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The ephemeral beauty of nocturnal flowers

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WELL SR, Maybe it’s that same indifference that draws us in, makes us want to reject sleep and decorum and stay awake all night (when all the most interesting things are happening). During the difficult years of the Great Depression, people watched for the arrival of flowers, posting notices in the newspapers proclaiming that flowering in their garden was imminent, if anyone wanted to drop by after dark. Southern writer Eudora Welty, then in her twenties, attended such gatherings in Jackson, Mississippi, and even started the Night-Blooming Cereus Club, with the motto “Don’t take it cereus.” Life is too mysterious ”- bearing in mind how quickly the voluptuous flower turned into“ a crooked chicken neck, ”as one Jackson resident put it.

Often the manifestation had the quality of a miracle: in “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration” (2010), the writer Isabel Wilkerson remembers how, “once a year, one night of summer that couldn’t be predicted, “her grandmother would invite neighbors to her porch in Rome, Georgia, to sip sweet tea and eat ice cream until the cereus blossoms yawn and everything the world is bending down, hoping to see “the infant Jesus in the cradle in the folds. “

These days, at the Tohono Chul Botanical Garden in Tucson, Arizona, park staff monitor the country’s largest private collection of Peniocereus greggii, another night-flowering cactus known as the Queen of the Night, though ‘he spends a lot of his life looking like nothing. more than dead twigs. Once the buds appear, they are carefully measured until they are swollen enough – when they reach 120 millimeters, the countdown begins – to proclaim flowering night, when the public is invited to take a walk. in dimly lit paths and to spy on flowers to be. (Last year, due to the pandemic, the event was broadcast online and the flowering of a single plant was commemorated in a time-lapse video.)

The rarity and difficulty of predicting the event – of catching the flowers in the act – can make it a mark of status, as in Kevin Kwan’s 2013 novel, “Crazy Rich Asians,” in which a Singaporean family d ‘an unholy wealth amasses a crowd to pay homage to another species of night-flowering cereus, known as the hua tan in Chinese and part of the idiomatic term tan hua yi xian: “Ephemeral glory” or “a flash in the pan”. (In China, after wilting, these flowers are dried and added to soup, and are said to have detoxifying benefits.); he does not follow any schedule and deigns to open only at the time of his choice. “He has his own schedule,” says floral designer Ren MacDonald-Balasia of Renko, who divides her time between Honolulu and Los Angeles. “It is nature that takes back its power.” When MacDonald-Balasia was growing up in Oahu, his grandmother waved to him just before the flowers were ready to reveal, “Come on, let’s go outside. “It was a quiet and secret thing,” said MacDonald-Balasia.

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