|Two of my watercolors of the Night-blooming Cereus|
I don't know what signal synchronizes this magical event. It's not day length, because it can occur any time between mid June and the beginning of August, and Tohono Chul Park 30 miles to the east celebrated the bloom about a week ago. The blooming is also rather independent of the onset of the rainy season, probably because the plants are drawing on the resources of a large underground bulb, although the hydration state of a plant seems to decide whether it's going to bloom in any given year at all. Sometimes, often following a very rich flowering, all the visible parts of a plant just dry off and crumble, and it takes years until the next flowers appear.
The vegetative parts of this cactus are so thin and unassuming that they blend in completely with the branches of the Creosote bush. Our friends Frank and Lynn bought the land next to us years ago and were very much looking forward to the flowers of one Queen that we had planted, but we were all surprised by several other large plants that suddenly opened their flowers last night.
The cactus flowers stay open into the early morning hours, so a couple of hours before sunrise Cody and I went out into the desert to find some more blooming Arizona Queens. At night usually a cloud of sweet fragrance is the first sign that leads pollinators and photographers to the plants. But at dawn, the pale flowers stand out like beacons.
The flowers are about the size of a baseball. Many plants are not more than knee-high, but today I found several that were taller than I. This is impressive considering that a heard of cattle had a devastating 4 year run in this 400 acre parcel of state trust land. Wile the bovines destroyed Paloverdes, Prickly Pears and Ironwood trees, they left the fragile stems of E. gregii untouched in their cover of Creosote branches.