Sunday, May 31, 2009

Queen of the Night

single blossom 5-30-2009 4-43-06 PM 1104x1067

Last night we went to “Bloom Night” at nearby Tohono Chul Park. This event is held every year to celebrate the once-yearly, one-night-only bloom of the Night-blooming Cereus, an otherwise unprepossessing cactus.

I will have more posts about our adventures at Tohono Chul. According to the Curator of Plants, plants have a “chemical intelligence” that allows them to communicate with each other. There are several hundred cereus in the park, and they need to bloom in unison so they can be cross-fertilized by the sphinx moth, their only pollinator. Not all the cereus bloom on the same night, but most do; others will bloom, also in unison, on one or two more nights during the monsoon.

They start blooming at sunset and continue into the night. After an hour or so they emit a heavy, almost cloying scent. When it’s not blooming, the cereus looks like a weed:

nonblooming cereus 5-30-2009 4-00-43 PM 2304x1728

Please check out the Tohono O’odham legend of the cereus, which the curator read to us. The very touching story, “The Legend of Old White-Haired Woman,”  is about two-thirds down the page:

gorgeous trio 5-30-2009 5-02-46 PM 1031x703

pink foursome 5-30-2009 4-53-01 PM 1296x779


  1. Curious, I wonder what my mother's plant that she thinks is a night-blooming cerus really is. It has pretty thick legs, and blooms quite a lot over the course of the season. At night only, but stunning. I'll look for some photos to send you. She cuts of legs of it to give to people, and it just grows from the stumps.

  2. None on the computer. Xhe always sends me prints.

  3. Loved that park though. I met some people there for breakfast when I was in Tucson.

  4. There's a good reason they don't all bloom on the same night -- an evolutionary survival strategy. Nature's safety valve, in case something goes horribly wrong on that one night. Same is true of cicadas -- they don't all come out in the same year, though almost all do. This message brought to you by Stephen Jay Gould, may he rest in peace.

  5. Wow! Very interesting stuff!
    Thanks KL.