How does this plant know the time?

6.30pm.  Yesterday, I sped along to the kitchen to rescue a pan.  No smell of burning.  But my nose caught a magical perfume, so I knew the flower must be opening.  You know how some smells remind you of others – roses, lilac, vanilla, violets?  Well, this perfume is totally itself, with no reference to anything else.  And it is so wonderful that it really does take your breath away.  ‘Oh my….’ is the only response.

And that was just the first whiff.  First the corridor filled up, then the sitting room and my office, then the staircase.  By nightfall, the flower was fully open, and perfuming the whole house.

This morning, the perfume had vanished.  The flower was still open, but even with my nose right next to it, no smell.  Now, it’s 6.30 again, and skeins of perfume begin to wind around the house.  But there’s been no change in temperature, the sun is as fitful as ever, but there we are.  It awaits some astonishingly sophisticated insect, with a perfectly developed ‘nose’ to come and do its pollination best.

I won’t manage with this flower.  It will only last until tomorrow, and I have nothing to pollinate it with, but just around the corner, one of its great grandchildren, is gradually opening its tan and pink buds, so I might manage a cross with some of this plant (Epiphyllum ‘Dudley Minor’ as I’ve explained in an earlier blog, though he gave it to me as E. Ackermanii), and see what the progeny is like – I’m still trying to get the perfume into a pink flower, rather than this glorious white/cream.

But the mystery remains, to me at least.  How does it know the time?


About david stuart

garden writer and journalist, and occasionally a designer, with a garden in the Scottish borders, and his pal's gardens in Edinburgh, London, and Lincolnshire. They keep both of us very, very busy. Books I've written listed on my website, and dozens of articles and garden and plant pictures. Currently working on several new projects. One of these was to return to painting - see the blog - and which is proving exciting! or, more fun, have a look at
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2 Responses to How does this plant know the time?

  1. playpitspark says:

    Smells are truly amazing. A couple of months ago I was walking somewhere (and I apologise for being so vague – I can’t remember the details, it must be my age!) I smelt something that immediately knocked me back 50 years. I could have been in Dawyck, or perhaps Edinburgh’s Botanic Gardens.
    I stood there, disbelieving that such a trivial smell and all its associations could have lodged itself in a remote corner of my brain for so many years. This had never happened before – which meant that this smell, or mixture of smells, was truly unique.
    So, how did my brain do this? How does a plant (with no brain) sense the time? We think we are so clever. There are so many things we will never know.

    • david stuart says:

      Richard hi. Proust’s Recherche du Temps Perdu does this, and the same thing for tastes too. Lol. Yep, think Authonomy stinks. Placing novels is VERY difficult ATM. CreateSpace, part of Amazon, does POD copies of books. They’re not bad.

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