Watch My Food Grow ~ A South Florida Raised Vegetable Garden

Florida Backyard Raised Vegetable Garden

Night Blooming Cereus

May 10th, 2013 by Lila Steinhoff

Gift from a Stranger

Many years ago, Ken came home from a bike ride with a hunk of cactus strapped to his bike.

mother plant - night blooming cereusMother Plant

Ken rides at night in the summer, because it is cooler. During one of his night rides, he noticed a huge cactus covered with 6-inch wide, fragrant, white flowers. Another time, he rode during the day, saw the Lake Worth, FL, woman who owned it and stopped to compliment her on the flowers he had seen. She grabbed a saw and cut off a piece of her cactus and gave it to him with instructions to stick it in the ground and it watch it grow.

It Grew!!

It did, indeed, grow. In less than two years, it was a single 10-foot tall cactus. It stayed that way until pieces of it snapped off in one of the hurricanes of 2004.  We took the pieces and stuck them in the ground in the farthest corner of the front yard.

10-foot tall night blooming cereus10-foot Tall Night Blooming  Cereus

In a couple of years, there were several 10-foot tall cactuses that began to flower and produce fruit.

Night Blooming Cereus

Night blooming cereus is a term used for many types of night blooming cactuses. The flowers of all varieties of night-blooming cactuses are white. The white color reflects the moonlight and attracts the pollinators. Some flowers have a fragrance. Most sources say the flowers last only one night and die when the sun rises.

That is not the case with cactuses in our yard. The flowers open each night by about 10 PM, close up before the sun rises and open again the next night.

Nocturnal Flowers

Two nights ago, I returned home around 10 PM to find that the buds I had seen earlier on the cactus had opened, and there were huge white flowers covering the branches.

blooms on night blooming cereusFlowers on Night-Blooming Cereus

bloom on night blooming cereusFlower on Night-Blooming Cereus

blooms on night blooming cereusFlowers on Night-Blooming Cereus

blooms on night blooming cereusFlowers on Night-Blooming Cereus

In the Daylight

The following morning, I checked the cactus for blooms. The blooms were gone, but the original buds were still there. The flowers had closed up overnight.

closed flowers on night-blooming cereusBuds on Night-Blooming Cereus

A difference was noticed in the buds of flowers that had closed overnight and those that had not yet bloomed.

closed flowers on night blooming cereusBuds on Night-Blooming Cereus

White petals could be seen inside the partially opened buds of the ones that opened the night before. The ones that were yet to bloom were tightly closed.

Second Night

Last night, the cactus was full of white flowers, again. I took more pictures, and upon comparison, the pictures show flowers in the same place as the previous night, as well as, new buds that had opened.

blooms on night blooming cereusFlowers on Night-Blooming Cereus

flower in fenceFlower on Night-Blooming Cereus

night blooming cereus flowersFlowers on Night-Blooming Cereus

Add to that, there were no dead flowers on the ground anywhere. No doubt, that the same flowers are opening and closing. Pictures are the proof.

A Bit of Cactus Trivia

Because the flowers are only open at night, sphinx moths* and nectar-feeding bats rather than bees are the pollinators.

(* a side note:  It is ironic that sphinx moths are necessary for pollination. Sphinx moths are the adult form of hornworm caterpillars…  like the ones found on my tomatoes last season.)

After Pollination

Once the flower is pollinated, it wilts and dies and the green fruit bud sets.

fruit bud Wilted Flower with Fruit Bud

There are a lot of pictures with this post. I just couldn’t help myself. Flowers that bloom only at night are fascinating, and they are beautiful!

Click on any picture to make it larger. Use the arrows on the left and right to move through the pictures in the post.

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11 responses so far ↓

  • Lila, I used to have this cactus at my old home in Lake Worth. So beautiful when in bloom. I was fortunate to see a bat feeding from the blooms one night. PS I love your garden site.

  • Spectacular pictures Lila!! : )) Wish I had a yard to plant a night blooming cactus…

  • Awsome, i have one too, its first bloom was tonight and I was searching online to find out if I could cut the flower and put in water cause i heard that it dies the following morning. However thats all changed, I cant wait till the morning to see if it just closed up…lol Im so gitty. Freaking awsome plant!!!

  • Thank you Lila for the pictures and inspiring story. I live in Houston Texas and in my mom’s neighborhood I have seen this cactus. My daughter was so intrigued that she made me get up at 04:00am to see the blooms. I am lucky to still occasionally be able to take the time to smell the “roses”. If this isn’t a dessert rose,I don’t now what is.

  • wanting to know how to get a starter off of my friends plant. its 10 ft tall single plant.

  • I was lucky enough to “steal” a 7 foot tall one of these cactus at a yard sale this spring for $10. I have had no luck figuring out what type,of cactus it was until it bloomed the last couple of nights. I have been giddy as a school girl waiting for it to bloom ! (And I’m a 50 year old man!) thanks so much for all the pictures! Most pictures I have found are only of the flower itself so it was nice to see the actual spine and growth of the plant to help identify. I am in Missouri and lucky to have 12 foot ceilings so I can winter it. Thanks again.

  • Hi Lila, I live in Western Australia and came across your site when I was looking for info on my cactus. I was under the impression that it’s a Moonplant, so now I’ve learned a bit more about the Night blooming Cereus, not to mention that I now know it’s real name! I was given two 4 or 5 foot long branches a few years ago and I passed one onto my son. Mine took to it’s pot well and on the second summer it flowered over a period of about 5 nights. The flowers only lasted one night then wilted and fell off the next day. The one my son took went mad that first summer, producing so many flowers that we lost count and it was also about 3 times taller than mine. (Still is truth be told!) He then gave me a cutting off his plant which has thrived and flowered for the last three summers, and the original one I potted is still flowering although it’s a lot paler in colour than it’s smaller companion. Such fascinating and beautiful plants aren’t they, I get so excited when they produce buds, which my oldest one is in the process of doing at the moment. Thanks for your interesting site, I’ll visit again.

  • I got a free package of cactus seeds 5 years ago and planted them in a pot. 4 plants got 2 inches tall and one plant is now 7 feet tall.
    It bloomed for the first time this year, 3 flowers. It must spend its winters inside since I live in Missouri.

  • Love the pictures! We have three of them!! Tons of flowers and now we are getting a whole lot of the fruit as well. Just put some in the fridge and will try to eat when cold! Hope it’s good – we have quite a crop! First summer/fall in our new home in Scottsdale, AZ and very exciting to see beautiful huge fragrant flowers at 11pm at night!! Any suggestions on eating or preparing the fruit???