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.