Bloom Watch #3 – A Night of Firsts

June 15, 2020

At our last check-in you heard from Lee Mason in his final Bloom Watch about some strange goings-on within our collection. I should have read the writing on the wall. To quote Lee: “The Queen has done something to get my attention”. A warning, perhaps? A test for the new guy? Well, that would be me. Here I am now, days after Virtual Bloom Night digging through my observations to see if I can determine why twenty-one of our plants decided to steal the show from the others.

I made my first observations this year on April 28. Lee and I were working in tandem, but not necessarily together. We’d compare notes every now and then to see if we were on the same page. I was relieved to see that my data matched his. Many of my initial observations were short: “Dead, No Buds, Pre-buds?” They’d evolve over the weeks that followed in a fairly predictable manner. A fuzzball I was certain was a bud would quickly become a new arm. A ground squirrel snatched a flower bud off a plant right in front of me.

But then things started to move.

I kept careful measurements and started getting anxious.

Lee retired, and all our plants were in stall status. I was certain I had time to kill. I got some other things done. And then the air got heavy. The sky opened up and our little corner of the city got a much needed drink of water. I walked the trails and measured. Nothing bigger than 40mm on May 28. It rained again. I enjoyed my weekend.

Monday, June 1: 85mm, then 105, and 135! A number of plants aborted their buds. It seemed possible that we might see an early bloomer or two by the end of the week. The following day: All plants out of stall were pushing past the 120mm mark. I started making twice-daily measurements and was amazed to see how quickly these twenty-one plants were moving. Then the real magic: The tallest of buds slowed their growth rate to allow the others to catch up. If you’ve followed these updates over the years you’re aware of this phenomenon. Plant 354 slowed its growth rate by about 15mm per day over the course of that week while its neighbors increased theirs. On Friday, June 5 they were perfectly aligned. I spent a nervous hour with our Greenhouse Manager, Leith Young, talking about telltale signs and clear indicators and yes, I asked the plants what they had in mind. I called our first-ever Virtual Bloom Night for Friday, June 5.

The cloud cover added another test. Night-blooming Cereus bloom when they sense the sun starting to set. A few of ours appeared to be tricked by the unusually dark day. Sepals separated from the tips of their buds. One of the plants we had planned on showing off shifted its weight and turned away from the camera. We packed up and picked another spot. We went live, and you started to see what we were seeing: nothing. I nervously ran around the trail looking for signs of movement. And there it was: fully unfurled, slightly fragrant. Its neighbors joined, including the ones we decided to show all of you. The sky turned bright orange. Another quick burst of rain. Thunder and Lightning. A coyote came to see what we were up to.

In total, we logged twenty-five blooms that night. A low number no doubt, but no less magic. I look forward to sharing this special night with you all someday in the future when all we have to worry about is not stepping on rattlesnakes.

– Bryce Beamish, General Services Manager, Tohono Chul