Leaf of the Day: Queen of the Night Cactus

September the First, the official end of summer. I duly said three “white rabbits” on waking, so I am looking forward to some good fortune this month. You can never be quite sure with these old superstitions and as we will be in Las Vegas in 2 weeks time it was worth a go.Yes, on Friday we are going on holiday, our first ever visit to the south west. Firstly in and around Santa Fe and the Grand Canyon for some nature and art, and ending up for 2 nights in Las Vegas for sleaze and vice…I do like a well balanced holiday.

For the last few visits to Leu, with our trip in mind, I have been looking at the cacti and trying to understand more about the differences between cacti, agaves, aloes and succulents, I am not much further forward. I was used to the prickly pears, aloes and agaves of southern Spain, but so many in the gardens here are new to me and I had never seen the night blooming cacti before. Some time ago though I did find, what is labeled at Leu, the “Queen of the Night”Epiphyllum oxypetalum.

I really love the big flat beautifully shaped “leaves”, which are really stems, and, the way they grow, one from another is fascinating. It is also now about to flower. If I could be there all night I might see one open and experience the heady scent, how very frustrating. Instead, until I get one of my own I just have to look at some of the many beautiful photographs on the Internet to see what I am missing. There are conflicting ideas about which plant is the true Queen of the Night and it seems that many of the night blooming cacti go by this name.

Hedge cactus Leu Gardens

Another night only flower is the nearby huge hedge cactus whose tantalizingly closed flower heads I would see one day, only to find them blackened and fallen the next.
I must say the flower of this particular Queen of the Night is stunning and I am not surprised to read the accounts of fond owners who religiously stay up all night inviting friends and having a party to watch and wait for the flowering event, I would too.

Here is a great post from Xerses on Dave’s Garden Forum about Queen of the Night here..

“My Queen of the Night is blooming as I type. It has been in my extended family for almost 10 years, and none of us knew what it was. I’ve been caring for it for almost 4 years now, and last week I noticed it was putting out buds. It had four at first, one has fallen off, and another looks like it is going the same way, but two have made it to big as cloves of garlic. It began blooming at about 8, when I could start seeing white at the tips, right now it is about halfway open (or so I gather from the photos I’ve seen). It is 10:45 pm. I’m taking photographs, and wishing I had a time lapse camera. It smells heavenly. It is the oddest thing, it shakes back and forth as it opens, though there is no wind at all here in Baltimore tonight. What a joy!”

See a little time lapse film here from a site with more Epiphyllum oxypetalum information and an invite to anyone in the area to go and see the flowers! Or go to YouTube for even more films and advice on propagation.. I will definitely try to grow a plant from this leaf I have. The flower’s structure is extraordinarily beautiful and is specialized to suit certain nocturnal hawk moths, with a floral tube that is exactly 30 cm long, with nectar at its base. Attracted by the flower’s scent, the hawk moth hovers close to the flower, unrolls its proboscis that is also 30cm long and inserts it into the tube. The strange star shaped pistil stands proud of the stamens and the flower is also said to be a visual metaphor for the nativity.. Hmm
I can’t draw a flower, but the best I can do is draw the beautiful leaf with the hanging bud. Maybe next year I will have a flower, you will all be invited.


Queen of the Night, Leaf and Bud

Leaf of the Day: Red Rhipsalis Ramulosa

Rhipsalis ramulosa, a splendid name for this spectacular plant which was growing in the Leu green house and I just had to beg one slender leaf to draw. It is such a great shape and the colour shades up the “leaf” (the leaves are really stems) from pale green to dark red. The little fruits are pale pinky cream and would have been preceded by small white flowers.

Rhipsalis are primarily epiphytic (meaning they live in trees), but some are lithophytic (that is growing in the cracks of rocks). In its full glory its cascades from trees and rocks, its flattened stems branching over and over again. Think of the Christmas cactus (shrimp plant) we know so well in the UK.
There are just under 40 species and most occur in Brazil. A few are found more widespread in South America up into Central America, the Caribbean, and one species as far as Madagascar and Sri Lanka making Rhipsalis the only member of the Cactus Family that occurs naturally in the “Old World”.

image from Toptropicals.com.

Here in Florida I am seeing more and more cacti and I am finding them more and more interesting. One of my favourite gardens at Leu is the arid garden which is at the moment fragrant with frangipani blossom and splendid with gorgeous coral trees and many different species of Cacti. Rather than those sad dry and dusty things that struggle to exist is UK living rooms, these are gorgeous showy things. More to come.


Rhipsalis Ramulosa