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Once a year in June, the night-blooming Cereus, which usually looks like a half dead vine, turns into a stunning display of fragrant white blossoms! The show begins just after dusk and is usually over by midnight. By morning, the blooms are all but gone.
There are several night-blooming Cereus in Mead Garden. The easiest one to find is growing up the pine tree just inside the front gate.
A midsummers night bloom could be a better common name for the night blooming cereus. Few people would ever buy this plant upon first inspection, because 'gangly' and 'downright homely,' come to mind, but let this plant bloom and everyone just has to have one. It is hard to imagine that such a common looking plant could have such a stunning blossom. Odder yet, it only opens in the late evening, but it is worth losing a little sleep over.
Two plants are given the common name night blooming cereus. They include Selenicereus and the Hylocereus genus. These plants are very similar in their growth habit and in their flowering. They are both members of the cactus family and are vigorous vining plants. The fast growth, coupled with the gangly stems, make them somewhat awkward in the interior landscape, but when they bloom -- it will take your breath away.
Hylocereus undatus is probably the most common plant we see. This plant originated in the tropics. It has slender, 3-ribbed light green to yellow green stems, that either climb or hang. They have short, sparse spines. The flowers open as funnel shaped blooms up to a foot or more in width. They only open at night, and the flowers form all along the stems.
This plant can be grown as a houseplant, but prefers a trip outdoors for the summer months. Place the container under a shade tree where it gets filtered light, but not direct sunlight in the afternoon. With a flower so showy, you may think it is difficult to grow, but the opposite is true. It basically takes care of itself. The only thing that would be a problem would be waterlogged soils. It prefers a well-drained soil with organic matter added -- a half-and-half mixture of sand and commercial potting soil should do. The sandy mix is preferred, since this is a cactus. Feed it monthly during spring and summer with any water soluble.
The plant usually begins to set flower buds in spring. You will notice a bud appearing along the edge of a leaf. You need to watch it daily to gauge when it will bloom. The buds increase dramatically in size. The day of blooming, the bud will begin to open about 9 or 10 pm, and be wide open by midnight. When they're ready to open, they do so in dramatic fashion, literally before your eyes -- you can see the movement. We once did time lapse photography for a show, and it was amazing to all of us present. The size and shape of the blooms is outstanding enough on its own, but the fragrance can scent an entire room.
If you have a night blooming cereus, consider hosting a late night party for when it is in bloom -- you can amaze and astound your friends. Just don't tell them how easy it is to grow.