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Madhurima Vidyarthi

  • Writer's pictureMadhurima Vidyarthi

Queen of the Night: The story of the rare night-blooming cactus I didn't know I had

Updated: May 30, 2023


My Night Bloom Cactus; First Flowering


The journey with my cacti is becoming The Never-Ending Story

in a thorny version. Every time I think I couldn't be surprised by

these prickly creatures any more, they find another way to twist

and wriggle around a new corner and throw me off my

equilibrium.

Cacti at the Pine View Nursery in Kalimpong


After the sensory overload at the Pinewood Nursery in

Kalimpong, I was looking forward to a quiet pleasant summer-

monsoon windfall of golden-yellow Mammillaria blooms.

Familiar, the emphasis is on ‘familiar’. The same pots, the same

plants, the same little greeny little balls of spiny exuberance that

I have watched flourish over the last four years. My Mammillaria

breed like the proverbial rabbits. (I have never seen rabbits

breed). But they overflow the spiny cornucopia, if there is one,

and push at the boundaries of all my planters, pots, containers -

fancy ceramic, baked clay, cheap plastic, what have you. They

pay no attention whatsoever to the rest of their race, chugging

on inch by microinch around them. In the cactus nursery, they

are the brats, screaming, flashy, in-your-face.


But then, in this, as in the rest of Life, there is a triangle, a Third

Corner, an Other. A moment of unexpected blinding beauty that

is gone as soon as it comes and slips through your fingers

leaving regret in its wake. Regret and awe. Or is it gratitude

cloaked in these? Remember The Bridges of Madison County?

Enter The Night Bloom in my cactus corner. One I didn’t know

I had. A quiet well-behaved slim green plodder that has steadily

gained inches since it came to live with me. Last night I saw it in

bloom, in a way I never had before. In a way, I have never seen

any plant bloom before. Huge creamy-white flowers made up of

whorl upon whorl of delicate petals brimming over with rich

pollen. From six in the evening when the petals were just shyly

opening till late at night, I watched and watched and watched its

bold unapologetic unfurling and blooming in awe. Between 8

and 9 pm, it was at the pinnacle of its glory. Mature, voluptuous,

all-conquering.

Blooming in progress, photos taken between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.


This morning I rushed, half-asleep to witness its wilted glory. In

the dawn, the flowers were just closing, as if still in the throes of

their lovers’ dreams. By dusk, their secrets were no longer open

to the world. Only a hint of white and scarlet remained. Already

their proud beauty had withered.

Night fell again. With its patient, tedious, inevitability.

I waited. And waited and waited. And waited some more.

The flowers remained firmly closed.

Here is what the internet says about night-blooming cacti.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night-blooming_cereus

2. https://www.thespruce.com/types-of-night-blooming-

cereus-5186687

3. https://a-z-animals.com/plants/night-blooming-cactus/


There are some, it is written, which bloom only after their fourth or fifth year of growth.

Once a year, on one single night of magic. Only one.

But look closely at the pictures.

There is a bud. I can wait some more.

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