by Barbara Porsch, Master Gardener
The night blooming cereus is certainly not the most beautiful foliage plant. It is quite often rangy, even unsightly. Then for a one night stand it blooms and compensates for all of its disadvantages. The egg-shaped bud covered with tan sepals grows out of a vein on the leaf, slowly unfurls during the day and opens about 10 o’clock at night, regrettably fading shortly after the sunlight strikes it the next morning.
There are several flowering cacti called night blooming cereus that all have breath taking white flowers centered by innumerable delicate stamen. They may measure up to 12 inches in diameter and are exquisitely fragrant in the cool night air.
Even more unique are some of the traditions connected with this flower. The Chinese believe that the lovely flower, Tan-hua, brings luck and happiness to their country. Another tradition is that the golden stamen are angels pulling the hidden chariot of the Christ Child.
Some call this the flower of the Nativity, pointing out deep in the cave of the bloom, two tiny stamen bending over the center. These represent Mary and Joseph and the Christ Child. High above these are pistil and stamen representing the angel chorus, and three large stamen, the three Wise men. At the very opening, also a part of the center, is a star which is the Star of the East, guiding men to the stable.
I got my start from a gentleman in Austin who had dozens of mature plants in his yard. He would put his friends on alert and then notify when they were going to open. We would all go enjoy the beauty and fragrance. One of my plants is a cutting from him that I brought with me when we moved here. It does need protection in the winter, but can handle a partial shady situation in the yard in the summer.