The other night we received a message from a cactus and I laid in bed unable to sleep thinking about it.
The cactus stands in the narrow passage at the back of our house in Cadaqués in an old pot among several plants we don’t always remember to water. Who do they belong to? They don’t belong to anyone. They just are and get watered when it rains or when a gust of wind moves the leaves and reminds us that it hasn’t rained for months.
Within this little neglected forest, half hidden by a spreading oleander, the cactus has four stems as thick as a fist, each about 6 feet high and filled with the succulent tissue that keeps it healthy. The pot is ridiculously small, more like a prison than a homeland.
One night we came home from somewhere and my neighbour was in the passage with a flashlight studying the cactus. To our surprise and wonder, after standing patiently in the passageway for 30 years, ignored and neglected, it had come into flower – a gorgeous lemon bloom about the size of a spread hand with gold-tipped stamens. It is easy to use the word beautiful to describe almost anything – the day, the dog, the dinner – but now I have seen the cactus flower I will use the word more carefully.
The cactus flower glowed in the moonlight with an ethereal light and we felt as if we were in the presence of something magical, or a miracle, a secret that we had been permitted to share. By coincidence, our Dutch neighbour with the flashlight is a biologist. He had seen a shoot growing from one of the four cactus stems and was waiting for it to burst into life. “It is sending us a message,” he said.
The species of cactus comes from Death Valley in California and was first brought to Spain as an ornamental plant about 100 years ago. Summer temperatures in Death Valley rise above 45°C (113°F) and the ground is extremely dry – the perfect conditions for the plant to seed, flower and create the pollen insects move from one plant to another. Our corridor cactus wasn’t just ready to flower, she had fallen in love with another cactus somewhere unseen, in another narrow passage, perhaps, or in the garden of the cactophile who lives nearby with giant cactuses like policemen directing traffic and Mickey Mouse impersonators and silent prickly balls.
Flower Message From a Cactus
The following morning, the flower had closed up and a day later it dropped, not to the ground, but into the mesh of thorns growing sharply from the four tall stems. My neighbour gathered it up and will take it back to Holland to make further investigations.
The message from our cactus may be a warning that the planet is overheating and that the temperature is now hot enough and the soil dry enough for Death Valley cactuses to thrive in Cadaqués. It is also a reminder that, like the flower that bloomed at night, life is short and fragile and we must try and glow in the dark if we get the chance.
Incidentally, I discovered once that sunflowers have secrets and you only find out what they are when you plant them in a pot and watch them grow.