Gymnocalycium (2013)

By Chris Deem (May 2013)

Outside the gray window frame, the snow’s frenzied flight was aided by a bitter wind. It was a scant snow, the wretched snow of a dry season. The window’s single pane of glass had been covered by a thick piece of plastic. It was held there unsteadily by tape. The plastic seemed as if it could breathe. In and out it moved, as the wind howled mournfully on.

The cacti on that chilly windowsill were a sad mixed fellowship. For some moments, I stood wondering why they had been left there. I looked at them closely, still, I could not understand why. Perhaps they had been considered in some way lacking. Whatever the reason, they seemed expendable.

Cold and indifferent, I decided to leave, and that was the moment I saw it. It was a tiny, scale-covered bud, pale pink on a small clump of Gymnocalycium bruchii. That sight has never left me.

I think back now in May, to that cold winter’s day. Try as I may, I can’t remember the others. Yet to this day, a gray feeling of melancholy holds sway when I think of that doomed little flower.

It may be an unflattering truth, but occasionally, I’ll buy a cactus and never learn anything about it, not even its genus. I suppose we all have a “little spines guy” or a “really sharp dude.” Plants we can’t identify, that just sit there until we lose interest.

There is, however, one genus that marks its kinship with a secret sign. The language of their flowers may not be like ours, yet it speaks to those who know. Look closely at their flower buds. It is the sign that will tell you, this plant’s genus is Gymno.