Friday, February 11, 2005

Night-Blooming Cereus Cactus

I grew up in a small gathering of people around a couple of convenience stores, a restaurant and a church. Most people in the community were farmers and the small collection of houses gave way to tobacco, corn, and soybean fields and forests by hundreds of acres in every direction of the compass.

There was a family in the community—an elderly farmer and his wife, and her two unmarried sisters. The Bennett couple and the Allen sisters lived in a cluttered salt-box style home on what at one time had been a major street in our decaying little town. These people were some of the last of a generation of administrators who had been somehow involved in the town when its mainstay was a Baptist Boarding School for Teachers. The school had closed in 1923 and the town had been in decline for 50 years by the time I was a teen.

The Bennetts and Allens owned a night-blooming cereus cactus. Every fall, one of the sisters would take a shovel out and dig the plant out of the sandy loam near the foundation of their home and put the plant into a pot for over-wintering inside their home. In the spring, it was brought back out and reset into the sand. Each year, around August, a night would come when Mr. Bennett would come around in his vehicle and collect the children of the town to take them to his home to watch the opening of the cactus flower.

The night-blooming cereus seems to bloom more on cue with the temperature than with the time, but in my hometown, it almost always bloomed near 11p.m. The flower, as pictured here, is white, with the basic form of a star. The Bennetts and Allens had built the story of the birth of Christ into the structure of the flower, and one of them would hold a flashlight beam on a bloom while one of the Allen sisters or Mr. Bennett himself would speak about the Christ-child-- in the manger, surrounded by visitors and animals while the Star of Bethlehem shone overhead. You could almost see the details that were described.

I was given a piece of the cactus by Miss Marion Allen when I was a teenager. The bloom shown here is from the plant that I was given over 30 years ago. Last year, I was given a new variety of the plant that has what seems to be a double-bloom, with a flower that puffs out like the trousers worn by Shakespeare. My friend Donald had yet another variety at his home in Washington, D.C. but I do not know what happened to his plants. I was told that it takes a new planting seven years to begin to bloom, but I have never tested that theory.

Both plants have a bud that takes several days to open. Before the flower opens, its bud begins to appear gravid, swelling in the center and, yet, being held together at the tip by the ends of all the individual petals. As the time (or temperature) that triggers the blooming arrives, individual petals suddenly burst loose from the gathering at the tip and they stretch out to form a star roughly the size of a man’s palm.

A bloom from a night-blooming cereus cactus from August 8, 2004. Posted by Hello



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was looking for information about a cactus I found in the dump and took home to grow. I love your story about your cactus and the photo is exquisite. Our stories are so powerful and I imagine that all of the children who took that ride to watch the cactus bloom have been touched by it in some way. Thank you.

7/16/2008 06:52:00 AM  
Anonymous James said...

We were remmodeling a house and there was a cactus plant in a pot that looked dryed up and I thought it was dead, but I took it home and set it out on a deck in my yard.
It set there several months and every once in a while I would spray it with some water and one day I saw a green shoot coming out so I began watering it more often then there were more shoots that started coming out. For a long period of time it did not produce any blooms,then one day I notice a small bud and after a few days I awoke one morning and there was a bloom, so I photographed it and was glad I did because when the sun came up it began to wilt. The next morning there were two blooms and several more buds were coming out. I began taking photos of the buds and the blosoms every morning.
Now I have photos of the various stages of the blooming process and the death process. I have some photos where there are 25 buds and some photos where there were 5-7 blooms of a morning. I am glad I have the photos because one night there was a suprise snow storm and the plant died. It is not a plant that can be purchased at just any store but I would sure like to know where I would be able to purchase one.

2/13/2011 03:17:00 PM  

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