Monday, June 13, 2011

In search of the night-blooming cereus

I’m lucky to work from home, editing gardening articles for an online content company. One of the biggest perks of the job for me is the variety of obscure facts I run across. I adore and seek out random trivia, you see. It’s kind of a curse; I end up spending way too much time looking into odd subjects. The searching takes effort, but it's gratifying because cool things can pop up where you'd least expect them to.
Yeah, the dragonfruit is awesome.
Photo courtesy Wikipedia Commons

Last week, I pulled up an article describing a fascinating cactus plant species (Hylocereus undatus) that produces a huge, stunning flower with an incredible edible: dragonfruit! The fruit is known by many other names, including strawberry pear, pitaya and – wait for it – pitahaya.
Palm Desert has a street named Pitahaya. This piqued my interest. Was the cactus grown by the early residents of that area? Do residents still grow it? Or did early community developers just like the sound of the Spanish word? I searched online but could not find much about the reason behind the naming. Tried Palm Desert Historical Society ... I'll try again when it reopens next October. Maybe some knowledgeable resident can shed some moonlight on the subject before then? If you know, let me know!

Anyhow, now I’d been dreaming for a week about growing this amazing night-blooming cereus in my own garden. The enormous white flower opens once and has that one night to be pollinated by bats or moths in order to bear a fruit. You’d think that because it’s a cactus and we live in the desert that we could plop it down and grow it anywhere in the valley. After further research, however, I found that it's native to Central America and grows best in more tropical climates than ours (think Hawaii or Vietnam), but that doesn’t mean we could not grow it here with a little TLC and shade.

A new, humble cereus cutting in my garden.
With this in the back of my mind, a friend and I visited the Moorten Botanical Garden in Palm Springs last weekend. Bingo! The garden had the cactus, sprawling huge, with small unopened buds just waiting to share their awesome bloom and fragrance. I came away inspired by the spectacular variety of desert plants ... and with a small cutting from the kind proprietor – a cereus of my own.

I imagine some night in the future it may bloom, and I'll visit it there in the moonlight. Who knows? It may possibly bear fruit that I'll savor, remembering the first time I marveled that a thing called a dragonfruit could pop up out of such an unassuming cactus.


  1. Renee, this is the type of cacti that lines our front wall. I love the nights I come home to the beautiful flowers; it's such an amazing species of cactus! And the fruit is so good. You can take a cutting of ours anytime. When we moved in our place and were thinking of all the ideas we had to remodel the garden areas, I saw an article on Diego Rivera's home and he had a beautiful wall of these cacti around his place so that is where I found the inspiration. Looking forward to our next garden chat! Leslie

  2. Wow, I've got to see that! The cereus has totally bewitched me, made my imagination run wild. Thank you so much, I WILL be taking you up on the cutting offer ... :) There are many varieties, and I'd love to have a couple kinds. Let's talk soon!