QUEEN OF THE NIGHT "Q&A"
Tell us more about the queen of the night...
Known in the botanical world as peniocereus greggii, the queen
of the night was named for its dramatic, white, waxy flowers that are
composed of elegant white petals and stamens. One of the desert's most
famous yet least encountered cactus, the queen of the night is virtually
invisible most of the year. Reaching a height of four to eight feet, its
thin, inconspicuous branches are frequently hidden amongst other desert
cacti or shrubbery. What may come as a surprise is the very large, turnip-shaped
root or tuber that grows underneath each plant and stores its' food and
water. It usually weighs between 5 and 15 lbs., but there have been reports
of ones weighing 5x as much.
Where does it grow?
The queen of the night grows naturally at low elevations in the Sonoran
and Chihuahan deserts of the southwestern United States and northwestern
Mexico. Its known range includes large areas in central and southern Arizona,
southwestern New Mexico, western Texas, northern Mexico as well as in
Baja, California. The species in general is not nearly as plentiful as
it once was. In fact, the numbers of these plants are so diminished in
Arizona that within the Gila River Indian Reservation where it was once
common, it is now a protected plant on the reservation.
Does the queen of the night really bloom
only one night each year? When?
Yes, each trumpet-shaped blossom appears for only one night each year,
usually during the end of June / beginning of July. Each cactus can and
usually does have more than one bud bloom. Also, although each bloom lasts
only one night, each queen cactus can bloom on a different night over
a period of several nights during a week's period.
Can you describe its' fragrance?
Its warm, soft floral scent, has a touch of sweetness, and delicately
perfumes the air as far as a quarter-mile away.
How did you capture the essence of a flower
that blooms only one night each year?
In June of 2000, I invited a perfumer to visit the Desert Botanical Garden
in Phoenix with me, home to the world's largest and most diverse collection
of succulent plants, including 40 queen of the night. The perfumer stayed
for 10 days, eagerly awaiting the night the flowers were going to start
their blooming cycle. I remember joking with him that all of our pacing
and waiting brought to mind an expectant father/family, waiting for a
baby to be born!
When that magical night finally arrived, he remained close to the flowers
to memorize their character as the scent was released. As a perfumer,
or "nose" in the world of fragrance, he has the ability to remember
scents, with great accuracy, recognizing their essential and unique qualities.
After returning to his lab, he interpreted the queen of the night's natural
aroma, capturing the most important and prominent characteristics. A perfect
mixture of various essential oils then allowed us to recreate the essence
of the queen of the night and "Desert Queen" was born.
Many fragrances, actually, are made from harvested flowers that go through
a distillation process for their petals' oil. Because of the "protected"
nature of this flower and the fact that it blooms for only 12 hours each
year (!) this was not, of course, an option for us.
Why does the queen of the night only bloom
Night blooming cacti, like the queen of the night, bloom later than day-blooming
cacti as they have to wait for night temperatures to reach a certain level
for their pollinators to come out. One of the biggest pollinators is the
sphinx moth. If the moth successfully pollinates the flower, the plant
will produce a bright scarlet fruit with many black seeds.
Most large cacti have night blooming flowers, but their flowers
tend to be heavy and waxy and stay open for a longer period of time. Their
petals can stand up to the sun. Also, their blooming cycle tends to last
approximately one month.
Most small cacti have day blooming flowers. Their season is generally
Is there somewhere I can go to experience
the bloom for myself?
Yes. Tohono Chul Park in Tucson, AZ, which has the largest public
collection of "queens" in the world (over 340!), hosts a free
"Bloom Night" each summer. "Mother Nature" picks the
date as they say, but they are usually given 24 hours notice. According
to TCP, the number of flowers blooming in one night has been as high as
174 on 69 plants. This very special night attracts over a thousand people
to the park from dusk to midnight and features special tours, refreshments,
drawings and a live telling of the Tohono O'odham Indian tribe legend.
Go to: www.tohonochulpark.org/Art/NBC.html to learn more about this special evening and to place your name on their
extensive e-mail list to be notified of the night that the "queen"
will make her appearance. You can also read the legend in its' entirety.
On June 17, 2007, over 1,800 people took part in this
Also, on Thursday and Saturday evenings during June, July and August,
the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix gives flashlight tours that
are free with admission. Due to popular demand, they require a reservation.
Contact the Garden in June to see if you can find out when they anticipate
their Queen of the Night will bloom and if there will be a flashlight
tour that evening. Ph: 480-941-3510 or visit www.dbg.org.
Can I buy a queen of the night cactus?
Yes. The Desert Botanical Garden sells very small and limited potted "queens"
but doesn't ship them. You can also try "www.cactuslands.com"
- they do sell them online and ship out of state.
What actually makes a "cactus"
Most people think they know a cactus when they see one but are often mistaken.
All cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti. (Succulent
plants are plants that are capable of storing water). Agaves, ocotillos
and aloes, for example are among the swollen or spiny plants often mistaken
for cacti. However, the term cactus refers to a particular family of plants
defined by a distinctive flower pattern. To be a cactus, the plant must
produce flowers with certain characteristics, including: many tepals (combined
sepals and petals) that integrate with each other and many stamens (usually
hundreds). If a plant lacks such a flower, it cannot be a cactus.
Flowers also determine the family/species. If they attract the same pollinators,
they are from the same species.
I'm curious about the deserts in the US.
What makes one different from the other?
Deserts are given names based on the periods of rain they receive:
Sonoran: summer and winter rains
Chihuahan: only summer rains
Mohave: only winter rains
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