Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Stinky flower

My Hoya is blooming.  I probably should not even attempt to name it specifically, but I think it is Hoya carnosa.  This is a houseplant I started from a cutting from my mom's very old plant about four or five years ago.  She had just moved from the house I grew up in and I found her plant banished to a low basement with only a small window.  I feared for its life, having flashbacks of Oscar, another trailing hanging houseplant she wanted to throw out when I was a teenager because it was too sloppy looking.  Lots of gardeners cringe at the idea of throwing a perfectly good plant in the trash, but I wasn't a gardener yet.  Instead I think I just knew that I was sloppy too (being still a teenager), and felt it would be a mistake to let my mom get a start on tossing out everyone in the house who met that description!  Anyway, years later when I found the Hoya in the basement there was no way to get the behemoth into my car for a 350 mile trip.  By now I was a gardener, so I knew that the best insurance for a plant is cuttings.  I put one cutting in a plastic cup of water on my Mom's kitchen windowsill, so she could pot it up and have a nice, neat houseplant that could live in the main living space.  I put mine in a plastic water bottle and it survived the journey home very nicely.
A week or so ago, I visited my Mom again for her birthday and was amused to see her Hoya cutting still growing in water on her kitchen windowsill.  I'm impressed it has survived for years without ever seeing a particle of dirt.  In fact, there were cuttings of two other plants rooted in water on the kitchen window sill, and another in the basement.  I found more plantlets growing hydroponically than actual potted plants, but the original Hoya is also still holding on in the dim basement.  On another visit I guess I should buy a bag of potting soil and pot them all up for her.  

Meanwhile, I potted my cutting four or five years ago and it bloomed the first year.  I don't know if it's normal or not, but I wonder if it has more to do with where you take the cuttings than any great hort skill.  I think I probably took the cuttings from the very long trailing tendrils that the plant puts out.  I now know that these are where it blooms as well.  Mine has flowered many times since the first time, always in the same spot.  This is an interesting thing about Hoyas; the flowering occurs on a specialized flowering spur that grows incrementally longer with each bloom.  This is why you should not deadhead a Hoya, since there's a risk you could put a stop to the blooms.

I must confess I have been tempted to put a stop to them because there's another odd thing about my particular plant.  It stinks!  I remember the first time we noticed the original Hoya blooming when I was a kid.  There was a wonderful fragrance in the evening that took several days to track down.  The nearly leafless trailing stem with the flower spur on it had made its way almost unnoticed up over the door frame of the front door.  I had never actually seen a house plant of any kind in flower - it was momentous.  The memory of that mysterious and wonderful fragrance was another reason I wanted a Hoya of my own, but my plant, genetically identical to the plant of my childhood, STINKS!  The fragrance is both extremely strong and unpleasant and makes the room uninhabitable for several nights in a row while it blooms.  This is a bizarre and still unsolved mystery, and if anyone out there has a clue, I would love to hear it.  Maybe my memory of the fragrance is colored by the idealism of youth?  Or maybe I was not allowed to stay up late enough to get the full overpowering sticky stink of it?  I know that different people perceive fragrances differently.  Could my own sense of smell have changed as I got older?  I thought it must be one of these explanations until just a few days ago, when I got another conflicting clue....

My Hoya is now in bloom again.  But now, for the first time, it has two flowers.  One of them is on the same flowering spur where it has always bloomed, and the other is on a new spur.  This time, as evening falls, the fragrance is still overpoweringly strong ... but maybe a little ... just a little ... less offensive.  It's a weird thing, really; I almost get the feeling I'm smelling two different scents that play back and forth, sometimes smelling like one thing (nasty) and sometimes another (nicer).  Could it be that the old flower is stinky and the flower on the new spur has the nice fragrance I remember from years ago?  The odors are so strong I can't be sure.  Maybe the old flowering spur has mutant stinky genes.  I really hope next time it blooms, it blooms only on the new spur, so I can assess this theory non-destructively.  But if not, the old spur might just go the way of Oscar, even though I can't be sure.  Now that I have another flower spur for insurance.