We compressed our dinner plans when Peter Rumora called because, after all, this happens only once a year.
Mind you, Peter calls more often than that, but his Night-blooming Cereus puts on its showy spectacle just once every summer.
The blooming occurs at nightfall on an evening in late June or early July, and it’s gone for good by daybreak.
So we were grateful for the opportunity to witness this miracle of nature — just as the spectators did in Robert Hayden’s poem, “The Night-Blooming Cereus.”
... We dropped trivial tasks
beheld at last the achieved
As the last of a dozen guests arrived at Peter’s house in the Stockade neighborhood and headed out to the sunroom, the cereus bloom was already quivering gently as its petals unfolded almost perceptibly. Its sweet bouquet suffused the room, and we moved in, one at a time, for a closer look, unable or unwilling to suppress our soft sounds of appreciation.
Hayden described the blooming this way:
... the bud packed
tight with its miracle swayed
stiffly on breaths
of air, moved
as though impelled
by stirrings within itself.
The cereus is a cactus, and it’s not a rarity in the deserts of Arizona, east Texas and northern Mexico. It isn’t indigenous to the Northeast, but as Peter’s plant proves, it can survive here, but it has to be kept inside for much of the year.
We have two of our own, the larger of them a gift from another neighbor and the smaller grown from a cereus owned by my wife’s uncle. They haven’t bloomed ever, to our knowledge, but we’re both patient and optimistic.
Peter’s plant blooms each year. He’s a horticulturist and knows his cereus well. He’s able to predict not only what day it will bloom, but also what hour, which certainly makes for easier party planning.
The Night-blooming Cereus has other names — like the Queen of the Night and the Princess of the Night. Its roots, described as turnip-like and regarded as food by Native Americans, are big and tuberous, sometimes weighing 100 pounds or more.
One member of our party described the event as akin to watching paint dry, but Hayden saw the blooming of the cereus as a joyous occasion:
… [W]e ought
to celebrate the blossom,
paint ourselves, dance
in honor of archaic mysteries …
Well, we didn’t dance or paint ourselves, but we did drink wine as we watched the bloom’s progress, and we skipped out before dawn so we didn’t witness its inevitable, withering demise.
That was all right with me. I prefer to remember it in happier times — you know, the night before.
Irv Dean is the Gazette’s city editor. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper's. Reach him by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.