Saturday, August 15, 2009

Night-blooming Cereus - Queen of the Night



I have many fond memories of a favorite plant at my home while I was growing up. It was called a Night-blooming Cereus, and it had come to our family from my Father’s family. Our plant was a cutting off of Dad’s Mother’s plant (Grandma Jessie). It was certainly a strange, gangly looking plant and it had stickers that could really cause pain if you got too close to it. This plant was truly unique. Most of the time the plant was just plain ugly. But, once in a while (once or twice a summer), the plant would ‘bloom’. A bloom for this plant was a pretty spectacular sight – it would start opening about 4pm in the afternoon and continue to open during the evening. By morning the bloom was ‘done’ as it had started to wilt. The blooms were a single night affair, and there was no way to hold it off until it was convenient to see one bloom. If tonight was the night… then tonight was the night. My father told us stories of how his mother would really celebrate a bloom by cooking up special desserts and inviting the neighbors in to see a bloom unfold. She enjoyed sharing the special blooms with her neighbors and friends. My parents continued the tradition as my mom would bake cobblers, and they would invite our neighbors over to share in the rare occurrence of a bloom.

My Dad gave my husband and I a Night-blooming Cereus plant early in our marriage. Through the years, my husband has nurtured the plant, and he has even started new plants from cuttings off of the one from Dad. So, the tradition lives on with my family now. We get excited when the plant is ready to bloom. One year (I think it was 2000) we had 3 blooms in one night – this was very unusual. Somewhere I have a picture of my youngest son and the 3 blooms…. I’ll find it ‘someday’.

Our most recent Night-blooming Cereus bloom was on Sunday, June 28, 2009. As usual we took a few pictures throughout the unfurling. Sometime during the evening I stumbled on a small old mini-calendar that was dated 1943 in the box of my Father's treasures that I had picked things out of to sketch for Father's Day. Finding this 1943 calendar on that Sunday night was pure serendipity!! The first page that I randomly flipped the calendar open to included June 28, 1943. Oddly enough, there was some writing on June 28th noting that the Night-blooming Cereus had bloomed. What a coincidence …. a bloom on June 28, 1943 and now another bloom on June 28, 2009 – two special blooms 66 years apart.

You might be curious about who the 1943 calendar belonged to … I had found it in amongst my Dad’s treasured items in his nightstand. It didn’t take me long to realize that the calendar belonged to his mother, my Grandma Jessie. Unfortunately she passed away just a month before I was born so I never met her. But, here in 2009 I now have her calendar with some of her own handwriting. I flipped through a few more pages in this calendar and found notes when Grandmother Jessie had sent care packages to my father in the war. This touched me deeply and her notes and handwriting made me feel more connected to her. Knowing that Grandma Jessie enjoyed sending care packages to my father brought a smile to my face as I thought about my own pleasure in sending care packages to my sons at college and beyond. Jessie and I may have lived many years apart, but through this simple 1943 calendar I discovered special connections between us.

The black and white picture is of my Grandma Jessie’s Night-blooming Cereus, which I think must have been taken in the early 1900’s in Santa Cruz, California. The color print is of our bloom this year on June 28, 2009. I opted to paint the latest bloom before it was full open, as a full bloom was just too intimidating for me to paint with all the ‘white’. Maybe sometime in the future I’ll have the skills and confidence to paint an open bloom of a Night-blooming Cereus.

You just never know what surprises may come your way! What family treasures have you found?

10 comments:

Claire M said...

My apologies for the inconsistent font sizes... there is something strange with the blog editing tool tonight!!

john.p said...

That's one weird plant! Nice family tradition, though, and sketch. Never seen anything like that plant. Great capture of tradition.

Laure Ferlita said...

My mother has this plant and it bloomed not too long along with 13 blooms at one time. I stayed up until 1:00 in the morning to go over and take photos. Their blooms show "signs" of opening around 9:00 pm but don't actually open until 11:00 or later and they are spent by 5:00 in the morning.

Just love your journal entry on this and the wonderful connections you've found to your grandmother!

Krista Meister said...

Wow, imagine the coincidence - the same exact night, 66 years apart! Thank you for enlightening us with this very unusual plant and also your connection to your grandmother - how precious!

Pat said...

It was just a joy to read your post today. I, too, had a father that cared for his plants and with my mother as conspirator they planned and celebrated blooms.

Claire M said...

Thanks for the feedback. It is interesting to hear Laure that you are familiar with the plant. It is a very unique plant.

I've just returned from a few days of camping, and I'm anxious to get caught up to date with what you've all done....

Margaret Ann said...

What a touching and super fantastic post Claire...I love the story about having the dessert party and watching the blooms unfold...your sketched spread is also so beautiful! Our NBC is a different variety...on ours the arms have a bit more girth and the flower is a bit more prolific...although this year with the record temps in July we barely had any blooms....hopefully it will regenerate itself and bloom in late fall! Thanks again for sharing ...this is so cool! :)

Mary Paquet said...

Claire, the wonderful way you cherish your family connections and honor them with your art is beautiful to see and to read. You are creating such a lovely linkage to the past for your sons.

I am just finishing a painting with family connections. I will post it soon -- Pepere's Blacksmith Shop, 1909 - 2009. I did it from snapshots taken in Vermont during our Paquet Farm Centennial celebration in July.

winna said...

somehow this spread made me tear up and feel it was very very important that you did it and so very beautifully!

Lin said...

WHAT A flower Claire and what incredible memories for it!! I LOVE the idea of celebrating its bloom -- such a special time for all!!! Thanks for sharing it with me -- I've never seen one in person ...