From the beginning, they were inseparable. Self-effacing, green, more-or-less prickly, they contented themselves with taking the afternoon sun in a far corner of the patio, telling tales of their travels to one another and gently ridiculing their over-achieving neighbor, a dwarf schefflera who prided herself on needing to be trimmed on a monthly basis.
Despite their own glacial growth rates and their refusal to claim attention by blooming, I grew fond of them. I gave them names: first Godot, then Godette. I talked to them, nurtured them, and fussed over them more than I was willing to admit. Eventually, I told their stories, both here, and here.
Godot was a Lace cactus, known in scientific circles as Echinocereus reichenbachii. His ancestors, native to Texas and common throughout our Hill Country, have long-established roots in the state. Some of his kind were noted and recorded by the German scientist, Ferdinand Roemer, during his own travels through Texas between 1845 and 1847.
How Godot ended up on my patio is a simple enough story.
Godot came to live with me after the death of a human friend’s mother. When those who’d known her were offered a remembrance from her extensive collection of plants, I chose a slightly pathetic, short, scruffy little cactus no one could identify, and took it off to live on twenty-three acres of unimproved land in the Texas hill country…
Dangling from a hook between the cabin and the creek, my little cactus lived a quiet life, dependent on nature’s largess for its survival. It didn’t grow, but it didn’t die. It simply was.
After months of waiting for the cactus to do something – anything! – I named him Godot. The name made me laugh. With a name, he seemed less prickly, more accessible. People talked to him and gave him extra water. Sometimes, they carried him into the sunlight for an afternoon. Through it all, nothing changed
And then, everything changed. A year or two after trading the cabin for my urban patio, Godot astonished us all by producing a flower. The next year, he managed to provide two. The year after that, there were three. Finally, he did some over-achieving of his own and produced the wonderful cluster of blooms shown above. Through it all, he kept growing taller. Eventually, he became fourteen inches tall, nearly three times the height of an average Lace cactus.
Unfortunately, Godot had been changing more than I realized. One morning, I noticed him leaning slightly, as though his height was becoming a bit of a burden. I straightened him up and rearranged his dirt, adding a few Hill Country fossils around his base for extra support.
Over the next few days, the leaning became more pronounced. Braving his spines to poke and prod a bit, I discovered that my sturdy little friend seemed hollow. Despite his healthy appearance, Godot clearly had begun to shrivel. After two more days, he began to sag, leaned even farther, broke in the middle, and toppled over. I found my darling Godot resting in pieces in his pot. Whether he was resting in peace, I couldn’t say.
Fearful that I’d somehow brought about his demise, I carried him to our local native plant specialists for an autopsy. The Cactus Examiner assured me there was no sign of rot from overwatering, no physical damage apart from the break that resulted in his toppling, and no indication of insect infestation.
He went on to remind me of something I knew, but hadn’t considered. The life span of a Lace cactus in the wild rarely exceeds five years. Godot had lived among humans for at least seventeen years, and no doubt he’d spent a year or two before that on a Kerr County hillside. When he finally collapsed from a combination of desication and simple weariness, it was, as they say, his time. Godot had died of old age.
Unable to bear the thought of throwing him out in the trash, I carried his remains to a local nature center and tucked him into a sandy hummock, where he could bask in the afternoon sun.
Then, I went home to have a talk with Godette.
From the beginning, Godette had been the sickly one. She came to me with her star-shaped base a little spongy, her root system poorly established. While she had the potential to become a lovely example of Astrophytum myriostigma, the Bishop’s Hat cactus, what growth had taken place had left her column substantially narrowed at the top.
As she became better-established in a new pot with new dirt, enthusiastic growth left her looking less like a misshapen starfruit and more like a heavily corseted Victorian woman. She was wasp-waisted, and it wasn’t long before she became seriously top-heavy, with a bottom segment four inches tall and an upper segment of nearly eight inches.
Unwilling to risk snapping off her top segment and repotting it, I braced her in a variety of ways, finally choosing a dowel rod and a length of cord to do the job. Through it all, she bloomed beautifully, and kept right on growing.
By the time I sat down with her to discuss the sad fate of Godot, she’d grown another few inches, and clearly needed sturdier support. Rummaging around in the supply closet, I found a piece of one-inch dowel, and prepared to make the switch. The minute I cut the cord connecting Godette to her support system and pulled the half-inch dowel from the pot, it was over. Whether grief-stricken over the loss of her friend or a simple victim of gravity, Godette broke herself in half, throwing her upper half onto the dirt. She appeared to be just as much a goner as Godot.
When I showed up for the second time in a week with a piece of cactus in hand, the Cactus Examiner was more hopeful in his prognosis. “Despite the damage, it’s healthy,” he said. I couldn’t let it pass. “She’s healthy. It’s a she, and her name is Godette.”
That made him smile, as he turned Godette this way and that. “Well, I think she’ll be just fine. Don’t replant her now. She’ll only rot. Put her in a cool, dry place, somewhere in the house where she won’t be in the way, then repot her in a month or two. She should take root and start growing again.”
When I asked what would happen to the portion remaining in the pot, he shrugged. “Let it be, and see what happens. If nothing happens by the time you repot this section, pull it out and check for roots. If there aren’t any, be glad you’ve still got this healthy piece.”
By February, the sun was catching a corner of the patio in early afternoon, and the temperatures were moderating. I decided it was time to repot Godette. The deed was done, and I began to wait. A month went by, then two. After three months, I wondered if the spirit of Godot had overtaken Godette. I hadn’t expected immediate results, but I certainly hadn’t expected to wait so long for a sign of progress.
Then, four months after her repotting, I noticed that buds which had lain dormant since Godette’s misfortune were beginning to swell. As the days passed, some shriveled and fell off, but others continued to mature. Eventually, and to my great joy, a flower appeared.
Godette always had been a prolific bloomer, and I wondered if the trauma she’d suffered would change that. A first hint of an answer came a week later, when two flowers opened.
By the time that pair faded and dropped off, more buds were beginning to open.
By the time June arrived, Godette was setting clusters of buds. Compared to her previous life, when everything she produced was neat and symmetrical, these seemed to be random, erratic and out-of-sync. It was as though she’d been storing energy, and wasn’t able to wait for one flowering to complete before starting another set of buds.
At one point, there were more than two dozen buds and opening flowers crowded together at her top. It was as though she was filled with color and fragrance, and couldn’t wait to begin putting it out into the world.
At last, the familiar rings of flowers began to appear, followed by what I’d come to expect of Godette: masses of blossoms as lovely as any in the cactus world.
Today, Godette seems to have fully recovered. She shares her corner of the patio with new friends: four pots filled with the progeny of a spineless prickly pear (Opuntia cacanapa “Ellisiana”) that lived near the same cabin where Godot hung for so many years. As luck would have it, prickly pear takes rather well to having pads snapped off and replanted, so Godette is assured of a steady supply of Hill Country companions in the years to come.
While we’ll never have another Godot, leaving the Opuntia nameless seemed a little cold, a bit impersonal. “Well,” I said to Godette, “you’re the clever one. Why don’t you come up with some names for them?” “I just might,” she said. And that was that, at least for a while.
Some weeks later, I was giving the schefflera her monthly trim when Godette finally spoke up. “Bubba,” she said. “That’s the big prickly pear’s name. Bubba. He’s a Texas country boy, so why not?” “Well,” I said, “that’s fine. But what about the rest of them? They need names, too.”
She’d already figured it out. “They’re a family, so they all get Texas names. There’s Bubba, Bubette, Bubbelina and Bubba Joe. How about that?”
When I stopped laughing, I said, “That’ll do. But what happens when the next generation comes along?” Godette didn’t even quiver. “That’s your problem,” she said. “I’m just going to sit here and bloom.”
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