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The Night-Blooming Cereus: Tucson’s Queen of the Night

Posted on June 14, 2013

One of the coolest things to do in Tucson involves nightfall, an open schedule, and an unusual and scarce plant – just one of the many strange and wonderful plants that fill our desert home.

Resembling tall, parched sticks, the night-blooming cereus (peniocereus greggii) looks ordinary – some say ugly – 364 days a year. For this reason, the plant is not a common presence in Tucson gardens, but can often be found growing wild and unnoticed in the desert.

But one night a year, usually in mid to late June and between 9pm and midnight, the night-blooming cereus is spectacular. Each plant slowly unfurls one large white bloom, whose size, striking appearance and distinct scent has led to the night-blooming cereus’ nickname, “Queen of the Night.”  Groups of plants in proximity bloom on the same night, allowing the plants to be cross-fertilized by the sphinx moth, peniocereus greggii’s only pollinator.

The best place to see a night-blooming cereus is at Tohono Chul Park, a few minutes’ drive from Westward Look. Named one of the world’s top 10 botanical gardens by Travel & Leisure magazine, Tohono Chul would be a highlight of any plant lover’s Tucson visit. At last count, the park’s collection of 350 night-blooming cereus plants – including a few with unusual pink blooms – is the largest in the U.S.

Each year – usually in June – the park hosts Bloom Night, a much-awaited Tucson tradition. Thousands of cereus plant watchers troop to the park, clutching flashlights to hike winding trails lit by luminarias (Mexican-style paper lanterns), and taking surreal photos of the ghostly, moonlight-white blooms. An intense vanilla-like fragrance fills the air. By sunrise a few hours later, the flowers are gone.

You can, of course, see the night-blooming cereus in other gardens, such as the University of Arizona Cactus Garden, Saguaro National Park,. and the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. But you would have to pinpoint the one night a year that those particular plants pick to bloom – a stubborn scarcity that only adds to the plants’ allure.

As we post this in mid-June, Bloom Night 2013 has not yet been announced. There is only two to three days’ notice each year, which makes it tough to plan a short vacation around it. But if your Tucson visit happens to coincide with the Queen of the Night‘s yearly appearance, it’s an experience you won’t soon forget.

  • http://www.facebook.com Elaine Copeland

    My Night-Blooming cerrus is opening tonight, anyone else???

  • Alfred Amedeo Corradini Sr.

    I have about a Hundred of them rite in my front yard and they just blew my mind and bloomed all at once ! ! ! I have still photo’s and Video’s of them ! It was a spectacular thing to see for a couple of days ONLY ! They are as big as my hand or bigger !

  • Alfred Amedeo Corradini Sr.

    WHAT happened to the PHOTO’s I posted in the comment below ? Here are some more photo’s of the ones in my front yard that just spectacularily bloomed the other Day for ONLY 3 days ! ! ! This is about a hundred of them on my PALM TREE that is MORE than 50 feet tall and rite in my front YARD ! ! !

    • WestwardLookResort

      Alfred, thanks for sharing these awesome photos! This must have been amazing to see in person.

      • Alfred Amedeo Corradini Sr.

        That is putting it lightly , I have video of one of the nights and I was so flabbergasted that I could not hardly speak it was so beautiful and moveing !