Frustrations of a Tropical Night-Blooming Cereus Grower

The tropical night-blooming cereus blooms at night. Not really surprising, that factoid. But it only blooms for one night.  And then, one night a year.  A neighbor of mine in Columbus, OH called me unapologetically at 1 a.m. one weeknight 15 years ago, begging me to come see her first-ever bloom. She needed someone to help her appreciate the moment, to witness the miracle. After admiring the rare, unusual flower, and learning about the plant, I knew I had to someday grow my own night-blooming cereus. (But not for an excuse to wake people on a work night.)

cereusThis odd, gangly and unruly plant will take over whatever space it’s allotted.  It sends out long, hairy shoots that will keep extending until they reach a wall or ceiling, then they’ll bend and continue growing to infinity. The long, flat, irregular leaves look like a Picasso painting melting. Unexpectedly, right out of the side of a leaf will sprout a hot pink stem and a bud.  Then, a spidery, multi-layered white flower singing tunes from “Little Shop of Horrors” opens to reveal a delicate perfume…evocative of jasmine and evenings spent chugging Mai Tais on Waikiki Beach.

The night-blooming cereus has a cult following. Maybe it’s because of its grotesque greenery only a mother could love. Maybe it’s a purist’s way of proving superhuman patience. Or, maybe it’s just a quirky fun conversation piece.  The first-time viewer always asks, “Why?”

I have been growing a night-blooming cereus indoors from a small start my neighbor Karen (a Master Gardener) gave me about 3 years ago. I’ve tended it, groomed it, and cleared space for its ever-increasing size. I’ve waited for what seemed like 3 1/2 years to see my first bloom, never knowing if or when it would happen.

There is something magical about nurturing this horrible-looking monstrosity to have a large, fragrant flower appear out of the edge of a leaf, only one night each year.

Well, mine bloomed for the first time last night. I missed it. Here’s the wilted, shriveled and jaundiced remains of a flower I found when I woke up:


There is no point or moral to this story. I was mocked by my own houseplant, and I just needed to vent. Thanks.

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1 Comment

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    May 1, 2017 at 11:26 am

    Hoping you can advise me about a night-blooming cereus. Mine has to come inside for the winter, so I can’t allow it to grow and attach to anything. The long, skinny, hairy rootlets–can they be cut off? Will it still produce flowers?

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