We’d been through the drill countless times now: the daily observation, noting time, temperature, bud length as well as diameter. We’d have a bloom tonight, for sure, we thought. We’d taken measurements, called a few friends, planned the drinks and the snacks. We were excited. A twelve-inch blossom was ready to go. We looked forward to a quiet evening of quiet beauty. The previous two nights of open-house were fun and festive and full. Newcomers this year, neighbors and friends who’d never laid eyes on such a creature before, were amazed. It was gratifying, but maybe a bit tiring especially in the heat.
Mid-afternoon the call came: “Something’s wrong,” K. said. ” It looks odd; the bud drooped.” Collapsed in the heat? Who knows?It was hanging, wilted. Had I not watered enough, I wondered. Earlier, a friend had asked, did we ever have a flop? “No,” I said. “Even if no one shows up, we always have the flower.” This night, no one showed up. And we didn’t have the flower. Just the questions, and the sad fact of a failed bud.
Blanca sets the terms. We cannot out guess her. We cannot know for sure, most things. The observer must remain open and neutral. Luckily, we had only called those nearby, and they happened to be away. We had not set in gear any long distance travel to see this non-blooming, non-event. Yet it was an event, in humility.
The seven-year-old plant, is that young or old for an epiphyte?, has spilled a record eighteen buds. They now measure at least three inches and have clearly differentiated bud-head from throat. I spell out the numbers so you know it’s no typo: eighteen buds. One already weakening, not all of these will bloom. But for now, they each hold that promise. Blanca bejeweled as she is in a necklace of fecundity, continues to entrance. The days and nights have been exceptionally warm and humid with only a brief respite this morning. Bud growth, and bud drop will continue as we begin the countdown, and try to predict which night she’ll send out her signal flares.
To what do we attribute this burst of buds: a sudden rain shower? nutrients from the compost filtering through her roots? some perfection of productivity after the first smaller bloom cycle in July? Blanca surprises. Her buds hang like a shower of tears one day, like alluring tassels another. She intrigues; she beckons. We follow blindly…
There may be something to the fact that this 4th of July my wayward attention is drawn back once again to the night bloomer. Temps are in the high 80s this noon, and soon I’ll be heading to the bay, but once again I’m on bud watch. Presently five strong buds are developing and two have reached between 8 and 8.5 inches this morning. The flower is calling me back to basics amid yet another time of uncertainty. There is beauty to be sought, to await even when there are difficulties, challenges ahead. For a few moments each day as I follow this blossoming, I’ll declare my independence from worry and anxiety, and dwell for a time in the spell of the flower. Stay tuned for news of botanical fireworks coming soon.
Well, that’s the best I have to offer from the flowering plant department these days,but perhaps it will suffice. Tiny simple buds are forming on what I’ve always referred to as a pencil cactus, which I thought was a type of Rhipsalis. But since “looking it up,” I discover the plant is known by another name: mistletoe cactus. The pencil cactus is actually a type of Euphorbia, and my plant doesn’t exactly match those accompanying photos. The “pencil” cacti pictured show finer “leaf” growths than the tubular appendages mine develops that look like miniature sausage links. Somewhere along the way, I may have been misinformed and now I’m not actually sure what’s what especially since I’ve never seen the translucent berries the “mistletoe” variety is said to produce after the pale yellow flowers. Hence its name.
Whew! I’ve always enjoyed these flighty little yellow petals flaring like tiny stars, a little pick-me-up in the dark days of winter. The Rhipsalis is another native of the rain forest, and perhaps a distant cousin to Blanca. Why is it we’re always trying to grow rain forest plants in the arid suburbs of the North East? Will these small house plants be all that’s left of the rain forests in ten or twenty years? Meanwhile, I look forward to mistletoe’s “insignificant” flowers blooming soon. And I’ll look hard for any sign of berries. How sweet this eve of Christmas Eve to see the plant in a whole new light. A rose is not just a rose after all. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!
While Blanca winters in the greenhouse, gorgeous photographs of her summer blossoms are on view here in the bookshop. Last Saturday we had a holiday open house and reception for the photographer, Kathryn Szoka. What a knock out! The photos, that is! Huge spectacular images with titles like “Full Moon,” “White Nights” (an homage to Emily Dickinson), and my personal favorite, “Dishabille”, because, well, you know…The photographs so moved viewers that several sold, including the piece de resistance, “Full Moon” set in an exquisite silvery- gold molded frame, its thin rib pattern echoing the delicate legs of the stigma in the heart of the blossom. The many faces of Blanca seemed endless fascinating, especially on a dark winter’s night. Their beauty as portrayed by Kathryn Szoka seemed to lift many a heart.
For me, it was also the stories: one woman has been caring for a plant some 40 years old. It belonged to her father. She described the earthen foyer of a friend’s house replete with a blooming bougainvillea and orchids planted into a flower bed around an in-ground pond! Another woman showed me a photo on her Iphone of a young woman’s calf tattooed with a blossom somewhere between the lotus and the cereus. A friend suggested a novel, Cereus Blooms at Night by Shani Mootoo, a strange story set in the Caribbean about a mad woman and a male nurse. I’ll be sampling it this winter.
Word had spread about the night-bloomer photographs. Folks arrived from far and wide out to take a look, to tell their stories, and to be in company with other admirers of the Queen of the Night. And perhaps, to bask in her gaze. The Star of Bethlehem does shine!
With some unexpected free time one afternoon last month, I went to the garage to pot up some cuttings I’d taken from Blanca just before she was brought to the greenhouse. We were loading up the tropicals, and I was gripped with a greedy possessiveness. I wanted some of Blanca with me over winter. So “just in case” something happens and perhaps to improve her shape, I made one bold slice. Three small pots with three leaf cuttings each seem content enough just now on an end table in the living room near a west-facing window. I’ll keep my eye on them in the coming months. Something to look forward to. Their sprouting, a small Advent.
Meanwhile some other more mature cuttings have been adopted out. I chose good homes for them. Out into the world they went in a sudden gesture of letting go. One day, I hope they’ll spread their magnificence on others. Light a candle against the darkness.
What else to do on a cold winter’s night than meet with friends, share some cheer, and gaze fondly at beautiful photographs of our lovely Bethlehem Lily taken by Kathryn Szoka? You’re invited to the “Unveiling of the Night Bloomer” our winter solstice holiday open house. Join us at a reception for the photographer whose botanical pictures will be on view in Canio’s Gallery. Wouldn’t one make a perfect holiday gift? See you Saturday, December 18 between 5 and 7 p.m. at Canio’s , 290 Main Street, Sag Harbor. Wouldn’t it be nice to wear some winter white?