The night-blooming Peruvian cactus

September 5, 2022 Horticulture Department

Pencils and paper out! It’s time for a pop quiz! What kind of critter would you guess pollinates a plant that blooms at night? If you guessed a moth or a bat, you get an A. 

One of my favorite plants that I display every year is the night-blooming Peruvian cactus (Cereus peruvianus). Cereus peruvianus are native to the desert regions of South America, usually growing just east of the Andes Mountains range. This cactus has a gray green to blue, cylindrical stem, or trunk, sometimes branching out to resemble a tree or candelabra. Sometimes the trunk of the cactus will start growing in a spiral—these are highly sought after by growers. The stem will usually have five to seven rounded ribs with wide-spaced, small areoles running vertically down them. The areoles are where you will find the protruding gray spines. The rounded edge of the rib is also where the flower buds develop. 

The large, creamy white flowers open wide and bloom for one night only. Local bats and moths seek out these fragrant flowers as a food source and in doing so, pollination is completed. After pollination, the flower dies, but the base of its stem swells into a round, sweet fruit with deliciously crunchy seeds that in turn supplies the pollinators and various birds with another food source. The fruit also has tremendous health benefits because it contains high amounts of Vitamin C, beta-carotene and fiber. The shape and color of the fruit is the reason the cactus also goes by the common name of the Peruvian apple cactus. 

Another interesting fact about this cactus is that it has been known to grow to the height of 110 feet, if supported by scaffolding, technically making this the tallest cactus plant in the world. We have several Cereus peruvianus displayed at the Gardens. The largest is located by the Science Pyramid and there are several displayed on the West Terrace, including one spiral form.

This post was contributed by Horticulture Coordinator Mike Holloway.


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