When my great-aunt Carrie headed to assisted living 25 years ago, her patio garden was parceled out to relatives and friends. I inherited her night-blooming cereus, a plant that has become a most unlikely family touchstone.
I know it was that long ago because my memories of our son’s tumultuous first months are still perfumed with the flower’s scent. Nathan is now 23.
The cereus, formally known as Epiphyllum oxypetalum, had been with us for a while before Nate came along. It already had outgrown one pot and had taken up much of our small front porch.
Most of the time, it was a gangly eyesore. A member of the cactus family, the night-blooming cereus has long, flat stems that look like leaves and are so thick and fibrous that even snails do little damage. Dead stems turn from a wan green to a gray-mottled yellow and then shrivel, hanging indefinitely until someone hacks them off.
But the flowers are showstoppers. . . .