Tuesday, January 17, 2006


Look, Alli -- how your baby is growing!
Cycads are amazing plants. This one, that came from my sister's garden when she moved to America three-and-a-half years ago, has just sprouted four new leaves. No big deal for an angiosperm, but this cycad just doubled its complement of branches in one hot, wet week.
What intrigues me about my cycad is that it doesn't grow. When Alli gave it to me, it had two 15cm leaves growing from the bulb-like central "stem". Those two leaves continued to exist for a year and a half, without growing or changing in any way. Suddenly, after a hot, wet week that summer, the cycad sprouted two more leaves. These ones quickly expanded to their full size of about 45cm, then the plant stayed just as it was for another two years, not growing or changing. This week there are four new leaves that look as though they are going to be about the same size as the second pair.
It's as though the little cycad saves up energy in its core, waiting and waiting for just the right moment, then it explodes with new growth, before settling back into dormancy for another couple of years. This is a plant for a patient gardener.

Their smooth dark flames flicker at time's own root,
Round them the rising forests of the years
alter the climates of forgotten earth
and silt with leaves the strata of first birth.

Only the antique cycads sullenly
keep the old bargain life has long since broken;
and, cursed by age, through each chill century
they watch the shrunken moon, but never die,

for time forgets the promise he once made,
and change forgets that they are left alone.
Among the complicated birds and flowers
they seem a generation carved in stone.

Leaning together, down those gulfs they stare
over whose darkness dance the brilliant birds
that cry in air one moment, and are gone;
and with their countless suns the years spin on.

Take their cold seed and set it in the mind,
and its slow root will lengthen deep and deep
till, following, you cling on the last ledge
over the unthinkable, unfathomable edge
beyond which man remembers only sleep.

[Judith Wright, "The Cycads"]

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