Luckily I had my camera hanging on my chair while I was eating lunch. Outside, my son and I were used to the little birds all around us on the concrete floor picking at bits of food fallen from the tables. Next thing we knew we had a visitor standing on the wall that kept us separated from the sand. I slowly slipped my camera from its case and began shooting. Our guest could have cared less. He was used to hanging with people. It’s a good thing, too, because the shot before this one had lots of random people clutter and our guest was monitoring all of it. In a moment, everyone vacated the scene inside my frame and the shorebird looked me right in my camera eye.
I know what he really wanted. My fries. Looking me in the eye so he could decide exactly when he might hop on the table, he was aiming for a close look at what we had ordered for lunch. He clocked our every move and stayed until we finished eating. We got up and he was standing in the same place on the wall, ready for a mad dash before the bus boy got to it first.
At one point, I had 17 buds (from 2 plants) at different stages of development. For weeks, it was a blooming bonanza! The other interesting thing that happened was the night my mother passed away. I had never had more than one night of blooms. The night I lost my Mom, a cereus flower bloomed and died for three consecutive nights. It felt like a 3-night tribute to my mother’s life.
Nightblooming cereus landed in my world in San Diego in 1999 when my daughter received an end-of-the-year gift from her kindergarten teacher. In a 10-inch clay pot stood a couple of succulent leaves in a bed of moss, a homelier plant I could not have imagined. Because of the way my child’s teacher handed it to me when I got to school on the last day, looking me in the eye with not a small bit of mischief, I was intrigued. She told me to keep it in the sun and to water it every few weeks.
For years the leaves didn’t do much. They grew a bit larger, turned a little greener. At least six years went by. (No Miracle-Gro® for that ugly bugger.) We moved to a new house. The cactus-like leaves grew tall and maintained their mostly-knarly, beat-up looking exteriors. They were pock-marked with dried spots that had the look of healed wounds. One day I noticed a bud coming out of the side of one of the leaves, which was now mostly upright and stiff. The bud was visibly larger each day. I kept an eye on the unusually fast growth rate.
I won’t go on with details of the daily changes, but they were dramatic, reminiscent of horror films starring giant plants that become full-grown overnight. The bud became very large, about the size of my hand if I closed my fingers to imitate the shape. When the blossom is completely open, the flower can be larger than my open hand with fingers spread wide. It is extremely large considering it is growing from the side of a leaf. The last photo is a bud half open.
Next post I will include photo close-ups of fully-opened flowers, the incredible beauty I’ve seen during several bloomings. The first flower I watched open, I checked it about every 10-15 minutes because it was changing that fast. It was half open about 8 p.m. and was fully open by 9 p.m. I completely missed a few openings because I had no idea it would happen so quickly.
I never stayed up to see how long many hours they remain open, but it is mere hours before they begin to fade. When the stems hold a blooming flower, they curve up. The stems and blossoms are so large, curving up doesn’t look possible. By morning, they are completed wilted shut and drooping. From the beginning of the finger-sized buds to the full flower, it is like nothing I have ever seen. The first photo (sorry, cell-phone image) is 3 buds at 2 weeks. Notice that they are almost as big as the narrow leaf from which they grow.
100% focus. At this moment, the little one knew nothing but the wonder of the brush, the colors, the water, the paper, the freedom of choice. I always thought this image could make a wonderful painting.
Do you know the night-blooming cereus? It is a flower most strange and magical. It blooms for a few hours, only at night. By morning it’s wilted. It has a mild, almost-lemony fragrance and, when completely opened, it is the size of a human hand with fingers spread wide. The bud starts from the side of a leaf that looks like a succulent. The size of the stem and blossom when mature, dwarf the leaf and the leaf’s stem. This image is the beginning of the opening, which usually takes about a half hour. More cereus images to come.