A Cereus Matter


For several nights, I kept my phone close by, waiting for a tonight’s-the-night text message from Neil, a neighbor who lives a few streets away. He was expecting, you see, and he hoped — as Joe and I hoped — that we could be there for the big moment when his night-blooming Cereus flowered.

I’m the first to admit that there’s an awful lot about gardening that I know nothing of — and a night-blooming Cereus is on that list. I had never even heard of this member of the cactus family until Neil told me that his plant, which was located in his backyard, had a bloom — something that hardly ever happened, so when it does, it’s a big deal.


Also, as the name implies, Cereus only blooms at night — a fragrant opening that is gradual, stretching out over the darkest hours of night, and final. With the first rays of morning sun, the flower will wither and die.

This Cereus stuff is serious stuff.


When the text did come, Joe and I were a bit bleary-eyed. It was late and dark and still quite steamy. Nevertheless, Cereus had bloomed. We fumbled back into our clothes because we were to sit in a garden while the world slept.

Neil guided us with a flashlight into his backyard — around the pool and over the bridge that crosses his koi pond. The deep baritone of a frog was the only vibration stirring the the thick Florida air.

One thing about Neil’s yard is that it’s quite large, and for him, it’s been a never-ending project of removing overgrown shrubs and trees. In the daylight hours, it still looked lush work in progress.  At night, the garden disappeared just beyond the glow of torches and citronella candles.


It was in one of these softly lit areas that Neil placed three chairs, all facing the Queen of the Night, which also happened to be the name of this particular cultivar.

Our voices were soft and low — partially to not wake the neighbors, but also, perhaps, to not frighten a solitary flower that really had so little time to stretch its petals. In my own gardening experiences, I’ve had plants that bloomed at night — moonflower and four o-clocks, for example. Those flowers, though, would curl up by morning, and then reopen once again with the setting sun.

Cereus didn’t have that luxury.


As I played with illuminating the flower and taking photos, I was a bit in awe of this flower. I’ll also admit that I was a bit sad. In the amount of time that most of us consider a full night’s sleep, this blossom lived and died — and that seemed Cereusly unfair.

And that thought led to whole philosophical discussion — in my own head — about life and death and time and . . .

That’s when I noticed Cereus looking back at these three grown men bathed in soft light and lost in some midsummer night’s dream. Cereus seemed to say, “What fools these mortals be.”


Cereus was right — not the part about being fools, but that it was time to call it a night, to move on. Neil put out the torches, Joe and I returned home, and the night pollinators were able to get to work, away from our watchful eyes.

In the morning, Neil texted me with a Cereus update. The flower, as quickly as it had opened, was gone with the rising sun — much like a dream upon waking. The difference, is that I have photos of this particular dream — and Neil’s promise to give me my very own cutting.

28 thoughts on “A Cereus Matter

    • Hi Beatriz. In all honesty, it was difficult to pass up the opportunity. As I was reading about this plant online, I found a YouTube video of a group of people spending time in a desert botanical garden for these beauties to bloom. A great experience!

  1. A co-worker gave me a leaf and told me it was the “Dennis the Menace” plant. I did a bit more research and believe I have a cereus. The planted leaf has grown tall in a pot, and now has many leaves. It is in a sunny window, because I don’t know if it would survive being planted outdoors in our zone. Any advice you or your friend could pass on would be most appreciated. The bloom on your friend’s specimen is spectacular! I wish the photos could also convey the fragrance, which I understand is exquisite! I would definitely sit outside to watch that rare occurrence! 🙂

    • Hi Aunt Pat — I’m not sure what plant you have. When not in bloom, Cereus isn’t much to look at –a long, slender, woody-looking cactus that seems to need other objects for support. When I looked up the Dennis the Menace plant, it seems to be a corpse flower, which is also a rare bloomer. As the name implies, the corpse flower doesn’t smell so nice. Good luck with whatever you have.

  2. That’s is Cereusly cool! And I don’t know how one could witness such an event and not wax philosophical about time spent on this earth taken for granted (or savored.)

    • Hi PD. I agree — it was difficult to not fall into the philosophical trap, but it seemed quite unfair that such a beautiful flower should bloom at night — away from most people’s eyes — and for such a short time. Fascinating but sad — and I’m so glad I had the chance to see it.

  3. So beautiful! What a nice imagination to participate in such a rare natural phenomenon! Glad that you three had this occasion!

    Best wishes and thanks for these very particular photos! They are stunning!

    • Hi Michele. So glad you liked the photos. I was a bit nervous when taking them because it was so dark. We experimented with flashlight, candlelight, and an iPhone. The iPhone seemed to give me the best results. Hope all is well with you!

  4. i’m so glad you have now had your introduction, Kevin! I have a “night blooming cactus” that is from the Cereus family, and it just started blooming again about two nights ago. I was out there taking photos as well! The fragrance is wonderful, isn’t it? Our blooms about once a quarter and drought and all, in never disappoints. I hope you get your cutting soon and can begin to cultivate! I think my cactus is probably about 15 years old now and started as just a little thing! Your photos are wonderful…my evening photos aren’t too great. Sometimes early in the morning I can do much better, and somewhere in my blog archive I have some photos of it with bees that I’ve only seen on that particular flower. If I can find the link to that one post I’ll share it with you. 🙂

    • Hi Debra. It’s odd that this desert plant was doing well in an area that isn’t much of a desert. Taking photos was a bit tricky. I’m hesitant to play with all of the gizmos in my camera, but I do have an option for night photos and low-light photos. Using those settings, in combination with different light sources (flashlights, candles) seemed to work — but the flashlight on my iPhone worked the best. Hope all is well with you!

    • Hi Indie. I have to say, it was pretty cool. It’s been quite some time since I was awake that late and outside. A great feeling to feel like you’re the only one around — even better when you’re seeing something amazing. 🙂

    • Hello Jean. I’m glad I had the chance to share it — and if you do travel out west, perhaps you can time it with a late night blooming walk through a desert botanical garden. You’d enjoy it!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s