July 7, 2015

Echinopsis pachanoi (San Pedro cactus) flowering on my balcony


Like most succulent cactus, San Pedro doesn't flower very often but produces large, showy flowers with a spectacular aromatic bouquet when it does. Unfortunately, the flowers are ephemeral and seldom last more than a day. I've had this specimen for about five years and this is the first flowering I've seen from it. Here is a brief sequence of photos taken every few weeks over the 7-8 week course of its development. Two buds were gnawed off by insects or birds (or bats?) and fell off early on, so only one made it to full flowering. It's a long time to wait for only a single day of this brilliant trumpet shaped flower, but the fragrance really is incredible. If any more bloom this summer, I will be sure to take the SPME fiber home from the lab with me for some volatile collection. I expect fruity esters typical of lily are well represented in its bouquet as well as abundant benzenoids. And, of course, a few terpenoids have to be there as well.
Note the dense, hairy bracts around the base of the flower during the early stages of development.

Click below to see how the story ends...

 After a whole month with little happening, things changed quickly over a couple of days and the funnel began to open, revealing the slightly pigmented sepals beneath. I would place the sepal color somewhere between mauve and taupe, but that's just to get a smirk out of my sister, who trained as an interior designer. The petals themselves are an off white color.


When the flower was fully open, the arrangement of the stamens around the gynoecium (the female part of the flower) was stunning. By the next day, it was already fading, so here's one last look:
As a side note, in the background you can see various apartment buildings on my street in Barcelona. Though the building tops look a bit grubby from this angle, this is actually a posh neighborhood and the street below was recently renovated and decorated for the annual street festival of Pasaje Lluis Pellicer. Here is the transcript of a conversation between two girls I overheard talking on an evening out as they passed by my street:

Girl 1: Esta calle cuál es?
Girl 2: No lo sé, pero es famosa.

Oh, the youth of today. They probably didn't even look up to see the ephemeral brilliance of the flowers above them.

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