Serious for Cereus

By: Julie Barnes

There are a number of common names for this unassuming cactus plant such as "Queen of the Night," "Dutchman's-pipe Cactus," "Orchid Cactus," "Lady of the Night," or "Night Blooming Cereus," flowering only for one night in a year with a truly stunning sight and scent. This epiphyte is native to the tropical jungles of Central and South America growing among the trees deriving moisture and nutrients from the air, water or debris around it. Since Cereus is hardy only to zones 10- 11, it is grown here as a houseplant that can be moved outdoors in the summer. In actuality, the cereus cactus is unattractive with broad scalloped leaf-like stems looking like unkempt elongated leaves. Some have referred to the plant as the "Big Ugly" and it has also been compared to the character Audrey II from the movie "Little Shop of Horrors." This has to be the reason why this garden club member procured such an exceptional treasure from one of our famous plant auctions. Imagine my shock when I initially bid on this plant for $5 and went unchallenged. Cereus can reach up to 10 feet in length and must often be well staked to support its lanky growth. It requires minimal care. Because my unsightly plant has become so cumbersome, it is relegated to the basement then wrestled outside when temperatures warm up again. When a bud emerges, it develops from the side of the foliage instead of from a stem and usually takes about two weeks to fully open. On the big night, slender outer petals slowly unfurl around 8 to 9 PM to reveal broader pure white, inner petals. These surround a cluster of feathery yellow stamens as an amazing fragrance is released. As you watch you can actually see the bud jerk as it unfolds to become fully open by midnight. Some people have parties to celebrate this momentous occasion since the blossom lasts for only one night. Once the sun comes up the flower starts to wilt. A blooming plant can put out a flower or two at first until it becomes fully mature.

Near Orlando, FL there is a garden in Mead National Park. Every year they put out an impromptu party invitation: "Come celebrate this once a year event. Raise a glass to the night blooming Cereus. For 364 days a year, the night blooming Cereus is pretty ugly. Now the buds are giving signs that the party is ready to begin. When the Cereus decides it's time we'll let you know that the blossoms of white are a'bloom in the night! "A sight you simply must see for yourself." This gardener could not agree more!!!

"The Night-Blooming Cereus" (1972)

By: Robert Hayden

And, so for nights

We waited, hoping to see

the heavy bud break into flower.

We dropped trivial tasks and marveling

Beheld at last the achieved flower …

The bud packed tight with its miracle swayed

Stiffly on breaths of air, moved

As though impelled by stirrings within itself

It repelled as much as it fascinated me...