Monday, July 8, 2013

Queen of the Night Bloom 2013, the real thing

It turns out that the few flowers of Peniocereus greggii that were seen around here nearly two weeks ago were by no means the main event for this summer. The real show happened two nights ago and last night. I had kept an eye on some buds on our neighbors' property to keep up with the timing. Yesterday at sunset they looked like little Chinese lanterns, all puffed up but still closed.

When I checked my black light around 10 pm I was greeted by sweet fragrance and my flashlight reflected from two small white flowers on one plant and 4 on another.

Queen of the Night (Peniocereus greggii)
The diameter of many cactus flowers varies from year to year, probably dependent on the available water.
Last night, I was sure that I smelled more open flowers maybe from across the dirt road, but I couldn't find them in the dark.

So this morning, Randy and the dogs helped me look for more queens. It's not quite like searching for Easter eggs because the stems can be quite tall so the white beacons are visible from the distance as soon as you have formed your search image. Remembering where they bloomed in years before is only helpful to a degree because the cacti tend to take years off between productive seasons, at least here in the wild. I'm sure that the irrigated, shaded specimens at Tohono Chul Park perform reliably year after year.

It was already warm and muggy right after sunrise, so we didn't search all 480 acres of state land. We still came up with a record 19 blooming plants, with anywhere from 1 to 7 flowers. Those were already beginning to wilt but they still attracted some bees. We also saw 5 resting plants, but only because we knew their locations. They are so thin and gray that they are nearly impossible to find.


  1. Hi Margarethe! If the blooms open at night and only live for a short while, what is the main pollinating insect for them? Is it some type of desert moth perhaps?

  2. In other years I always had big Manduca Moths fly up to my flash light while I was taking photos. They also service the Datura flowers a little later. But this year the moths are very rare where the Queen blooms - in a very dry part of the desert. If the flowers are not pollinated, they last a little longer in the morning. The bigger bee species can probably also pollinate some, they certainly visit the flowers in the morning.

    1. Just checked out some google images of that moth and it's huge! Hopefully enough pollination has occurred to continue the population into next year. Thanks for the info! :)

  3. Spectacular! Fascinating about the pollination too.