All About Night-Blooming Cereus

By J.W. Carpenter , last updated August 6, 2011

The Night-Blooming Cereus (Cereus greggii or Peniocereus greggii), also known as the Arizona Queen of the Night, is famed for its large, silky white blossoms, which emerge late on midsummer nights. The Night-Blooming Cereus is a member of the cactus family, and thrives in hot sunny environments. It is suited to both rock gardens and patio containers. This exquisite specimen is rated to USDA Hardiness Zones 9 and 10 for outdoor growth. In cooler climates that experience winter frost, the Night-Blooming Cereus is typically grown in a container and brought indoors to overwinter.

Characteristics

The Night-Blooming Cereus is quite unremarkable much of the year. With a large underground tuber and slender, inconspicuous stems reaching six to eight feet in height at maturity, the plant might go completely unnoticed but for its late night beauty. The Night-Blooming Cereus’s lightly spined stems have an angular, sprawling growth habit and only reach their full length when they have other plants nearby to support them. When growing among other plants, the stems are often confused for old, dead twigs.

In mid-summer, typically June or July, mature Night-Blooming Cereus plants produce a number of short flower stalks. The stalks produce fragrant four- to six-inch flowers with slender, silky white petals and yellow centers. The blooms begin to open around sunset and wither away by sunrise. Each spectacular flower lasts only a single night. Flowering typically begins around the fourth or fifth year of growth, with only several blooms at the most. In subsequent years, the number of flower stalks increase.

In the Wild

The Night-Blooming Cereus is native to New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas. According to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, it is a legally protected species throughout its native range and should not be disturbed when found in the wild. Unfortunately, the wild population has been decimated in recent times due to general development in its habitat and the removal of plants by both commercial dealers and private collectors.

Commercial Availability

This plant is typically available for purchase from specialty cactus shops throughout the plant’s native growing range and beyond. Reputable dealers do not sell Night-Blooming Cereus plants that have been removed from the wild. Rather, commercially available plants are usually propagated from stem cuttings. Short stem cutting should be left in the shade to heal. Once the cut surface has calloused over, the stem cutting can be planted in a well-drained growing medium. This plant can also be grown from seed, though it will not begin flowering until it is four or five years old.

Plant Care

Night-Blooming Cereus blooms best in full sun environments. In fact, too much shade is a common reason for bloom failure. That said, young plants do require some shade during the high heat of the summer. In natural environments, Night-Blooming Cereus plants typically emerge beneath shrubby “nurse” plants, which provide shade and frost protection to young Cereus plants.

This plant requires a very well-drained soil medium. Periodic watering is typically sufficient; the plant is exceptionally tolerant to drought conditions. However, when the Night-Blooming Cereus begins to produce flower buds it will take somewhat more water. Reduce water in the winter to induce dormancy.

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