Have you ever had a party to celebrate a plant blooming? If you have ever seen a night-blooming cereus in bloom, then you know why gardeners that have one of these plants will invite friends and neighbors over to enjoy them.
What is so special about this plant that would make people venture out late in the evening to witness its blooms? Well, the blooms are as big as a saucer and as deep as a chalice, have immaculate white petals, are as exquisite as a royal wedding gown, emit a heady, enigmatic fragrance like none other, and they last only one night. And the plant blooms only once or twice a year. Yes, when a night-blooming cereus blooms, it is indeed a special event.
There are a couple plants referred to as “night-blooming cereus.” The one I have and that most Georgians call by that name is a cactus with gangly, flattened stems that look like leaves. Its botanical name is Epiphyllum oxypetalum. Although a cactus, it is not native to deserts but to tropical forests.
The night-blooming cereus likes dappled shade in the summer and a sunny window in the winter. It likes a potting soil high in organic matter and well-draining. When you water the plant, do so thoroughly. Allow the top third of the soil mix to dry before watering again. The plant requires much less water in winter than in summer. It doesn’t like much fertilizer, but during summer it appreciates a monthly feeding of liquid fertilizer at half the recommended rate. Do not fertilize in winter.
Night-blooming cereus is easy to propagate. Just stick one of the stems or “leaves” into some soil and in a few weeks you’ll have a plant of your own. The cactus is extremely easy to grow and is long lived. I still have one handed down from my grandmother in 1975.
Another interesting characteristic of the night-blooming cereus is that the stamens and pistil of the flower depict the Christmas story. The cluster of stamens in the center is the manger, the clumps of stamens on each side of this are Mary and Joseph, the two stamens at the top are the open arms of an angel, and the star shaped pistil represents the star of Bethlehem. Granted, you have to have an imagination to see this, but when you are under the spell of the fragrance and beauty of such a flower, it’s not difficult to let your imagination run wild.
-- Arty Schronce
Arty Schronce lives and gardens in the historic Cabbagetown neighborhood of Atlanta. He encourages everyone to discover the pleasures of plants and gardening.