Mystery Flora: Thus Spake The Night Blooming Flower

Hey, look! It’s a flower that is not from the Pacific Northwest! I’ll probably have some more lovely exotic flowers along the way, as I now live in a household with a gardener in it. Speaking of which, if you need someone to rehab your garden, please let me know and I will hook you up.

Anyway. Here’s our beauty:

Image shows a plant with long, almost rectangular green leaves and a white flower dangling from a twisty pink stem.
Mystery Flora I

This plant, I am told, is older than Misha. It’s only a couple of years younger than N, who just turned 30. It had a rough patch recently when it wasn’t living with S, so it’s smaller than it was and only had four buds this year. But you can see the thing is bloody huge and vigorous even so.

Here, you can have a cat for comparison.

Image shows Boo lying beside the pot. She is much smaller than the plant and, lying down, is only half as tall as its pot.
Mystery Flora II

So that’s the bud that bloomed first, a couple of nights ago. It was already partially blown. Here’s one of last night’s buds just as it was getting ready to go. These flowers only bloom for one night, so you want to watch the buds carefully to see when they’re about to bloom. When you see about this much white, you know it’s time.

Image shows a bud, which is turned horizontal to the ground. The pink bracts that enclose it are beginning to thin as the flower petals appear to swell beneath. Some of the bracts are curling at their tips.
Mystery Flora III

These buds are huge. They’re about four or five inches long, and pretty thick at the base. You’ll see why soon.

When a bud is ready to bloom, it begins opening very slowly in the late evening.

Image shows a single bud, which is about 5 inches long or so. It is just beginning to open, and the outer pink bracts are curling away.
Mystery Flora IV

See how the tips are curling outward a bit? Yep. The dozens of long, narrow petals just keep opening and curling over the course of a few hours, until they’ve achieved full magnificence.

Image shows two blooms, one facing right, the other left, one atop the other. They are almost fully open. They look like starbursts.
Mystery Flora V

It’s about now that they’re spreading their scent all over the patio, trying to entice their pollinators to come help them get it on. It’s a sweet and earthy, almost sharp, scent that’s rather hard to describe. It doesn’t smell like any other flower I’ve smelled. And the inside is pretty weird, too.

Image shows one of the flowers in full bloom from the front. You can see the anthers covered in yellow pollen within, and a really odd structure poking from the interior that looks almost like a white sea anenome.
Mystery Flora VI

Here’s a somewhat sharper image of another flower, showing the weird bit from the side.

Image shows one of the flowers from a three-quarter profile. The anenome-like structure is clearly visible, coming almost to the edge of the bloom.
Mystery Flora VII

If I’m still here around this time next year, I’ll try to get them a bit better. I normally don’t use the flash, and it was also dark as fuck outside, so I was shooting rather blindly. I’m happy my camera did as well as this. That little machine always surprises me.

Last night, we had three blooms at once. When they’re fully open like this, they’re astounding, and the scent permeates the entire deck. It was almost strong enough to overpower the woodsmoke from the bonfire in the grill.

Image shows three of the huge flowers extending from top right to bottom left, and progressively looking into the camera, in profile, and then from the back.
Mystery Flora VIII

Since these blooms only last the night, S clipped all three, just before they began to fade, and handed them out to us. There’s one sitting beside my bed in a wine bottle right now, and my whole room is delicately infused with its scent, which is a lot better than old cat odors.

Image shows my rectangular rice paper and cherry wood lamp with the night flower in a bottle in front of it. Image is looking up toward the ceiling, which is cast in a Caribbean blue light.
I love this combo of warm rice-paper lamp hue and blue ceiling I got with the white balance being all wonky, so I left it and called it art.

S says I should have really vivid dreams, as this plant has a neurostimulant effect of some sort. I’ll report back, but alas, there is a confounding factor in our experiment, as I just got my visit from Aunty Flow and am taking tons of ibuprofen. That stuff also gives me vivid dreams. But if they’re anything like the Chantix dreams, then I’ll be able to tell there’s been a turboboost.

You can see a more true-color version of the above photo, plus lots more pictures showing the blooms in their many phases, here at my Flickr page. I can’t wait for you guys to identify this one! I think it’ll blow a few minds. When you ID it, try to include what plant family it belongs to, what its natural habitat is, and what its pollinator is, because all three things are delightful. Happy questing!

Oh, and for those who like black metal, the post title refers to this.

Mystery Flora: Thus Spake The Night Blooming Flower
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11 thoughts on “Mystery Flora: Thus Spake The Night Blooming Flower

  1. 1

    Your camera really does a great job. Between the dragonfly and this [redacted], it was clearly a fine investment!

    Glad S and you caught the bloom this year!

    pleasant and vivid (if pleasant!) dreams to all!

  2. 2

    This night-blooming beauty is actually a type of cactus–one of the climbing tropical types. Its common name is “Queen of the Night”! There are several different species that are generally similar and are have the same common name. This plant is probably Epiphyllum oxypetalum, the most commonly cultivated one. It is native to Central America and northern South America, where it grows epiphytically (on trees, not in the ground). It is pollinated by pollen-eating bats or some types of moths. The weird structures that you see at the center of the flower are the pollen-bearing stamens clustered at the base, and the star-shaped object at the end of the protruding stem is the stigma that is the female part of the flower that receives the pollen for fertilization.

  3. 4

    That’s beautiful! It looks nothing like any cactus I have ever seen, I admit, but the flower was kind of a give away for me… I have a cactus with a very similar flower. This year it impressed me with four blooms at once, each one almost the size of the cactus itself!

    I took photos, but haven’t uploaded them to Flickr yet. Should probably do that.

  4. 5

    Yes. Definitely a night blooming cereus. A nice one as well. It is older and so compact. Mine always are very gangly and uncooperative. But when they bloom all is forgiven. A simply stunning flower.

  5. 8


    That. Is. Magnificent!

    The talk of cacti reminds me of an episode in Attenborough’s Secret Life of Plants’ doco where a bat pollinates a nightflowering cacti. Looked for the clip on youtube and couldn’t find it but I did find this :

    WARNING (?) Taxidermy stuffed bat.

    which is perhaps even better!

    However, the leaves couldn’t seem to look less cactus like and doesn’t that family have a specific range and type which is , if I’m not mistaken (&, yes, I may very likely *be* mistaken) restricted to North America?) leaves seem to possibly suggest tropical to me and the epiphyte suggestion made by others above seems most plausible.

    Stunning flower and plant.

    Certainly its not a local native for me!

    My other thought on its pollinator could be some kind of very long tongued moth or maybe mammal – squirrel glider type critter or even rodent or (op)possum?

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