Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
July, 2004
Regional Report

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A cereus flower prepares to open as the sun sets.

Night-blooming Cereus

Spending time in the summer garden during early morning or early evening hours is less daunting than braving the blazing noon-day sun. One of my favorite plants for off-hours enjoyment is a columnar cereus cactus that stands near my front door. According to Edward F. Anderson's The Cactus Family, there are 34 species of cereus. Mine wasn't labeled with its species name when I bought it years ago, and I've never gotten around to keying it out. No matter, I don't need to know its name to feel rewarded by its large, white, funnel-shaped flowers that open after dark.

Nighttime Splendor
If you work the night shift and return home at dawn, cereus flowers will greet you in many petaled glory. Such magnificence doesn't endure. Blooms last just one night, closing up and wilting with the arrival of daylight hours and temperatures. They are followed by large, oval, reddish-orange fruits about 2 inches long. Filled with black seeds, they attract cactus wrens who seem to have no trouble balancing on the upright cactus stems to nab the seeds.

My cereus is lightly scented (the nose has to be pretty close to the flower) but another night bloomer is highly fragrant. Arizona queen of the night (Peniocereus greggii) has a redolence that drifts through the night air. Unlike the stately upright arms of cereus, Arizona queen of the night has unremarkable stems, most often described as dead sticks. It usually trails prostrate along the ground or forms a low-growing shrublike shape. It makes up for its almost year-long dull appearance with magnificent blooms in early summer that seem to shimmer in the night.

If you'd like to add a night bloomer to your landscape, look for Hildmann's cereus (C. hildmannianus) in your local nursery. It is a fast and reliable grower up to 15 feet tall, takes full sun, and is frost tolerant to 24 degrees F. It can go four weeks between watering during summer and last six to eight weeks between watering during cool months.

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