We received a lot of great emails from readers sharing their Night Blooming Cereus stories and photos...from Ohio, California, Texas, Georgia and Maine. Here is a sampling (click on the individual pictures to see a larger view) A copy of Ken's story, the original newsletter, follows:
From Alice Sassone and her friend Carol Ostheimer (I hope I got your name right) in Ohio:
July 3, 2004 I (Alice) was invited to a night blooming cereus party. The ladies in my Red Hat group were put on notice a few days ahead of time to be ready for a call at the last minute to party and to expect 7 blooms! The afternoon of the 3rd we received a call this would be the night. Everyone brought a plate of something to share while we sat around waiting for the blessed event. We did not have to wait as long as you did. At 7:47 the first picture was taken and the last one at 9:08. The fragrance just filled the whole house and it was wonderful.
That night everyone that wanted a cutting received one and the following June at our Red Hat picnic we awarded the person with the largest cereus a prize.
This plant lives in Ohio in an sunroom and as you can see lives up to its name "Audrey II" (after the movie The Little House of Horrors?) [photo at right]
I hope you enjoyed this story as much as I enjoyed yours.
Carol, Audrey's owner, adds:
Audrey has been our baby for over 30 yrs, starting as a 4 in. snip of a leaf from the plant of a little old lady in Crozet, VA. She hadn't produced any flowers until her 10th birthday. Since then the number has increased to last year's crop of 19! . This year, however, she was jealous of the herd of African violets I adopted, orphaned by a lady who moved to Florida. Audrey sulked, understandably, and only produced 3 blooms. Must separate those two, once her "father" returns Oct. 5 from hiking the Appalachian Trail (started March 15.) He's the only one authorized to take Audrey for a spin on the rolling platform that he constructed for her Christmas present 2 years ago..
From Lucia Terry:
My mother, M'Lou Terry, has grown this night blooming cereus [photo at left] for many
many years. It lives indoors in Maine. These photos are from about
five years ago. She had seven buds and it looked like five would open
in one night. We stayed up and took photos of her. We've wished that
she could live in a theater or a hotel lobby or other night spot where
more people could witness and celebrate her fertility. The scent
indoors is incredibly heady.
Thanks for sharing your story...hope you enjoy mine..
Thanks for sharing your story...hope you enjoy mine.
From Ed Schmitt in Dallas, Texas:
I live in East Dallas and for 15 years I have had one of these plants. It was an old plant when I got it.
At first I didnt know what it was. I refurred to it as "Tres Dumpster", I pulled it out of a dumpster three times before I put it in my car and drove away. Later I heard it refurred to as "The Duthmans Pipe", a referance to the shape of the flower before blooming.
For years it did nothing. But I started to notice the buds. It was 8 years before I caught a bloom. I was taking out the trash when I walked by and was almost knocked out by the sceint. WOW!!
It has been repotted a couple of times sence. I now have it on its own wheeled cart in a large terra cotta pot. I dont stake it. I let the leaves drape and drag. It lives in a shady back yard in the summer and the garage in winter. Its hot in Texas in the summer so it gets waterd and ferilized occasinally. Last summer I had over 200 blooms.This summer not as many, 40.
I have several cuttings and have given many away. Some have been sold. I have always said " Dont let it get to cold and dont put it in full sun."
Thank you for enjoying and writting about a rather odd plant.
P.S. I love this pant: my wife hates it.
From Rosie Jones in California:
I also have a Night Blooming Cereus that I have had for about 20 years or more. About a 6-8 inch piece was given to me and I stuck it in a pot filled with ordinary potting mix. Somewhere along the line, it was knocked out of the pot, but was hidden behind several other plants and I didn't notice it. When it finally came to my attention, it was growing up the side of our shingled house with no roots in soil at all. It produced roots all along its length and kept on growing until it reached the top of my lath house, turned the corner and made its way out on to the roof and is now almost 30 or more feet up on the roof and will soon hit the chimney. Talk about benign neglect....I have never fed it, never watered it or given it any attention at all except to point it out to the neighbors. It has had many flowers over the years and seems to like traveling on its own. I live in Newport Beach, California, USDA Zone 11 and a very short distance from the ocean. We never get a frost in the winter although sometiimes the temperature gets down to the high 30's for a short while in the night. Unfortunately, it has chosen the wrong side of the house on which to grow so is seldom seen by passers-by, but I find the flowers on the ground after they have bloomed. They look sort of like a dried up octopus with all the tentacles flowing out one end. if you see what I mean.
From Jim Harper in Georgia:
I read your article on night-blooming cereus and thought I would send along pix of mine. I found a piece of a leaf laying on the ground beside our deck when we moved into this house 19 years ago. I recognized it and put it in a pot to root. It thrived. I now have two big pots which I have to chop back each fall to get into my cool greenhouse for winter. I seldom have the heart to throw the prunings away, so I usually end up with a dozen new pots to give away the next spring. I find them incredibly easy to root once the cut ends dry out and callus over for a day or two. I usually throw some Osmocote around the mother plants every spring and often get them to bloom two or three times before cold weather sets in. This summer I had twelve blooms open on one of the plants one evening, but, alas, I failed to get a picture of that. The pix I have attached are from several years ago. They were taken on a cool fall morning before the flowers had a chance to close up.
From Mary Wigington in Dallas, Texas:
I have had one for about 34 years and it has bloomed faithfully over the years. I had 7 buds open this last week. I missed the first 4 on one night, but fortunately caught the 3 that bloomed the next night.
I grow mine in a pot on my patio and try to remember to feed it once a month. It lives in my greenhouse in the winter.
I got the start of my plant from my husband's grandmother who got it from her mother in the 1960's. I'm not sure where she got her start. I have given many starts of the plant to friends over the years but many of my friends don't like the "look" of the plant so don’t' stay with it to see the beautiful blooms
Thanks for the opportunity to talk to someone about this beautiful and exotic plant.
Ken's Story: A copy of the original newsletter
Over twenty years ago, when I lived and gardened in Manhattan, I kept a night blooming cereus, Epiphyllum oxypetalum, alive; just barely. If you are familiar with this plant, you know that it is a type of orchid or jungle cactus and not especially attractive, sporting a leggy cluster of long, flat leaves. It is epiphytic (which means it grows in trees, but it is not parasitic) and hails from The West Indies and tropical Mexico.
I tried growing it outside in the spring and summer in my rooftop garden but it was too windy (read: toppled pots and broken plant parts). I moved it to a window sill where it was a bit happier but these plants love to spend the summer outdoors. As I recall, it bloomed two or three times in ten years. And its giant white flower was spectacular; but I could not find a satisfactory environment to get it to flower annually. It did not thrive in Manhattan, but it did not kick the bucket either, so I carried it with me—or small cuttings from the original—through the years until one of its progeny ended up on my porch in my New Jersey garden where it received, not unlike my Christmas cactus, I pretty much ignored it: watered, removed brown bits from time to time, but otherwise paid it little attention.
Most Epiphyllum, orchid cacti, send leaves up from the soil surface, and bloom in spring and early summer. The night blooming cereus has a tall almost woody stem, from which the flat leaves emerge. Also, unlike the other orchid cacti, E. oxypetalum blooms in late summer. In June of 2005, I found myself writing about night blooming cereus, and I got excited about it again. Since it had not formed any buds, potbound in its small container (which I assumed fell under the category of benign neglect) I decided to not only transplant it into the next size pot, but to also give it fresh soil. It was tall, about four feet, so I staked it in order to corral its ungainly stems and began feeding it a liquid fish and kelp formula about once a month—then began to fret and worry: would it set buds and flower so I could get my picture?
In early August, two tiny flower buds appeared, and I hoped I would be in New Jersey with my camera ready for opening night. Once they start, the buds grow fast, from nearly invisible, to pointed orbs on 12-inch long “S” –shaped stems. After two weeks, the beige buds were the size of navel oranges hanging from their floral tubes. I tried to predict the night they would open, and luckily hit it, well nearly. I drove back to New Jersey from Brooklyn on Wednesday night, imagining that Thursday would be the night but it wasn’t.
I went out on the porch, saw that the tips of the brownish-white petals were spreading open and a hole about the size of a fifty cent piece had appeared at the ends of the buds. I set up my camera on its tripod and positioned my studio lights, watching the flower open wider. It was a chilly summer evening, and these flowers took their owns sweet time; by 11 pm one was open to its full glory—approximately 10 inches across and 8 inches deep at the end of its foot long stem—and flooding the night air with its pepsin fragrance (see my photograph, below) The second bud was almost completely open when I finally went to bed after midnight.
I understand why Victorians planned neighborhood parties around “opening night”, particularly in warmer southern climates where the cereus buds open in an hour or so—seemingly right before your eyes. Children were allowed to stay up late and everyone gathered on the porch for refreshments as they watched with a mixture of awe and delight.
As I pointed out, this Epiphyllum is an ugly duckling, but for one night, on a magical late summer evening, it becomes a swan.
Cultural Instructions from Logee's
You can find several gorgeous epiphyllum--including "night blooming cereus", Epiphyllum oxypetalum at Logee's, a great nursery and wonderful place to visit if and when you are in northeast Connecticut; and they also provide a print and online catalog.
Despite my early issues while I was gardening in Manhattan, epiphyllums are not hard to grow and they love conditions on the dry side--low humidity-- and require only a little direct sunlight in winter. You might need to stake yours, as I did, since they can grow tall, up to six feet. The cylindrical stems flatten at the ends and as Logee's points out, "The flowers form at the notches on the flat or triangular “leaves” on last year's growth" that can reach a foot in length.
The following guidelines are based on their recommendations but also include the specific watering advice I used successfully for my E. oxypetalum based the advice of expert Kevin Bost, former curator of the cactus house at Wave Hill (a wonderful public garden in the Riverdale section of the Bronx in New York City).
- As a potted plant, maintain indoor temperaturesabove 35°. In winter grow in an area that has night temperatures below 60° and above 32° on a consistent basis.
- Bring soil to a state of dryness between watering--and water less frequently from November to March. Resume watering in March. When watering, thoroughly saturate soil until a little water runs out of the bottom of the pot.
- I also began fertilizing in March. Here is what Logee's suggest: "They are moderate feeders so 1/4 tsp./gallon once a week is a general recommendation. In winter discontinue feeding. Use a balanced fertilizer i.e. 15-15-15 or a blooming fertilizer like Dyna Gro 7-9-5 or Electra 5-10-3."
- Logee's also add "Epiphyllum have some susceptibility to mealy bug. They also are susceptible to fungal leaf spot especially during the winter months under excessive humidity and cool conditions. If grown too wet under cool temperatures they also can have problems with root and stem diseases."