Monday 18 December 2023

Christmas comes early

Back in October or November when I was frantically running up and down the garden in my [delayed] annual plant reshuffle I noticed that my Strelitzia reginae was growing something that did not look a leaf. I was in a big hurry so scooped it up with everything else that needed to come in and shoved it in the conservatory. Sure enough it was a flower stem, at this stage just a thin vertical spike. For those of that don't know your latin plant names the common name is Bird of Paradise. It's possible that even this means nothing to you, but when you see the photos you'll go "Ah, so that's what that is!".

I left it as close to the window as possible as South Africa is a high luminosity environment but nothing happened. Or if it did it was imperceptible. Gradually the conservatory got cooler and cooler, and whilst the spike had definitely increased in height I felt sure that it would never develop fully. After a series of failed negotiations about taking it up to the much warmer bedroom I took it up to the much warmer bedroom. 

Bingo! Heat was the missing piece and once provided growth restarted in a visible manner. I even had to water it. Since then it has been a race against time, specifically a race against December 25th. I wish I had taken a time lapse but what happened is that the top of the spike started to swell, becoming a bit wider than the thin stalk, and then last week that swelling started to lean to the left, or in my case south-west, as I assume it must be related to the light in some way. By Friday it was at around 45 degrees, and just this Saturday I remarked to Mrs L that I could see a faint line of orange on the top. On Sunday I even posted this crappy photo to Twitter, just because.

This morning I woke up as usual and started to potter around the bedroom. Gah!! At some point in the night this had happened. I've got an advent calendar but this is just so much better. I keep looking at it and smiling ear to ear. I've had these flower before, in fact my Strelitzia juncea (a rare thin-leaved variant of the same plant that I grew from seed) has even flowered before now, but somehow this one is more perfect. Perhaps it is the time of year, a splash of colour in a dreary season, perhaps it is a function of ageing, who can say? But it has made me very happy.

My early morning surprise

I remember exactly where and when I got this plant. It was in January 2018 on Madeira, a weekend escape for some much-needed warmth and specifically to seek out plants. I bought it as a tiny plug plant, only a few inches tall, from a stall at the Mercado dos Lavradores in central Funchal, near to where the cable car goes from. Along with various other goodies it came back to London with me and has been nurtured ever since. Perhaps nutured is too strong a word, it has been in a corner of the greenhouse year round, left to its own devices. It gets baked in the summer and I water it, and frozen in the winter when I ignore it. This year is the first time it has been in, it will go soft! Anyway, it has taken nearly six years, but it has delivered and just in time for Christmas.

I get the feeling that the flower stem is highly etiolated due to low light, but it is all about the bit on top!

Next year I'll repot it, they have huge roots and if I do not it will simply crack the pot which would be a big waste. I may yet have to break it to get it out but let's see. Anyway, the timing is very apt - I am full on South Africa at the moment having just written up the trip from July. It is a shame that my various Aloes chose to flower during our summer, as to have this plant set in amongst the Fan Aloes and have them all flower simultaneously would be sensational. 

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