Its large, cabbagy leaves, luxuriant habit and blowsy flowers may cause one to regard it as a rank tropical weed, but the more we become acquainted with it, the greater is our admiration.
It is a plant of enormous vigour, always producing new leaves and developing flower and fruit with remarkable rapidity; and once it has begun to flower at an age of three or four, it blooms every day of its life which may be 50, if not 100, years. It is possessed, also, of a marvelous precision so that we should be thankful that there is such a fascinating plant ready to clothe our waste-land.
The flower-buds open one at a time in succession from base to apex of the inflorescence and there is an interval of two to six days between the opening of successive flowers. The bud begins to swell visibly and to turn yellow at the end, on the morning before the day it opens.
About 3 am the next day, the petals separate and the flower becomes bell-shaped; and by an hour before sunrise it is fully open. The petals drop off about 4 o’clock in the afternoon and the same night the sepals begin to fold back on the young fruit but they are not tightly shut until the following afternoon.
Commonly every flower sets a fruit. The fruits take exactly five weeks to set: on the 36th day after the petals fall, the fruit opens at 3 am and the pink star is expanded long before sunrise. The seeds are picked off by small birds, especially bulbuls, often as soon as it is light, and, as they eat the red aril, the seeds are swallowed and are distributed by passing through their bodies. The empty husks of the fruit fall off about 8 am.
The time of opening of the flowers and fruits, about 3 am, is that period in the 24 hours when the temperature is becoming steadiest and lowest, when the humidity of the air is greatest so that dew is settling, and when the sky is darkest.
One or all of these conditions must be involved in the opening of the flowers and fruits but how they affect the plant and what their means of control are problems beyond our understanding.