Whaddyadoallday? Real Life on a Desert Island Rotating Header Image

July, 2013:


This week there’s been lots of attention given to the fruits of reproductive endeavors. But wow. Who would have thought that Kate and William would name their new prince after ME? I don’t even really know them all that well. But I’m humbled and honored just the same.

Meanwhile, speaking of progeny, I think that it is now safe to report that we have successful pollination and fruit set. Notice the plump, pregnant appearance of the wilting dragonfruit flower on the right in the photo below compared to the sad, dried, barren dragonfruit flower on the left. 

Initially I was hopeful that two out of the five flowers had set. Not great success statistics, but infinitely better than that zero success rate I’ve managed up until this point. Sadly, though, it appears that we have lost another one. It was probably just nature’s way of selecting against an inferior genetic specimen, but I’m disappointed nonetheless. It also appears that I am not just getting better at making baby dragonfruit but rather that the process really is dependent upon using pollen from a genetically different plant since the one fruit came from the very first flower that I pollinated with the fresh pollen from our friend’s plant while the other failures received a mixture of their own pollen and older, stored, foreign pollen.

I suppose I should count my blessing, however. In reality, we were really quite lucky to find a genetically dissimilar plant on our first try considering that we’re living on the dragonfruit equivalent of Pitcairn Island. First of all, I don’t think there are all that many dragonfruit plants here to start with. They aren’t exactly attractive landscape plants battling the Royal or Bismarck Palms for places of honor in people’s yards. In fact, I’ve never actually seen another one. Michael found ours growing wild and neglected along the fence in the far reaches of the garden center.  Plus for all we knew, every single dragonfruit plant living on this tiny little island could very well have descended from one single plant considering that the quickest and easiest way to propagate new dragonfruits is by rooting simple cuttings from another dragonfruit. That means that it was entirely possible and actually likely that our friend’s dragonfruit started out as a rooted stick broken off from our dragonfruit or visa versa.

So today I am in possession of a cutting from the friend’s plant that produced the pollen that led to successful fruit set; and in a peculiar twist, much like having a second child in the hopes that it will be a genetic match for my ailing firstborn, I now have had to adopt a second, unruly, gangly cactus in order to successfully bear fruit on either of them. Clearly it will take time for the cutting to mature and produce flowers so that my dream of an abundant dragonfruit harvest will be slower to reach fruition. For now, though, the biggest question is which palm tree is going to have to step aside and make space for the new kid.

The Birds and the Bees

I’m running a little dating service now.

But before I get into that, I’ll apologize for having been absent so long. For the first month I had the excuse of having been on vacation in Italy, and it’s pretty hard to blog about life on a desert island when you are hanging out in Umbria. That doesn’t, however, excuse me from not posting over the last few weeks. All I can say in my defense is that it’s actually difficult to get back into a routine even when that routine is having pretty much no routine whatsoever.

Meanwhile, while I was off island enjoying my holiday the seasons changed. Yes, we have seasons, subtle though they may be. We left a cooler climate and returned to the beginning of summer heat here in the islands. Some of the plants are sad about this. Some of the plants are happy. For instance the coconuts seem to be scarcer much to the chagrin of everyone besides me. (I’m not big on coconut water no matter how much the medical talking heads sing its praises.) I have no idea what my housekeeper does with the ones she takes, but I know that my gardener likes his coconut water with vodka!

Surprisingly, there must not be as many coconut palms on island as you would think because even the guy who delivers my water stops by occasionally to see if he can harvest any of mine. Just last week he came looking and cut down the few that I had. Then even more surprising, he asked me if I like mangoes and proceeded to drive back twice over the next few days bringing me 8-10 local mangoes each time. How sweet (literally and figuratively). Anybody want some homemade mango chutney?

The flourishing plant that has had my full attention these last few weeks, though, is my Pitaya cactus otherwise known as a dragonfruit. We ate them in southeast Asia and then stumbled upon a plant at the garden store here. It’s growing really well (it shoots out like an invasive vine) but we have yet to get any fruit. This is not from lack of trying, but it’s a complicated situation. The huge (and I mean huge – like a foot long and almost as wide in diameter) flowers are beautiful (see photo below), however, they only open at night and only for one night. They do not self-pollinate, and we do not have an abundance of nocturnal bees or fruit bats around here to do the job. That means that on the occasion that a flower opens (4 or 5 total to date), I have to go out a few times between 10P and 8A that night to artificially inseminate the stupid blooms.

So far, in spite of the apparent simplicity of the process (how sophisticated are bees or bats for crying out loud?) and in spite of my advanced veterinary medical training and proven success accomplishing this task in dogs, I have been a woeful failure working in the plant kingdom. I was reading up (AGAIN) on the process the other day and found some references to the possibility that my dragonfruit may not choose to reproduce its own genetic self. I may need to find pollen from an unrelated cactus in order to achieve fruiting. It occurred to me yesterday that one of the store owners down the road has dragonfruit cactus of his own. So I drove down to verify that fact (yes, he does) and to see if he has any that are flowering now also (yes, he does) and if he would be so kind as to bring me some pollen this morning (yes, he would) and then I could give him pollen from my plant once mine open if he wants it (yes, he does).

Currently I have five flowers on my plant. Four of them look like they will open tonight. One really stupid one opened prematurely last night. I pollinated it with its own pollen for want of something else to use. Then at 9A I drove to the store and waited outside in the parking lot. My friend pulled up. We discreetly swapped our brown paper bags of ‘the goods’ and I sped off – rushing home to dust the flower that is already closing down. Tonight I will use the rest of my new genetic strain of pollen to fertilize the other four flowers. (Tomorrow I will take him more of my pollen for his remaining buds).

Hopefully, my little match.com for dragonfruit will have found a compatible couple and the ‘fruits’ of my labours will be evident in a few weeks. Fingers crossed. I will keep you ‘posted’.