Saturday, November 1, 2003
Ann and I have grown cacti and succulents together for years, and even when we were children, long before we knew each other, we both grew them among other house plants. This fall while we were visiting Colorado National Monument we saw a cacti book in the park gift shop and we both thought, with all of the plants we have, it would be a good idea to but this book. We needed both identification information and to become more informed about the care and needs of our cacti.
In 1995 I started hundreds of little cacti from seeds and we still have about a third of the plants we started with. Over the years we gave away nearly all of the duplicate plants and some of the duplicates died in experiments to grow them outdoors. One of the seed packages said that some of the plants would be hardy to a zone 2 and we live in a zone 4, thus I thought some of them might actually grow in our Wisconsin back yard. Except for the succulent ground covers all of the plants died. I learned from this new book that these cacti that tolerate cold weather also require very dry conditions. The soil where we live is usually wet for most of the winter, so my cacti didn't have a chance. Fortunately I only experimented with duplicates.
I was looking forward to returning home with the new book to identify all of the little cacti we have in little pots, and we also became interested in looking for more cacti which we didn't already have because of our new book. We started looking around in all of the greenhouses we had time for in western Colorado. One store we went to in Delta had a little succulent with a flower bud on it that looked different than anything we already had, so we wanted it. At the checkout counter the store employee said, "Oh someone's getting a stapeliad, and it's about to bloom!" She said it in such a silly way that neither Ann nor I knew how to respond, but we bout our plants and left.
We kept all of our finds, including the new stapelia, in a sunny window at my mom's house, and hoped that it would bloom before we had to travel. It didn't bloom at my mom's, so we put it in a cup holder in our van and hoped that the bud wouldn't fall off before we made it back to Madison. Fortunately we made it home with the flower bud intact and a few days after we were home it began to bloom. At first it looked like a dead mouse and we both knew this was unlike anything we already had in our plant collection.
Ann asked me if it might be a carrion type flower and held it up for me to smell the flower. I sniffer the flower and without making any expression held it in front of her nose. She smelled it and had to reprimand me for not warning her that it was a carrion flower. I tried to excuse myself by saying that I didn't think it smelled that bad, but the point was I had failed in my job as flower tester. I should have told her because her nose is more sensitive than mine and that sort of smell bothers her a lot more than it does me.
The mousey bud opened into a beautiful dark red star shaped stapeliad flower. Both Ann and I loved our new plant and with Ann's internet research we soon learned that there are hundreds of star flower succulents in the world. They are so beautiful that the smell doesn't matter, so we tried to find more in our local greenhouses with very little success. I did find one succulent that might be a star flower type, but we won't know until it blooms. I guess these kinds of plants aren't part of mainstream houseplant culture. When we were at the green house we might have overlooked the plant if it didn't happen to have a bud at the time we found it . I think we're fortunate to have the stapeliad that we do have, and after seeing and smelling the flower we understand why the woman behind the counter said, "Oh someone's getting a stapeliad, and it's about to bloom!" is such a silly voice.