The Occasional Gardener: Ideas + Aesthetics + Inspiration from the Garden

Blooming Stress

"Your cactus is flowering, it must be under stress" a friend said. I looked up at the tall blue green column and holy moly there were about 20 buds on it. There were a couple of buds on the other column last week but I was dissapointed not to have seen it become a flower. Maybe it blooms at night, it suddenly registered, and there it was a huge white bloom when I rushed outside to check.

Do cacti flower under stress? Its certainly a stressful situation, hot dry sunny slope and the plant has become huge and quite crowded, I recently cut out a few of the less attractive parts. The other plant pictured, not a cactus, but Euphorbia Antiquorum quite certainly blooms under stress. It is so prolific that I've sliced huge 4 foot chunks and potted them in tiny pots - just because that's all I had at the time and a few weeks later its covered in bloom.

As a creative, the idea of stress having a positive outcome is of course statistically proven, countless projects and endeavours have 'bloomed' after a harsh gestation. The phrase 'the harshest soils often yield the best wines' not sure where I read that has always struck home. So I went searching the internet and Plants, compared to animals, insects, and humans, have to be a lot more sophisticated with their response to stress since they are stuck wherever they grow and cannot run from whatever stress they encounter," from here was a sobering perspective. Indeed stress is a trigger for all kinds of complex responses and certainly a cue for flowering.

Although there may be  some nutrient depletion going on here, its hard to equate the word stress with these two plants as they have largely been doing the opposite which is thriving. The cactus started out as a gift from one of the part time hands that first helped with the digging and preparation of the garden. Once he saw the few plants I had selected to put into that location - aloes, agaves, euphorbias, he arrived the next time with a 2 foot length of this blue cactus. Four years later it has multiplied ten fold with a couple of the columns reaching about 5 foot tall, which on higher ground towers above as you walk by. Which was why I didn't even notice the buds until friend pointed them out.

The euphorbia was about 3 foot tall in a pot and here on the property when I took it over. It is now four ungainly monsters over 6 foot tall that require regular propping and trimming or they would fall over. There's smaller ones in pots and I've just planted an army of them along a wall in the orchard to help keep out trespassers during durian season. Once identified, it was interesting to discover its a regional species also know as Malayan Spurge hence its ubiquity in most gardens in this city.

The cactus, I've yet to properly identify although the white, night flowering clue has helped narrow it down to perhaps Cereus Validus or Cereus peruvianus. In either case I can expect a fruit to follow, hence their other name apple cactus. Curiously the subject of fruit is when I first heard of stress and plants. On a visit to an organic fruit farm, I was told that plants are scarred or pruned, to trigger a fruiting response.

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