exposure, it must seem like an explosion.

Perhaps this (below) is a better view of how the bud is held together.

Here is Mom (below) watering the plant, a member of the cactus family and native to the southwest. We often take it outside in the summer and let it flourish on the back porch. But not this year (actually, it's getting too big to handle and could use a good pruning). Mom punched a couple of fertilizer sticks into the soil earlier in the year and I suppose that gave the plant an extra push to get a flower open before winter.

The earliest bud is tiny - it looks like no more than a speck when it first appears. Slowly it expands and begins looking more like a flower and less like just another flat leaf. Color begins flowing to the edges as they take on their sunrise pink hue.

Here (below) is a look inside the bloom. What a marvelous machine it is! Look at all the intricate and delicate parts. Snow white and ivory mixed with pastel shades of yellow. It makes me think of a wedding inside a single bloom.

The original plant - the one my grandmother grew - certainly dates back more than 80 years. When my grandmother died in 1969, Mom inherited the plant. Since then she started this plant from it as the original was becoming unsightly.
So the flower you see owes its genesis to a plant from the 1920's and it still blooms proudly in a new century.
Usually the bloom has an intoxicating scent but I smelled almost nothing this time. Dad said he woke during the night and found the sweet scent permeating the first floor. By the next morning, the bloom is finished. One year we did not see the bud in time and found only the spent remains of the flower.
I would call this our most precious plant for its connection to my grandmother. It is the rarity of its bloom that endears it to us, too. What you wait longest for is most precious in its time.