Queen of the Night

Epiphyllum oxypetalum (often confused with Night-blooming Cereus (or "orchid cactus"), Peniocereus greggii).

[Updated Aug 30] 20+ blooms between Friday September 5 and Saturday the 6th?

Bring family, bring friends! When would you otherwise get to
experience something like this?

Just walk on up onto the porch and be sure to sure to get in CLOSE so that you can SMELL the flowers! That's half of the reason to come experience these flowers!
(You do not need to knock or announce your arrival).
Directions to Sunnyvale house

Five days before blooming...

The stem begins its change into a J or hook shape.

On bloom day...

1:00 pm: The salmon-colored petals have separated to reveal much more white underneath and a striped appearance. The bud is distinctly bulging compared to yesterday.
7:30 to 8:00 pm: The tip of the football is very slightly open. There is not much fragrance.
9:00 to 9:30 pm: The flower is open enough for you to see some of the delicate framework packed inside. The fragrance is detectable, but not really interesting yet.
10 to 11 pm: The flower has unpacked itself, opening fully. The fragrance is strong. This is definitely the best time to experience the flower (or if you're really a night owl, they're still around until about 5 am).
Next morning: Withered.

How do you predict bloom date and time?

In the blooming seasons of 2004-2005, I observed a predictable pattern: buds grew to a certain length before opening. In addition, the outer casing changed color the morning of the bloom. When the next round of tiny buds emerged, I got all scientific about it. I went out every day with a millimeter ruler and recorded the length and date. When the flower bloomed, I was able to create a gauge with lines that indicated "how many days left" before blooming. I could now hold the gauge next to a bud and predict how many days before it bloomed, based on its current length. Okay, it usually gets me within a day of the actual date; to confirm my prediction, I must see the casing change from pink to whitish on the morning of bloom day. Then I'll know there will be a bloom that night. In our part of the world, blooms consistently start opening around 7:45 pm. (I hear that they start opening at midnight in other parts of the world.)

How old is your plant? Where did you get it from?

Someone gave my aunt a leaf on her wedding day in 1941, instructing her to plant it once she returned from her honeymoon. Sixty years later, in 2001, a foot-tall chunk broke off of her plant and she stuck it in a pot of soil and gave it to my parents in 2002. It sprouted more leaves and produced one bud in the next year.

Does it eat humans like the plant "Audrey" in "Little Shop of Horrors"?

Stick your nose into a flower and find out.

Is it like the flower in Dennis the Menace?

No, that was a "Hollywood flower" that bloomed only once to make the story funny. This plant has many blooms throughout the summer and fall. Each bloom only lasts one night.

How does it propagate?

I would guess that, in the native land of this plant, there is a moth that follows the strong night scent of the plant at night and pollinates it as it moves from plant to plant. (I doubt it's a giraffe.)

I tried cotton-swab pollination from one bloom to another on the same plant and it produced no seeds. Speculation: it requires two separate plants (akin to cherry trees). I intend to try this in the next bloom season.

I would guess that there is purpose to its style of growth (rapid skinny growth upward and then fanning out with leaves). That form of growth could easily "climb" up through branches in a jungle, season after season, as it seeks like. And that heavy-topped growth could also fall over and take root wherever it lands. I wonder which is true!

Where does it normally grow?

According to a website I read, it is from the jungles of South America. Friends and coworkers have seen them in China, India and Hawaii. (There IS a very similar looking flower that is in the cactus family. This is not that plant.)

Blooms in 2012:
Aug 1:
July 31:
July 30:
June 25:
June 26:
June 29:
July 5:
July 6:
July 7:

Blooms in 2011:
Aug 3:
Aug 4:
Aug 5:
Aug 19:
Aug 20:
Sep 13:

Blooms in 2010: none.

Blooms in 2009: (the season after heavy pruning and a transplanting; friends also reported fewer blooms this year)
Jul 2:
Aug 25:

Blooms in 2008: (a season with mid-blooms transplanting)
Jun 8:
Jul 2:
Jul 3:
Jul 4:
Jul 5:
Jul 30:
Jul 31:
Aug 21:
Sept 19:
Sept 20:
Sept 21:
Oct 19:

Blooms in 2007:
Jul 7:
Jul 8:
Aug 14:
Aug 15:
Aug 16:
Sep 7:
Sep 8:
Oct 29:

Blooms in 2006:
Jun 26:
Jun 27:
Jun 28:
Jun 29:
Jul 14:
Jul 15:
Jul 16:
Jul 17:
Aug 3:
Aug 31:
Sep 1:
Sep 2:
Sep 3:

Blooms in 2005:
Jun 9:
Jul 8:
Jul 14:
Jul 15:
Jul 16:
Jul 19:
Jul 21:
Jul 22:
Aug 25:
Sep 21:
Sep 22:
Sep 23:
Oct 15:

How do you start a plant?

"Stick a leaf in a pot of soil and walk away."

Plant the fattest stem-part of the leaf an inch or two deep, with the rest sticking up. I often see new growth on the leaf within a month, and sometimes that is with little to no root growth.

In my observation, sections of branch root and grow faster.

The plant grows best bright light but not afternoon sun, favors hotter weather to colder (especially in blooming season), and favors drier soil over wet soil (soggy soil rots it).

I recommend you plant it in a 10" pot in a place that gets morning to midday sun (or no sun but as much light as possible). Indoors doesn't have enough light. However, the office is a great place to start a plant (shoots appear sooner), perhaps because of the warmth. But with insufficient light, growth is fast, tall, skinny, as the weak growth strains to find light.

Yes, it will root in water. Careful, though, these long "water roots" are quite different from soil roots. Is that good or bad? You and I will have to experiment. I sent my brother stems and he put them in water and had tiny, weak-stemmed blooms in 9 months, an unheard-of bloom speed! (Normally it is 2 years at the earliest for blooms.)

How do you care for a plant?

Watering: Always remember: the bottom few inches of soil in a pot are normally moist, even if the top soil is quite dry. My technique: let it dry out. Once a month (or less often), submerge the entire pot in a bucket of water until most of the bubbles stop.

A friend whose plant grew to 5' and bloomed in its second or third year (stunning to me) says she mists its leaves daily and sings to it. Which you choose is up to you. :)

Pruning: Cut it wherever you like. I like to cut half of the leaf off when it is getting longer to encourage new leaves to grow from its nodes (and thus increase the density of the plant). You can trim away low growth and encourage upward spurts. It's up to you! Our plant once had 10' long growth that we tied up to the overhang, but it was thin down low. Another consideration: do you care if blooms end up down low versus up high? You can prune a shoot above one of its nodes to encourage growth from its lower nodes.

This plant has growth spurts several times in the year (especially winter) along with periods of no growth.

Support: It wants to grow UP, and its roots are not designed to hold that weight. Your choice: put a tall, non-rotting pole in the dirt to tie the plant to... or trim the plant to keep it shorter.

Repotting: Most web sites I have seen strongly recommend against repotting and suggest that, like orchids, this plant does better when root bound. Some folks reported that transplanting prevented their plant from blooming for two years. Contrary to those reports, I transplanted our big plant mid-summer, right after a round of blooms, and it resumed blooming the next month. I transplanted it again in November and pruned it heavily [pictures coming] and it bloomed the next season. Friends of ours moved their two year old plant to a larger pot and it grew to 5' with 8 buds six months later.)

Describe its growth

Shoots and stems: Shoots emerge from below ground or from existing main stems. I have seen a shoot (on a mature plant) grow from two to five feet long. A shoot has nearly reached its full length when you see leaves emerging at its tip. The nodes that you see along the shoot may someday turn into a leaf or into another shoot.

Leaves: Leaves emerge from the tips of shoots or from the nodes on leaves. Every leaf has about 10 little nodes along its edges. These nodes can produce leaves or flower buds. These nodes are most often one-use nodes (not likely to produce something at that node once something has grown there), but we have seen new leaves grow where a bloom had been in the prior year.

Roots: While most plants have roots that head outward and create a pot-shaped mesh of white roots, this plant forms a shallow ball of roots. If you dig up a newly sprouting leaf, you will see what looks like short dreadlocks of soil, the way the soil is held by this style of roots. (Since the roots are so shallow, the plant is likely to fall over from weight or wind, unless you prop it up.)

Blooms: Blooms emerge from the nodes on leaves. A magnifying glass reveals that a flower bud is cylindrical with a tiny pointy pink petals like a crown. (In contrast, a baby leaf looks like a flatter, stubby fingerless hand.)

What are its seasons?

Every month, from June through October, our plant forms buds that bloom about a month later; the blooms open within a few days of each other, and then we notice new baby buds forming for the next month.

We have seen or heard of blooms as early as May and as late as November.

New leaf and shoot growth occurs all year but especially in fall and winter.

What our plant looked like in 2004
Young buds on leaves
Young buds on leaves (10 days till bloom?)
What it looks like when it will bloom that night
Flower starting to open
More flowers starting to open
Fully open
The next day
New flower bud

One of several Chinese stories about the flower, this one is about the flower girl and the human boy who fell in love...

很久很久以前,有位花神,美 丽而盈弱,四季开着小小的、洁白的花,香味幽幽而绵长。一个年轻怜花的小伙子每天精心照顾着花神,施肥、捉虫、浇水 两个人日久生情 ,相 爱了。

佛祖知道了,很生气,要拆散两人。小伙子被送到普陀山上 习佛,并赐明韦陀,意思就是要他忘却前尘。而花神被贬做一年只能开一次的昙花 。

多年 过去了,韦陀果如其名忘了花神,潜心习佛,渐有所成。而花神却怎么也忘不了那个曾经照顾她的小伙子。她知道每年暮春时分,韦陀总要下山来为佛祖采集朝露煎茶。所以昙花就选择在那个时候开放。她把集聚了整整一年的精气绽放在那一瞬间。她希望韦陀能回头看她一眼,能记起她。

可是千百年 过去了,韦陀一年年的下山来采集朝露。昙花一年年的默默绽放。韦陀始终没有记起她 。

或 许还要过了很多很多年,韦陀无意间的回头,或许会看见那无怨无悔为他盛开了几千年的小小的昙花,或许会记起曾经在很久很久以前,他曾如此的爱过那朵美丽的 花

Copyright © 2005-2013 John E. Darrow

See also: Colorful hybrids, Great details about Epiphyllum.