Night Blooms

A night-blooming cereus hangs from the ceiling of my living space, in a large pot supported within a chain and wire basket. It sends ‘arms’ in all directions, tries to push tendrils between the cracks of a beam and board ceiling, and generally does its best to mimic the hedge of its natural, wild state. Periodically I have to detach bits that are adhering to nearby window shades, or creeping through the ornamental Asian brooms hanging on the wall close to the plant. The cereus recreates a jungle environment for a large wooden fork and spoon from the Philippines and two woven straw brooms from Vietnam. And every so often, it blooms. On rare occasions two blossoms at once.



The flowers begin as tiny shoots attached to a leaf, indistinguishable from those which will in fact become new leaves. They seem to hide themselves among the foliage for a week or more, until they become large enough to be recognizably a flower bud. They then take an additional several days to enlarge, standing outward at a sharp right angle from their support, before opening fully late one night (usually close to midnight).

Almost there

Almost there

During the brief hours of full bloom, the flowers give off a delicate sweet scent, a single flower sufficient to perfume the ten-by-eighteen foot room.

Fully open

Fully open

Over the next few hours the flower closes and its supporting stem collapses, so that by morning the entire leaf appendage is hanging straight down and the leaf seems to beg for relief from the dead weight.



As often as I have watched this process through (admittedly not staying awake much after the fullness of blooming) I remain unable to predict exactly which night the flower will choose to open, nor have I been able to discern what triggers the plant to produce a bloom. It has flowered in all seasons, no more frequently when on a diet of bloom booster than when it is only given water. Sometimes, the shoot-to-bloom process takes six days, others it takes almost two weeks. Cereus fans whom I’ve found online tell similar stories of inability to predict blooming. One lucky person lives with a cereus “in its natural habitat” as a hedge, and is able to enjoy flowers night after night, perfuming her entire garden.

Cereus flowers are the unexpected, unpredictable sweet things in life, arriving unnoticed, while our attention is elsewhere – on daily chores, dwindling bank account, or perhaps the aches and physical challenges of aging. Focused on job applications, I come across an email from a friend, appreciative of some quality I’ve begun to doubt can be seen by potential employers. Engaged with the daily task of treating my Shih Tzu’s eye, I am surprised when his kisses replace his usual wriggly impatience with my care. And wading through waist-high weeds to reach the bird feeder, I curb my irritation at the discomfort, instead appreciating such a vital, flourishing response to rain in what has been a desert wasteland.

We are admonished to remember to ”stop and smell the roses.” Roses have thorns. There are all sorts of philosophical and historical entanglement associated with roses. So I prefer to think of the many gifts I receive – a funny, affectionate limerick from a friend, a smile of welcome from a cashier, glorious banks of cloud in sunset hues – as daytime cereus blossoms, all the sweeter for being for being unexpected and transitory.

2 Responses to “Night Blooms”

  1. Ann Garcia Says:

    Beautiful analogy to living a life the right way.  Loved the shitz-zu (sp) story, too.


  2. Ron Maltais Says:

    Years ago I lived in Key West and I remember there were night-blooming cereus all over the island. Often they grew into trees which were taller than the houses behind them. I rode my bike in the late evenings to observe the blooming process. The flowers were iridescent white and seemed to glow when the moon was full. If you watched for several minutes you could almost see the flower petals move. Below the tree the sidewalk would be laden with black expired blooms which had fallen onto the ground from the previous night. The dormant images of those magical plants became reactivated through your evocative description. Thank you.

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