Last week I dropped
in to see one of my daughter's former teachers. The
teacher has a warm sunny classroom with an array of
flourishing potted plants on the windowsills. It was
a midwinter treat to see such luxuriant geraniums and
aloes. I just missed the blooming period of a large
jasmine, but from the size of it, I am sure that its
fragrance improved the indoor air quality in the entire
north end of the school building.
As I was looking at the aloes,
the teacher pointed to a medium-size specimen on the
same windowsill. I could tell from the fleshy, stem-like
leaves that the plant was some kind of cactus, but it
had no spines at all. The plant's general configuration
and its droopy leaves gave it something of the appearance
of a Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii), but
the leaves were not segmented like those of that popular
holiday-season specimen. At a loss, I asked the teacher
what the plant was.
"I don't know," she replied,
"I got it from another teacher who got it from a relative
who lived in France." The teacher went on to say that
the cactus had bloomed earlier in the year, though it
had never bloomed for its donor. The cactus itself
is interesting, but rather nondescript in appearance.
Its real glory, said my daughter's teacher, came when
it was in bloom. The classroom specimen had sprouted
twelve large blossoms from the leaves. Each blossom,
said the teacher was "lily-like."
My curiosity was piqued,
and I offered to try and find out the identity of the
mystery cactus. The teacher, in turn, offered me a
cutting. I never turn down a free plant, so I accepted
it eagerly, brought it home, potted it up in the same
ordinary soil that supported the school plant, and awaited
further developments. Then I sat down to do the research.
Checking my comprehensive
horticultural encyclopedia, I looked up "Schlumbergera",
to see whether the plant was some exotic species of
Christmas cactus. It appeared that all Christmas cacti
are segmented, ruling out that theory. Next I turned
to the Internet, accessing the best search engine for
things horticultural. I put in many different word
combinations, including "flowering cactus", which was
too broad by far, giving me information on everything
from prickly pear cacti to giant saguaro. Then I tried
"indoor" combined with "flowering cactus". This gave
me a number of hits, but I concentrated on ones with
pictures, hoping to find a match for the mystery cactus.
I found out that most of the websites with pictures
contained photos of cactus blossoms rather than the
leaves or plant configurations. Since I had never actually
seen a blossom of the mystery cactus, this was very
little help. Still, it was inspiring to see all those
gorgeous blossoms. I put the pot with the cutting in
it on top of the computer stand and continued my search.