Guest Author - Connie Krochmal
The night-blooming cereus is a cactus native to Mexico. In addition, it also grows in some of the Caribbean islands in both dry and moist places, such as the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Dominican Republic.
Well suited for indoor or outdoor gardens, the plants are frequently used in the landscape in the Hawaiian Islands. They merit consideration for wider use elsewhere in sub-tropical and tropical places.
Before blooming, there is nothing very eye-catching about this ordinary looking cactus. The large and attractive flowers open after sunset, rapidly enough that the activity can be observed. Then, the blossom wilts during the night. All of the excitement is over by around three or four o’clock in the morning. Add to this a very sweet and spicy fragrance which can fill a room. This makes the plant well worth growing.
Some of the slower-growing kinds can be used in hanging baskets, and repotted when necessary into larger containers.
These plants are easily propagated by seed and cuttings. Typically in warm
regions, the plants will be for sale in local stores. The cuttings should be allowed to dry for about 24 hours before planting. This minimizes the risk of rot and diseases on the plant tissue. A porous soil rich in sand is preferred whether you’re using seeds or cuttings. Perlite or vermiculite can also be added to the potting mix to promote good drainage.
The pot should be placed in a shady location until the cuttings develop roots or the new seedlings become well established.
When the cotyledon or seed leaf is absorbed by the young plant, it is time to transplant the seedling into a larger pot.
From time to time, night-blooming cereus that is growing in pots will need to be repotted. Check the pot to see if it is well filled with roots. If so, this is a sign to repot into a pot that is one size larger.
The botanical names of the plants do vary, depending on the source one uses. Most do include the word cereus. This comes from the Latin. It means wax in reference to the covering on the stems of the plants.
The height to which the plants will eventually grow is variable. This ranges from four or five feet to as much as ten or even 12 feet, depending on the kind and growing conditions. The flowers may vary a great deal in color from whites and pastels to very vivid reds.
The plants prefer lots of sunlight. However, they can be grown in partial shade as well. Typically, I grow them indoors in a western exposure. They have a tendency to lean towards the light source when they’re grown as house plants. Therefore, it is a good idea to rotate the pot from time to time to help them grow evenly.
During the winter months, the top inch of the potting soil should be allowed to dry out between waterings. During summer and periods of rapid growth, watering should be increased. Fertilizer will need to be added about once a month when the plant isn’t dormant.
Cereus, the most widely available kind, has a columnar stem. These have a slow growth rate. It will likely grow to three feet within five or six years.
The spines on the plants vary in color and size as does the ribbing and the color of the stems along which the flowers appear. An average plant will bloom in about five years, producing blossoms ranging from two inches to one foot across.
In Hawaii, these night bloomers are called Queen of the Night. They arrived there in 1830 on a ship en route from Mexico/Boston/China. Most of the other plants died en route. But these hardy cacti survived and were planted on those islands by first officer Charles Brewer. They were likely introduced to Puerto Rico and other parts of the Caribbean by Spanish padres.