For 364 days a year, it's a scraggly cactus.
But on one night each year, it bursts into blooms like fireworks.
By dawn, the show is but a sleepy memory.
It's something that makes people grab their cameras and call their neighbors.
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Somehow, it's more than that when the night-blooming cereus erupts at the Port Royal Plantation home of Jim and Susan Richmond, as it did Tuesday night.
The special moment is like a drop-in visit from the sprightly Elizabeth Grant Little, an artist who graced Hilton Head Island for a shining moment.
Plants were among her insatiable interests. She even had a greenhouse when she was a neighbor of the Richmonds in Spanish Wells. Elizabeth always had a little party when her cereus blossomed, and 20 years ago she sent the Richmonds home with a cutting.
The cutting that has survived at least five moves produced 32 lacy white blooms this week, each six to eight inches wide.
The Richmonds invited John and Julie Hallquist and Otto and Frances Ferrene over to enjoy it, and sent them home with cuttings.
The Lowcountry is like a night-blooming cereus, with so many people arriving for a late bloom in their fleeting lives.
Elizabeth was here from 1975 until her death in 1998. She'd been an artist since childhood. Her 1972 portrait of first lady Patricia Nixon hung in the former president's office. She met a lot of world leaders after marrying journalist Ben J. Grant, managing editor, executive vice president and board member of U.S. News & World Report, and president of the National Press Club.
"He was a very conservative person, a perfect Southern gentleman," Elizabeth once told our features editor. "He was 30 when we met, and I was 21. He was the most polite man. In fact, he was so polite that when I proposed to him after we'd known each other for two weeks, he was too polite to refuse me."
She said it with a laugh, her blue eyes twinkling behind saucer-sized glasses frames.
She was a small woman who carried a huge bag, and one thing she could always fish out of it was her camera. She often painted from her photographs and was best known for capturing on canvas the joy of Gullah children at play. Fellow artist Louanne LaRoche said, "Elizabeth sees new things almost through the eyes of a child ... and that same kind of discovery is a theme in her work."
Jim Richmond recalls that at art shows Elizabeth often wore something she created from the garden -- a necklace of flowers, perhaps, or a flower in her hair.
So when the spindly cactus bedazzled the neighborhood Tuesday night, Richmond called it "an ode to Elizabeth."