Friday, August 21, 2009

A Domestic Tale

I never will be accused as having a "green" thumb. If anything, I will eternally accused of "not watering your plants enough again, huh?." But many who know me reluctantly admit (some very reluctantly) that I can do one thing right - I apparently can do wonders with a dumb cane.

Dumb canes originated in Brazil and for the past 150 years or so have been a popular house plant - as long as you keep pets and children away from them, as the juice of the dumb came is rather poisonous and is not something you would want to ingest. But give them a little plant food periodically and a lot of water often and they generally take care of themselves.

Family memories place my mother acquiring a dumb cane plant somewhere around 1967 or 1968 or thereabouts, and the plant remained a fixture in her living room for nearly 35 years. In 2001 I inherited the plant and to my enduring astonishment managed to keep it alive all this time. Then this past week something occurred that had not happened in the past 40 years: the dumb cane flowered!

Asking around, this turns out by everyone I know to be an unheard-of event. Checking the Internet simply showed photos of flowers everywhere with the implication that this happens all the time. At any rate, it took a day for the flower to fully open, as the above photo shows. It then slowly closed over the next day-and-a-half, but not before a SECOND flower started growing!

It took the second flower two days after the first to mature and open, and then presenting me with a second surprise: in the twilight of the evening the flower suddenly emitted an odor that would make a skunk proud. It turns out that the dumb cane really is a distant cousin of the skunk cabbage. It was easy to believe that the plant was releasing 40 years of pent-up scent. The stench was so intense that I quickly became nauseous and ended up banning the plant to the back porch, where it continued to emit its offensive odor the rest of the night. Evidently I inhaled too much as it took another day for the sick feeling to finally pass altogether.

Two sources on the Internet suggest that after flowering a dumb cane plant will die. I hope not, but after getting a potent whiff of this plant, I frankly won't be surprised.

I took the second photo above of the second flower just before the flower released its intoxicating/toxic pheromone. In the photo you can see at left the first flower curled up tight. At the right is the open second flower. What is between the two is my new concern. Yes, it appears that a THIRD flower is growing. What surprises does it have in store? I checked - not even the Internet knows.