“Cereus-ly” Worth the Wait
By Sharon Hughes
After four years, this amazing plant my sister gave me finally bloomed. Once. Well, the first flower, that is. Now there’s a second bud beginning to blossom. It too, will give its all in one glorious night, until dawn.
The night blooming cereus is worth the wait.
Night-blooming cereus is the common name for this unusual flowering cactus. If you wish to be technical, the name is epiphyllum oxypetalum or hylocereus undatus. The large, tropical looking flower blooms at night and is wilted by the morning.
The exquisite blossom filled my home with an incredible fragrance.
Sometimes called Moon Flower or Queen of the Night, my sister got up in the night, so as not to miss hers blooming. She took pictures to show me, as I’m now doing for you. I was enthralled with this plant and frequently asked her if it had bloomed again. She continued to periodically send me pictures when she was blessed with blooms.
Cereus Cactus Propagation
On a visit with her about 4 years ago, she gave me a leaf from the “mother plant”. I wrapped it in a damp paper towel, placed it in a plastic bag and padded it between clothing in my suitcase. Thankfully, it made the flight home to Colorado without damage.
I “stuck” the end of the fleshy leaf into some potting soil, placed the pot near a window, and watered it once a week. She had told me it was easy to grow and to have patience waiting for it to produce a flower. One day it began to grow a stem. I continued to water it weekly and wait. Slowly, the stem grew taller and a leaf sprouted. Later, a stalk with soft “needles” began to grow very long and tall. As it grew longer it began to sprout a leaf here and there. I checked it often hoping for sight of a bud. However, not much else happened for a long time.
We moved to a town home which had skylights. I placed the plant on a ledge under a skylight and continued to water it. One day, I noticed another branch beginning to grow. I tried not to pay much attention to the plant other than watering it. It was hard to keep patient waiting for a bloom. The branch, which resembled a thick vine with soft spikes, grew quite long. In fact, the branch was so long, it required a support. It reached toward the skylight and kept growing. As it was under a Caribou head mount, it began to bend to grow around the neck and reach toward the light. A couple leaves finally emerged. Yet, there was still no sign of a flower. At this point, the plant was two years old and I was beginning to wonder if it would ever flower.
A year later we moved to Albuquerque, NM. The moon flower, along with all of my other household plants, made their own, special trip in a U-Haul van. This first trip was strictly to bring my plants to the new house. The plants made the trip with no issues. However, my precious moon flower’s long branch had broken. I stuck it in the soil and didn’t worry.
A week later, we moved the entire household and took up residence in our new home. I placed my plants around the house, giving the moon flower its place in the breakfast nook on a bench in the center of a north-facing bay window. The plant was thriving well and producing more long branches and leaves, but still no flower. After approximately 3-1/2 years of growing and waiting, I decided that it didn’t matter if it ever flowered. I would be satisfied with the fact that it was a very interesting plant.
About six months ago I decided to repot a few of my plants. The moon flower was one of the chosen plants to receive a larger pot. Apparently, this made it quite happy as it continued to grow more of the interesting branches. The branches were beginning to resemble thick vines as they are 5-6 feet in length. These long branches required taller dowels to give them support. The leaves, which are large, flat, and thick/fleshy, sprout at varying places on the branches.
The Queen of the Night Flower
Then it happened. Two days ago I noticed a huge flower bud. I chided myself for not paying better attention to the plant as the beginning flower bud had likely begun a couple days before. I was surprised to discover how the flower grew.
The flower didn’t grow from a branch, but from the edge of a leaf.
Of course, I sent my sister a picture of what I had just found! She told me the flower would likely open completely by 10:00 that night. I kept vigil on my bud throughout the day. About 6:00 in the evening it began the process of opening. As the bloom opened, it began to fill the lower level of our house with its sweet fragrance.
The bud began to open at 6pm…
and was in full bloom by 10:00pm.
It was amazing to witness the blooming process. Of course, I took pictures at various times, sending them to my sister, my daughter, and my son. By 10:00 it had already begun to weaken and wilt just a bit. When I walked down the stairs this morning, I noticed there was still a faint scent of fragrance in the air. I reluctantly went to inspect the bloom and found it closed and hanging its head, its victory spent after a night showing its glory.
My sister informed me that her “mother plant” had seven blooms, and has had as many as ten. She still takes pictures of the buds and blooms. It was very special to have the opportunity to share my plant’s first bloom with my sister and the “mother plant”.
It was well worth the wait to experience this amazing wonder of nature first hand.
Research of the night-blooming cereus flower revealed that it is not uncommon for plants in the same geographical zone to bloom on the same night. Also, I was excited to learn that healthy plants can bloom three separate times throughout the warmest months. I am looking forward to my plant’s future blossoms.
Healthy night blooming cereus can bloom three separate times throughout the warmest months.
Cereus Cactus Care
As stated, these night blooming cactus plants are easy to grow. They need partial sunlight and somewhat sandy soil, although I planted mine into regular potting soil. They need weekly watering, but the roots can rot quickly if over-watered. In summary,
The blooming cactus plants are easy to grow.
While my plant is indoors, my sister’s has always been outside. Since she lives in League City, Texas (between Houston and Galveston), her plants don’t have to deal with the cold winters my plants would endure. The night-blooming cereus would not survive in the freezing temperatures that occur at night during the winters of New Mexico.
The plant can grow to be 12 feet and, therefore, require a good amount of space. I am assuming my plant will eventually wind up with its own little corner. It is currently sitting on a bench and is approximately 2 feet from the floor. The ceiling is 9 ft. One branch touches the ceiling. Two other branches have turned from the ceiling and have begun hanging down and curling towards the window.
In comparing pictures found in Wikipedia, this particular species appears to be common to India. Some cultures dry the flowers and use them in soups. The hylocereus species actually produces brightly colored, pleasant tasting fruits, popular in Australia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan and Hawaii.
Thanks to contributing writer, Sharon Hughes:
A long time plant lover and relatively new gardener, Sharon Hughes, is a retired kindergarten teacher now living in Albuquerque, New Mexico with her husband and her many houseplants, some of which are over 39 years old! Artistically creative, Sharon is a published author of children’s books and an artist of beautiful handmade and hand painted garden flags.
You can visit Sharon’s garden flag Facebook page: Garden Patio Flags
For more on this wonderful night blooming Cereus flower, you may enjoy this video.
For a deeper dive into more on the night blooming cereus cactus plant, you may enjoy this article on Nola.com.