Saturday, May 22, 2010


*(an obscure literary reference explained here)

In going along with my philosophy of "no personal obsessions are ever discarded; they are merely put on hiatus," I've recently returned to collecting cacti after, oh, let's say, a 40-yr. lapse.

Yeah, when I was 13 I had a small--very small--cactus, well, "garden" is not the right word; it was more of an accumulation. Nothing fancy, a prickly pear (Opuntia) I dug out of a road cut and ensconced in my mother's flower garden (where it promptly overthrew and outgrew the iris, the jonquils, and my mother's tolerance), a couple of small potted plants from the local Grants department store, and some odds and ends neighbors tossed my way, most of which, despite my best efforts, managed to survive through my college years.

And then I moved away and on to other things, leaving my parents to cope with the cacti as best they could, which wasn't very well since they were used to more conventional house plants, plants which thrived on regular and frequent waterings and applications of fertilizer (cacti do not; the end result is root rot). In a couple of years all that was left was a single Christmas Cactus (which isn't a cactus at all) which was doing quite well, thank you, blooming on a regular basis and which I suppose my parents gave away when they moved into a retirement home in 2003.

So I've been cactus-less for many years.

A couple of weeks ago I was cruisin' through the garden section of Lowes and noticed a cactus display--really cool ones!--and, well, a couple of them followed me home. And then a couple more. And then a couple more. Grand total to date: fourteen. What can I say? I like plants with attitude. More later.

And, apparently, they're happy in their back porch/back yard location, at least one of them is, since he/she's bringing forth a flower (click to embiggen):

Thus begins Close-Ass Cactus Watch 2010 as the flowers of this particular species blossom for but a single day.

Now something for the biology geeks amongst you. The plant above was sold as Trichocereus grandiflorus, but cactus taxonomy is about as convoluted as anything one can imagine, which means this week's preferred scientific name is Echinopsis huascha. There are at least two dozen synonyms, thus making researching the damned things hellishly confusing, but I'm used to that, I suppose, because once upon a time I studied parasitology wherein nomenclature was equally convoluted and confusing. In fact, someone (I don't remember who) wrote a poem about it (I'm quoting from memory so it may not be totally correct):

Nematode, nematode, wilt thou be mine?
Thou shall not live in horses or cattle or swine
But feed upon roses and lilies so white
And have a new Latin name every third night.

Which reminds me of another poem I spent half an hour tracking down and will now inflict upon you:

A Chemist Looks at Parasitology
Poem, composed by A. E. R. Westman, and read at a dinner honoring the retirement of Dr. A. M. Fallis, on 31 May 1972, Toronto, Canada.

Parasitology! Parasitology!
One part of science to two of mythology,
Oodles of doodles that you will insist
Are micro-sized monsters that just can't exist,
Papers replete with long names in italics
Describing in jargon the fanciful antics
Of creatures who live on the fat of the land
In host after host without lifting a hand.
Parasitology! Queen of biology!
One part of science to two of mythology.
Don't you owe nature a humble apology?

--The Journal of Parasitology, Vol. 58, No. 4, August 1972, p. 698

Which reminds me of yet another poem that seems appropriate (Sweet Jeebus, I'm full of myself today):

Naming of Parts
by Henry Reed
To-day we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And to-morrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But to-day,
To-day we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all of the neighboring gardens,
And to-day we have naming of parts.

This is the lower sling swivel. And this
Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see,
When you are given your slings. And this is the piling swivel,
Which in your case you have not got. The branches
Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures,
Which in our case we have not got.

This is the safety-catch, which is always released
With an easy flick of the thumb. And please do not let me
See anyone using his finger. You can do it quite easy
If you have any strength in your thumb. The blossoms
Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see
Any of them using their finger.

And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of this
Is to open the breech, as you see. We can slide it
Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this
Easing the spring. And rapidly backwards and forwards
The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers:
They call it easing the Spring.

They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
If you have any strength in your thumb: like the bolt,
And the breech, and the cocking-piece, and the point of balance,
Which in our case we have not got; and the almond-blossom
Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards,
For to-day we have naming of parts.

Okay, we're done here. Go out and play.

**for the record, as of this writing Lowes is a distributor for Altman Plants, specifically, The Cactus Collection.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for brightening my day with academical poetry!