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Story Tools

Date of Issue: June 17, 2009


Things that go 'bloom,' or boom in the night

6-17-09/sandscript-cereus.jpgBe it a pod-people invasion or something found on late night television — maybe “Attach of the Night-Blooming Cereus” — there has been some definite ornamental plant weirdness afoot of late, late at night.

Night-blooming cereus are a spindly cactus that is more a vine than a traditional arid species of plant. The vines grope their way up trees, along fences or across lattice. It doesn’t look like much of anything, most of the time.

But when the spring and summer months come, the plants start to have these fuzzy white cotton balls that slowly grow into flower buds that evolve into a spectacular flower. The event is only at night, and the flower only blossoms for one night.

We’re not talking little flowers, either. The blossoms are huge, maybe the size of a human head, brilliant white in color.

Night-blooming cereus is usually found in the deserts of the Southwestern United States. That species has what is reported in literature as having a spectacular fragrance that has even spawned a line of perfume.

Here, the flowers are larger and have no discernable odor. They seem to be a Caribbean species, according to literature, which is pretty sparse on information.

Another common name for this plant is "Queen of the Night."

And it was quite a queen, with something like 80 blossoms on two trees glowing last full moon. For one night only, though.

More nighttime weirdness

Speaking of full-moon madness, there’s apparently a gaggle of late-night poachers that have harvested four loggerhead sea turtle nests in southern Sarasota County last full moon.

Something like 300-plus eggs were dug out of four nests on Casey Key and near Venice Beach last week.

Sea turtle egg poaching is not that rare on Florida’s east coast. Many of our new citizens from the Caribbean believe the eggs enhance male virility and are prized in some cultures. Turtle nests are allowed to be relocated in that part of Florida due to the poaching problem.

According to Mote Marine Laboratory’s Sea Turtle Patrol volunteers, the eggs were stolen for food or to sell on the black market.

“Poaching has been almost completely unknown in Sarasota County,” said biologist Ryan Welsh of Mote’s Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program. “We’ve had some suspected cases before but they weren’t as clear-cut as these recent ones.”

Loggerhead sea turtles are endangered and threatened by entanglement in fishing gear, entrapment in beach furniture left out overnight, disorientation caused by beach lighting, pollution and boat strikes.

Now there’s poaching.

Here’s the drill for sea turtles.

Mama turtle returns to the general area of where she was hatched to lay a clutch of 100-or-so eggs. She lumbers up the shore, digs a hole in the sand, drops in her eggs, then struggles back to the water. It’s the only time she leaves the water except at her own birth.

About 60 days later, the little hatchlings scamper out of the sand and struggle to the surf. They paddle like crazy for about three days to reach the floating sargasso weed line offshore, where they hunker down in relative safety, start to eat and grow.

Scientists figure that about one egg out of 1,000 will live to become a breeding turtle.

Possessing sea turtle eggs without a permit carries penalties of as much as one year in prison and federal fines up to $100,000, along with state fines up to $500 plus $100 for every egg taken, according to Mote officials.

The egg robbers can only be caught if spotted in the dead of night, of course.

Sandscript factoid

Speaking of things that go “boom” in the night, any nighttime fishers or boaters spotted the water turning blue-green of late?

We’re getting into the time of year when the bays and Gulf of Mexico start to glow at night. It’s little critters telling us they exist, even though we can’t usually see them.

According to some weird Web sites, the phosphorescent critters are dinoflagellates. Yes, red tide is a dinoflagellate, but bioluminescent little guys are benign and emit a funny light in a boat’s wake or splash of a swimmer at night. Think glow stick.

We observed a patch of the little glowers that stayed around in our waters for awhile, mostly around Palma Sola Bay, a few years ago. If anybody spots them, shoot me a message at paul@islander.com.

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