Monday, November 12, 2007

The story behind the picture

I have spent much mental energy trying to think what I am going to use a blog for in general, and also what I'll write about in my first entry. But all that thinking made it start to feel like this was getting far too serious, so I decided to just quickly choose a photo off my computer and write about its background.

This fine specimen of a cactus you see here was purchased at the Madison (Wisconsin) farmer's market by a woman who worked in a laboratory down the hall from me when I was a graduate student. But when she bought it, it looked nothing like this! It was small enough to fit into the lid of a soft drink bottle. This student was worried because her cactus wasn't growing and decided to give it to me to see if I could "rescue" it. I gave it some water, put it on a sunny ledge in my then-lab and it started growing. Instead of just getting bigger and keeping its shape, it put out a little "bud" on top of it that soon looked like a mini version of the main part of the plant (the original plant is the whitish part at the base in the photo). But it kept on growing and eventually outgrew the first part of the plant. As I kept watering it, it kept putting out more and more buds, mostly in a straight line. I transplated it to a bigger pot... and, well, I think the photo (which is a scan of photos I joined together) tells the rest of the story. As you can see, it was so "stringy" that there was no way it could support itself. I have no idea what kind of cactus this is or what shape it normally grows in, but I can't imagine natural selection would let it grow like this out in the wild! I seem to remember some incident when the cactus fell over onto someone and either they tried to catch it or it scratched them or something... my memory fails in the details but you can imagine the possible outcomes of human vs. cactus. I took this photo of it soon before I destroyed it by chopping it into bits and putting the bits in the garbage (I assume I wrapped them up to save a garbage handler from the thorns). It was getting to be too much to care for and worry about. I also didn't find it very attractive!

A follow-up to this story is that a couple of months ago, I purchased some antique botanical prints online from a place called "The Cactus Patch," which also sells cacti plants, including at the Madison farmer's market! I wonder if The Cactus Patch is where the photographed cactus started its life? Small world.

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