August 28, 2013

Night Blooming Moon Flowers

The legendary Night Blooming Cereus times it flowering to occur on or near the full moon's of summer,
to take advantage of night-pollinating insects.

Last week's full moon has come and gone, leaving a couple of our night blooming plants lost as they missed the event by a few days.  I'll share with you that I was secretly planning to post last Wednesday, the annual blooming of our Night Blooming Cereus, which usually happens in the greenhouse every August on the night of the Full Sturgeon Moon, an incredible and strangely mysterious event of nature, but this year, for some reason, the timing was off by a full week. I've been wondering why, but the reason might be something more human related, than nature related.

Murraya paniculata, also known as a 'Jessamine', or "Jasmine", yet it is neither,  is intensely fragrant once the sun
sets - this single plant has an orange blossom scent so strong, that it wafts up to the second floor bedrooms in our house.

Perhaps our night blooming plant just didn't realize how rare last weeks full moon was, for according to astronomers, that incredibly beautiful Full Sturgeon Moon last week was also fluke of nature, technically a Blue Moon.  "But wait a minute...", you may be saying,  "...isn't a Blue Moon just a full moon that occurs in the same month in which a full moon already occurred?"  Well, yes,  but the experts are telling us differently - last weeks'  Blue Moon was also the third full moon in a four-full moon season, and that was, and is, the true definition of a Blue Moon.

Epiphyllum oxypetalum, or the Night Blooming Cereus blooming for one night only,
which happens to be tonight, on our deck.

Apparently, plants that follow such events to time their night blooming to take advantage of certain night pollinating insects know this already, and even though I could see buds forming a month ago on my plants, it seemed to take forever for these dinner-plate sized super-fragrant blossoms to open. My best guess on why they are late this year? I believe it's because of our dogs. Dog which seem to be obsessed with patrolling the garden on these hot, humid nights, desperately seeking some rabbits that seem to have taken a liking to the alpine garden. The dogs set off our motion sensitive outdoor lighting, which shine directly onto the deck, exactly where I decided to place the largest pot of Night Blooming Cereus this year. If I have kept the plants in the greenhouse, which is far away from any night light source, I believe that the plant would have bloomed exactly on the night of the full moon.

If you have a Night Blooming Cereus which does not bloom, I suggest locating it outdoors for the summer, far away from any light source, so that the plants internal clock can reset itself to the moons cycle. In our garden, two such plants bloomed, but our one week late plant missed the event most likely to that dang, motion-activated deck light, which the dogs continue to keep activating every twenty minutes or so, as their tiny, terrier brains cycle thoughts of rabbits, raccoons and I know, even skunks.  So what's a few days, in the life of a moon flower, as the proper night blooming pollinators don't even exist in our northern climate, our plants flower sex-free, unless I dabble a bit with a paint brush wearing a hawk moth outfit or a fruit bat suit. Until that happens, we are simply enjoying this special and rare spectacle - gin and tonic in hand. It's an event worth celebrating, even though it marks the first official sign that the end of summer is near.
Another August night-blooming plant is the Night Blooming Jasmine, or Cestrum nocturnum, with a fragrance so intense that even a twig brought indoors with a few blossoms can be tolerated for just a few minutes.

Another plant blooming tonight is the Night Blooming Jasmine, not really a Jasmine at all, but rather a Cestrum nocturnum, a genus with about 250 species which is more closely related to the tomato than jasminum. We gardeners really don't care, for the scent is fantastically sweet, if not overpowering. The event here is only briefly longer than the night-blooming cereus, with flowers lasting for only a few days on these tender, tropical shrubs. Our plant spends winter in the cold greenhouse, but it's the cutting which I plant out each year, into the perennial border. Cestrum species grow so quickly, that a 4 inch cutting can reach 4 feet tall in a few months. I will take cuttings near the end of summer, which will carry our stock through the winter. Sadly, the plant only blooms once a year, yet for one week of super sweetness ( I think it smells like grape Pez candy), it's worth it. The hot, humid nights of August would seem incomplete without the scent of these two plants, if only for a day or two.


  1. Hi, u may get pitaya fruit grow if u hand pollinate the nigh blloming moon flowers or hylocereus flower

  2. I would love to be able to grow Jasmine in my Massachusetts garden. I experienced the scent of jasmine when I traveled in India and would go to a great deal of trouble to recreate it in my more northern climate.

  3. Hi Amy, well, I live in Massachusetts and although not a true jasmine, these are quite growable as an annual. We do grow jasmine species, which you can keep outdoors during the winter, and grow on as a windowsill plant in the winter - you should try some. We also have a hardy Jasmine nudiflorum, which blooms in February outdoors in our Worcester garden, but sadly, it is not fragrant. You can see it here http://www.growingwithplants.com/2011/04/yellow-shrubs.html

  4. When next your Oxypetalum blooms and I see more buds, when the flower is fully open you can snip it right off the plant, put it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator and display it the next day for a little while in the full light of day. Transport in a cooler broadens the territory in which you can show it off. Kept in the dark it will last all day; I've never timed to see just how long the open flower lasts in the light.

  5. Anonymous11:29 AM

    I think you need to put the life cycle of the night blooming cereus in this!!

  6. Anonymous2:59 PM

    My husband was given a Night Blooming Cereus as a gift several years ago. As we live at 9000' in the mountains of Colorado we weren't sure how it would be affected. Well it apparently loves us and its location which is a northeastern window; it has grown to epic proportions (wish I could post a picture.) We have watched it constantly for years eagerly awaiting for a bud, but alas nothing. Finally in late June 2014 I saw a bud dangling towards the bottom of the plant in a very inconspicuous spot. My husband and I did a happy dance as we knew a bloom was on its way! Lo and behold on July 12th not only the night of the full moon but also my husbands birthday we came home to an amazing flower. We love this plant! Thank you for posting this article it is very informative.


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