Saturday, August 18, 2018

A Magical Evening at Prairie Hill

I am a plant lover. Plants seem to be my familiars. They are one continuing theme in my life. Even though I've lived many places and worked at different things, plants have always been an essential part of my home base. At least that has been true since I became pregnant with my first child many years ago. Somehow that event changed me into a nurturing person. Before that, I had not really noticed plants. But while I was waiting for my daughter to be born, I began filling our house with plants I'd started from cuttings of my friends' plants. And it has never stopped.

When I moved to Prairie Hill less than a month ago, the first thing I did was fill my front yard with plants.

And then the back yard. I moved all my houseplants out onto the covered porch, where they have thrived. It was a rough move for some of my bigger plants, fitting uncomfortably into my little Hyundai. Some branches broke or bent.

My night blooming cereus plant survived but looked pretty scraggly by the time it got here. Though actually, my night blooming cereus always looks scraggly. For most of the year, people probably wonder why I keep it. It is ungainly, stretching every which way, it's succulent leaves and branches not conforming to any tidy posture. But I love it. And when I was watering it on the porch last week, I was delighted to see that despite the stress of the move, it had put out a bud. Wonderful! This only happens once a year, at best.

The bud itself is a phenomenon. It grows right out of the side of a leaf. It is very small at first, but day by day it grows larger and larger, a long stem-like attachment to the leaf and a growing flower-bud on the end. As its name implies, the night blooming cereus only blooms at night. It waits until fully ready (I always expect it to open days before it actually does) and then only begins the process when it is totally dark. And the bloom only lasts one night. By the next morning, it is hanging limp and spent. Prairie Hill residents have been walking by my porch for the past week remarking on the bud. And I have been watching it. By Thursday afternoon, I thought I noticed a slight widening of the surrounding sepals. And I sent out an email: Come to see this tonight at dark! I hoped I was right, that this was indeed the night.

The first visitors arrived at dusk, and the petals were beginning to open just a little. I set up a circle of chairs, popped some popcorn and took out a little table with snacks and drinks. And we watched. And watched.

Soon, accompanied by ahh's and ooh's, it was clear that the petals were unfolding:

And then we waited longer. This requires patience, which is not my strong point. But with other people there, and lots of topics for conversation, the time passed pleasantly. The night was clear and comfortable. And slowly the flower kept unfurling, until finally it was at its fullest, a miracle on the end of the leaf:

This bloom is accompanied by an exotic aroma. Outside, it is pleasant and unobtrusive, but I've heard that if the bloom is enclosed in a home, the aroma can get a little intense. As we sat there spellbound and attentive, we wondered what insect or animal the flower and the aroma and the intricate inner part would be trying to attract in its native setting. A moth? A hummingbird? Something nocturnal, we guessed. And just as we were speculating on this, a huge praying mantis (the first I'd ever seen at Prairie Hill) jumped up on my chair!! We were amazed. The praying mantis is considered a sacred being by the Bushman in Africa, and it was honoring this occasion with a visit.

Here it is (above) after it hopped off my chair and into the grass by the porch. It successfully hid quite quickly, so we don't know if it ever reached the flower, but we did learn from someone's phone that it indeed makes nocturnal flights in search of its mate. (Or a beautiful flower?)

By 10:00, we were ready to go to bed. The blossom would remain open all night, but we were satisfied to have gotten in on its unfolding. And the praying mantis was a bonus. For me, it was a beautiful example of what can happen in community. I'm sure it will be one of many to come.

Nan Fawcett

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