When you hear the word “desert” you tend to imagine a place consisting of sand and vast empty spaces. Namibia certainly does have landscapes like that, but it also has beautiful trees, grasses and flowers. We were introduced to a rather spectacular flower last week that had us eager to learn more about the plant itself. It is the amazing “Queen of the Night” or “Selenicereus grandiflorus” – a cactus with flowers that bloom after sunset and only last for one night.
In fact the Queen of the Night is known by numerous names (like night-blooming cereus, sweet-scented cactus, vanilla cactus, large-flowered cactus, koningin van die nag to mention a few) and the one that we saw was most probably a sub-species or a hybrid of the original Selenicereus grandiflorus, which is quite rare in cultivation according to Wikipedia.
We saw the blooms shortly after a rain shower and they looked exquisite with raindrops clinging to the petals.
The white flowers, which give off a heady scent rather like vanilla, are quite large and open up to reveal an intricate arrangement of stamens in their midst. The sepals are a green/brown colour and they delicately frame the gorgeous blooms.
Although they are known to flower for one night only, there are a number of buds on the stems, which means that you can see flowers on more than one night if your visit is timed correctly to coincide with the buds opening.
The stems of this cactus are cylindrical in shape and covered with clusters of thorns. They crawl along the ground and take root in the most inhospitable places. The shrub that we saw had climbed up a rock face and spread out in a tumble of stems and flowers.
I was up early the next morning to see how the blooms had wilted, and was surprised to see them still looking quite good in spite of the weak morning sunshine. No doubt once the day warmed up the flowers would have wilted very quickly.
Selenicereus grandiflorus is used in the homeopathic remedy cactus grand. for the treatment of heart ailments. What a shame that the flowers don’t last – they certainly are magnificent and would be a real feast for the eyes if they were around for longer.