Ingeborg and Werner Opitz’ cactus has bloomed, the first time in 16 years, at their home on Tuesday in Everett. The type of cactus is an orchid cactus. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Ingeborg and Werner Opitz’ cactus has bloomed, the first time in 16 years, at their home on Tuesday in Everett. The type of cactus is an orchid cactus. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

After 16 years, cactus gives Everett couple a big surprise

Inga and Werner Opitz almost threw out the red-flowering plant because it wouldn’t bloom again.

Inga and Werner Opitz had given up on their flowering cactus.

It hadn’t bloomed in 16 years.

“We were so upset,” said Inga, 89. “We were ready to throw it out.”

The north Everett couple bought the orchid cactus in 2000. It bloomed in 2002, giving them just one flower.

That bright-red flower was spectacular.

Then there were no more blooms for the better part of two decades.

“It had one bloom, and then nothing,” Inga said.

“We threatened to throw it out. We were sick of it standing there,” said Werner, 91.

But then last month, there was a flower explosion.

The Opitzes, who both retain the accents of their native Germany, were so surprised by its sudden change that they called The Daily Herald to report it.

“Lo and behold, look what happened anyway,” said Werner, who spent most of his working years as an electrician at Western Gear Corp. “A bud showed up. There wasn’t a thing on it for 16 years. All we had to do was let out a threat, to let it know that we don’t approve.”

At the height of the flowering season, in May, the cactus — an epiphyllum hybrid — had 24 blooms.

Epiphyllums are commonly referred to as orchid cacti because of their brilliant blossoms, reminiscent of tropical orchids.

“We were just puzzled and ecstatic and mind-boggled,” said Inga, who was a sales clerk at the long-gone Hurd’s Men’s Store in Everett. “All these little buds came out of these shoots. It was so exciting. I’ve never seen this before.

“So many visitors had never seen anything like this.”

The Epiphyllum Society of America maintains a list of epiphyllum hybrids that in 1996 had more than 7,000 names. Many of them have been confused and cannot be identified.

After 18 years, the Opitz’ red-flowering hybrid no longer has its name tag, making it nearly impossible to identify. The consensus of Snohomish County master gardeners contacted by The Herald, however, is that it could be Disocactus x hybridus, perhaps the most commonly grown orchid cacti.

The parent species from which epiphyllum hybrids were bred are native to the tropical rainforests of Central and South America, where they grow in trees, not the ground. Unlike desert cacti, jungle cacti like shade. They also lack the sharp spines of their cacti cousins.

The leafless stems of the Disocactus x hybridus are flat to triangular in shape, the strap-like branches often growing to be quite thick. The flowers appear on the sides of the stems, their blossoms orange to red. The stigma lobes are white.

They’re supposed to bloom every year between April and June.

The Opitzes keep most of their indoor cacti in the breezeway of the Rucker Avenue rambler where they’ve lived for 42 years. All but one large Christmas cactus is kept in the porch-like space connecting the garage to the house.

“We had a friend who kept on giving us shoots,” Inga said. “They’re all different pinks.”

“Some of them are pretty close to being white,” Werner said. “They’re pretty blooms.”

They have six cacti in all, a collection that has grown over the years.

“They don’t like to be bothered,” Inga said. “I water them about every 10 days.”

“The wife does most of the gardening,” Werner said. “I have two left hands.”

When they bought the orchid cactus, it had just two heavy stems. A couple of years ago, they moved it from the fireplace mantel to the breezeway.

The move must have done it some good.

“I put it outside (in the breezeway), and it grew all these shoots — you know, these long, hanging things — and then all of a sudden after 16 years and one blossom, it got all these coming up,” Inga said. “It had been sitting out there for two years.”

Werner and Inga have been married for 66 years. The couple celebrated their anniversary May 27.

“We met in October and got married in May,” Inga said. “There was no engagement.”

Husband and wife immigrated to Canada in 1953, then to the United States in 1963. They retired about 25 years ago.

Their son, Wolfgang, 57, an Everett High School graduate, visits once a month.

Werner and Inga chuckle when they think about whether they’ll live to see their orchid cactus bloom again.

“We can’t wait another 16 years,” Inga said. “We don’t live that long.”

Sara Bruestle: 425-339-3046; sbruestle@heraldnet.com; @sarabruestle.

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