Monday, August 15, 2011

Queen of the Night getting ready to flower

In March, I found four cactus segments that had been thrown in the yard waste by a neighbor a few blocks away. Never one to walk by a plant that looks like it could be rescued, I schlepped them home (read post) and later put them in pots with free-draining soil mix (read post).

Three were kept in the backyard in a spot where they get only morning sun. The fourth was moved to the front of the house where it gets full sun from early afternoon to evening. I didn’t water the segments at all for couple of months. After that, I began to water very sparingly, once a week or so. While I didn’t see any signs of new growth, the segments didn’t rot either, so I figured I was on the right track.1

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July 30

Since there were no external signs of progress to get me excited, I mostly ignored them. However, at the end of June I noticed something completely surprising on the tallest segment: flower buds! Never in a million years would I have expected of any of them to bloom this year; I wasn’t even 100% sure that they had rooted properly.

Now that I had something to focus on, I began to keep a close eye on the buds. As you can see in the next two photos, the growth has been quite rapid.

                                                                                                                                            
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Left: July 30                                                                Right: August 5

In the week between August 5 and 11, when the next set of photos was taken, the flower stalks (if that’s would you call them on a cactus) doubled in length. Today, on August 14, they are 7 in. long. The bulging part at the tip that will become the flower is oddly beautiful. It reminds me of an elongated purple artichoke in miniature.

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August 11
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August 11
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August 11
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August 11
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August 11
                                                                                                                                                        
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August 11

I have no idea when the flowers will open up, but I will be ready with my camera!


Some background:

The cactus is a Queen of the Night (Cereus hildmannianus subsp. hildmannianus), sometimes also called Peruvian apple cactus because of the shape of the fruit, or hedge cactus because in its native habitat (Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil) it forms thick hedges. Its flowers are white, about 6 in. across (that’s huge!), and they are as ephemeral as they are beautiful. They open at sunset and begin to wilt by the next morning.

If the flowers are successfully pollinated during this extremely short time window (the main pollinators being moths and bees, although some sources mention bats), the cactus will produce edible fruit. Check out this short blog post.


1Out of curiosity, I just measured the tallest segment, and it has actually grown about 7 in. since I potted it!

4 comments:

  1. Nice one Gerhard, quite a bonus to get one of them to flower when you have just recently rescued them. I can imagine you're all ready indeed with your camera, knowing how short the duration of the flowering is :)

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  2. Very cool! I wouldn't say that June 30 - Aug 5 is rapid growth at all -- although these are cactus so maybe that's super-fast.

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  3. Alan, I should proofread my posts better. I meant to say "July 30 - Aug 5", i.e. less than a week. I corrected it above.

    The blossoms are getting very full. They should open very soon. I've got to walk by the house where these segments came from to see what the mother plant is doing...

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  4. One flower opened up last night and has just closed. Photos to follow later today (Tuesday, 8/16/11).

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