August 11, 2006

Oh... whoa... whoa... it's magic, (I know)

Around the world Epyphyllum oxypetalum bloom precisely during the full moon of summer

HAWAII, HONOLULU, SEPTEMBER 1981....... I attending college in Hawaii. (yeah, I know) anyway...there is this drive in the high mountain range that spits the island of Oahu in half. The mountains are mostly a state park with trails and some residences,and they reach tall into the sky with some skinny spires permanently embedded in the clouds. And..you can drive up there. It rains frequently everyday in the mountains of Hawaii, and as the sun sets on the ocean far below, the beams shoot directly up to the misty cliffs and canyons and show us why Hawaii is known as the rainbow state although the waterfall state may have been more appropriate since the ridges in these mountains produce hundreds on waterfalls, an incredible sight. Imagine...velvet green spires, dozens of long, long long waterfalls, fragrant ginger blossoms, and this is truly paradise.

If you are ever in Hawaii, you must rent a car and drive into these mountains. Tantalus Drive starts off as a typical residential Honolulu road, near a high school and homes, but shortly after, one leaves the sense of culture, lights and traffic, and the driving experience becomes a world of flitting jewel-like birds, ytopical rainforest most, tall tree and vines, and fragrant tropical flowers in the quest mist of the canyons. Tantalus takes you to the clouds, it twists and turns through the canyons and velvet green spires of the mountains.

I remember this so well, the cool, moist air, the incredible views of the aqua tinted Pacific ocean with the miniature catamaran in he distance full of luau-plumped tourists. Here, 2000 feet above the Vegan-ness of Waikiki one is left with quiet. Chittering honey creepers gather nectar high in the trees among the ancient Koas and Acacias as insects and butterflies add to the rustling of the leaves in the trade winds. Solitude is rare and precious.

my favorite time for a Tantalus drive was at night. Tunnels, yeah, tunnels, we're pruned into the dangling foliage and dense roots of the Epyphyllum oxypetalum, the Night Blooming Cereus which grow thickly on the strong limbs of trees that grow low over the road. On some turns, you could grab the roots if you were in a convertible. Not native to Hawaii like most of not all of the iconic plants that one thinks of when one visualizes Hawaiian flowers like Anthuriams, Plumeria or Hibiscus, these too were introduced into this fragile ecosystem. The Night Blooming Cereus is still beautiful in bloom though, it drenches the air with its exotic fragrance, a strange, thought not unpleasant sweet scent that is both minty and creamy, almost soil-like in its earthyness. The white ginger that often accompanied it in the mountains was strong smelling and often won the fragrance battle since it grew everywhere and was most common under the High Tension wires which bring electricity over the mountains to the North Shore of the island.

now, today, in my backyard greenhouse in Worcester Massachusetts, I grow Epyphyllum oxypetalum too. It thrives in a giant clay tub on a shelf in the center of the greenhouse. Its long whip-like appendages grow out and over the support structure of the glasshouse in long, graceful seven foot arches, but basically looking like nothing much, until it blooms. An even which is magical itself.

if it wasn;t for the full moon I would not be reminded. Why? Well, mysteriously enough, the plant blooms only in the summer, on, or around a full moon, presumably so that night pollenators like fruit bats and moths can see the dinnerplate sized blossoms. A perfect reason to plan a party around. We never have, but it sounds good and many garden writers say that they do of course. For us, it's more like driving home from Target, we'll say "wow, look at that full moon!'. Then I'll reply, I wonder if the Night Blooming Cereus is in bloom?...." Later that evening the dogs get locked in the spare bedroom (it's skunk season so the doggy door has a curfew at 8:00 pm) and we slip into flip flops and proceed with flashlights in hand out back to the greenhouse. As we step through the cold dewey grass of high summer and approach the greenhouse, we usually can smell the blossoms from outside. Since our plant has a premature issue, it sometimes blooms the night before the full moon from excitement or something, so often, all we find are seven limp spent flowers, and just two in full bloom. As we did this week.

Plants that react to day length to trigger blossoming, like poinsettia, clivia and the like, all need the moon cycles or day length cycles to happen without interference of a street light, or a lamp from another room. That is way it is so difficult to bloom a Christmas cactus indoors, at Christmas. Nature just tells them when to bloom.

A last thought..... on this evening in August, around the world, there are others having a glass of wine at midnight in this bright moonlight, smelling the giant flowers of their night blooming cereus. It may be a Botanic Garden in London, a fire escape overlooking a noisy alley in New York City, a rooftop garden in Tokyo, a backyard in Brazil, a screened porch in Bangladesh or a twisty road high in the reinforced of Hawaii, where there might even be four college kids in a 1981 Fiat spider zooming along saying, Whoa...What's that smell dude?

1 comment :

  1. Anonymous12:16 AM

    Thank you for the insightful story about the cereus. I am looking for a perfume made of the flower. Do you know if someone has made a perfume of it? Thank you.


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