Whether you call it night blooming cereus, Epiphyllum oxpetalum or Queen of the Night, this unusual flower is a knockout while it lasts. Native to Arizona and the Sonara desert, night blooming cereus is a member of the orchid cactus family. Resembling a scraggly bush for most of the year, it buds and then blossoms into pure white magnificence between May and late July.
Night blooming cereus opens its ethereal, star like blossoms after dark, usually between 8 and 9pm. The buds open slowly release an intoxicating fragrance that has been described as heavenly (think milk and honey). The breathtaking flower lasts only until the first light of dawn. The faded blooms will then wither and drop, and it will take a year (or longer) before the plant flowers again.
Flowering will not begin until a plant is four or five years old. It starts out with just a couple of flowers and increases blooms as it grows older. One of the most interesting things about this plant is that, when there are multiple plants, the flowers will bloom en masse. A plant that is ready will actually wait for others to catch up.
Researchers believe there may be some type of chemical communication amongst plants, but they don’t know more than that. The reason for the mass blooming is not as much as a mystery. With no blooming companions, the plants would lose their chance at reproduction. Night blooming cereus is pollinated by sphinx moths and nectar-feeding bats, which are only active at night. The bright white color of the flowers glow in the moonlight and the fragrance is strong enough to attract its followers from far away.
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You Are Cordially Invited…
…to a night blooming party, and the guest of honor is night blooming cereus. Please be sure to bring a camera. Night blooming parties became a tradition in the south and continues to this day. The plant openings can be predicted by the swelling of the buds, and friends gather and watch with amazement as the spectacular flower emerges. Beloved author Eudora Welty, a lifelong gardener, and her fun-loving literary friends formed the “Night-Blooming Cereus Club” in 1934. Their motto was “Don’t take it too cereus. Life’s too mysterious.”
Night blooming cereus is popular in rock gardens and can be grown from seeds or stem cuttings. They need bright sunshine and warm temperatures and are generally grown as houseplants in cooler regions. They are said to bloom best when slightly potbound. With light shade, the plants can handle temperature over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 C.), so you can bring them outdoors in the summer.
Cereusly Gift Worthy
When the limbs get unruly, they can be cut and planted to create more plants (though in the cactus family, they have no thorns). An inspired anytime gift for yourself or your favorite gardener. If you can’t get your hands on a cutting from a friend, you can click on Amazon.com where you can buy plants, seeds, and cuttings.
Because the flower is so extraordinarily beautiful, the night blooming cereus image is often used on tattoos. A wide variety of gift items are available ranging from prints and posters to stationery, pillows, greeting cards and phone covers. Night blooming cereus’s intoxicating scent has also been captured in a product line called “Once in a Bloom Fragrances.” available at https://www.desertusa.com.