Thursday, August 21, 2008

Night of the cereus

Last night was a special occasion: our night-blooming cereus chose to put on a rare show, and we stayed up as late as we could to savor the one-night extravaganza. This flower of this incredible plant, epiphyllum oxypetalum (a member of the cactus family) is as big as your hand when it is fully opened and has a fragrance you must experience to fully comprehend. A mix of citrus and clove with a hint of vanilla comes close to describing it. The flowers are growths from leaves that are attached to a woody branch. We were especially blessed this year because the plant gave us an extraordinary six blooms; in previous displays we have never seen more than two, and they were on leaves far removed from each other. These six were on two adjoining leaves on the same branch, creating a pendulous, globular effect.

When we notice that buds are forming it is always an event. We never know when the plant is going to bloom, or even if. We've had this plant for about 10 years and have had only 4 or 5 displays, and as much as we've read about its cultural needs, how it decides to send out flowers is still a mystery to us. It is much earlier than usual this time--previous shows have been in mid-September. Perhaps the cooler temperatures we've been having recently encouraged an early bloom. Why six instead of one or two? We'll never know, we're just grateful.

During most of the year, the plant is a leggy, ungainly assemblage of woody branches and leaves that you are tempted to throw away because of all the space it takes up and, frankly, its general ugliness. During winter in the house, it sends out enormously long green tendrils that I evenutally have to cut back--I've let one get to over six feet with no signs of stopping. It prefers to be extremely pot-bound in very poor soil. This plant has never been repotted or touched in any other way the whole time we have had it. It starts like its cousin the Christmas cactus, with a single leaf stuck in loose, sandy soil. As the flowers open, their weight, especially that of these six, tends to pull the whole imbalanced affair over on its side. This one has branches propped between the slats of the deck seat behind it to hold it up.

Our friends Frank and Rick (Frank is the one in the black shirt) are always part of these occasions. They're the ones who gave us our first plant (of which this one is an offspring), and Frank is a gifted photographer with a special fondness for flower studies. If you click here or go to the link on the left (Frank Zipperer photography), you can search "cereus" and see some formal portraits he's made of our flowers, among many other beautiful specimens. No doubt more will result from last night's foray.


Mim said...

Thanks for the picture.. a beauty. I've always wanted to see one of these. And thanks for the link too.

Ralph said...

So glad you like it Mim. And you'll love Frank's pictures!

Nan said...

Wow, oh wow! What a beautiful plant. Those blooms are incredible. Thanks for sharing.

Cuidado said...

A gorgeous plant for sure. Does the bloom last only one night? I have many hoyas which are night scented. They also want to be potbound.

Ralph said...

Yep, Cuidado, just a one night blast and then it's over. It makes a bloom something of a signal event.