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Easter lily cactus is a lifelong attachment

May 25, 2010 |  8:45 am
April 2010 053 (Large)

Some people have lucky charms. Other folks have security blankets. Crista Worthy has her trusty cactus. Wherever she’s lived over the past 41 years, she’s always come home to the prickly plant she received as a gift at age 9. She took it to UC San Diego in 1977. She took it to her first place in Santa Monica after school. It moved with her through two marriages and divorces. It’s with her still in the West Los Angeles apartment she shares with her third husband, Fred, and two of their three children.

“I expect I’ll have that cactus my whole life,” said Worthy, a writer and technical editor at Pilot Getaways magazine. “I’ll probably have to will it to someone.” Perhaps many people. It has multiplied numerous times and now fills 15 pots and bowls on two sunny balconies.

Why is she so attached? “It came from Rosmarie Dorn, who was a nurse and like a second mother to me,” Worthy says. “It was very sad for me when she moved back to Switzerland, so I keep them around to remind me of her.”

Until a few years ago, Worthy wasn’t even sure exactly what kind of cactus she’d been propagating. It was just known as “Rosmarie’s cactus plant.” But when she posted a digital photo on the Internet, she got an identification within an hour: Easter lily cactus, either Echinopsis eyriesii or Echinopsis oxygona, native to Bolivia and other south central South American countries.

Easter_lily_2

It took 19 years before the well-traveled cactus bloomed for the first time – precisely on her 28th birthday. By then, she was living in a house with sprinklers that hit the cactus regularly, so she’s been watering and fertilizing regularly ever since.

“I’d always assumed cactus likes heat and needs very little water or care,” Worthy says. “But I’ve learned that this type comes from a part of Bolivia that doesn’t get that hot and it actually does better with more water in spring and summer and then not so much in winter.”

The plant has responded by blossoming with joyful regularity. In 1997, it bloomed as if on cue on Worthy’s wedding day in May and again on her birthday a month later. More recently, the cactus has produced flowers in four to five waves from spring into fall. So far this year, there’s been a bumper crop of 161 buds, 51 of which  opened simultaneously for a spectacular – if ephemeral – floral show.

“It’s kind of funny. There’s something phallic about the blooms,” Worthy says. “Before the buds open, they’re standing up, then they open – bang! – and then the next day they’re drooping down. Makes me laugh.”

-- Emily Young

Photo credits: Crista Worthy

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