Greenhouse Guests Enjoy the Dusk-to-Dawn Bloom of Queen of the Night
The Queen of the Night cactus blooms but one night a year, from dusk until dawn. And when she blooms, she does so with a beauty and fragrance that she has been saving all year long.
Queen of the Night is known by many names. It is the kodupul flower in Sri Lanka, and “beauty under the moon” in Japan. In China it is called the tan flower; using its name to refer to a person in that culture means that he or she is enjoying a brief moment of glory.
The Queen of the Night is part of a “jungle cactus” collection the Margaret C. Ferguson Greenhouses at Wellesley have cultivated for many years. When the buds first start to develop they point straight down, according to Wellesley College Botanic Gardens (WCBG) horticulturist David Sommers. A few days before they bloom, they turn upward, and the tip of the bud develops a point. When the tip turns frizzy, somewhat like a paint brush, the flower will open that night.
Catching the cactus in bloom is a rare treat. Sommers once opened the greenhouses on that special night so that others could enjoy the event. When he realized many of the flowers were preparing to bloom this fall, he mentioned the possibility of a viewing to Ningyi Xi ’17. She immediately posted an invitation for a nighttime event to the WCBG’s Facebook page and began spreading the word via email.
Around 100 guests, mostly students on their way to the soirée for President Paula A. Johnson’s inauguration September 30, stopped by to witness the Queen of the Night’s arrival. They were rewarded with the sight and scent of 20 brilliant white flowers blooming at once.
“People tend to associate the cactus family with desert environments, but the family is quite diverse,” said WCBG Director Kristina Jones. “This species is one of several that grow as vines on trees, and it has wound itself around the greenhouse structure in such a way that the flowers hang down from overhead—perhaps not quite as it grows in nature, but spectacular nonetheless!”
To enhance the drama of the flowers, the lights were turned off so that guests could explore using only flashlights and capture images using flash photography. The photos shared on this page are shown courtesy of greenhouse staff and guests.
Dropping temperatures are a reminder that winter is on its way, but visitors will be able to enjoy flowers in bloom in the greenhouses throughout the season. Among their many offerings is a Durant camellia tree donated by one of the College’s founders that is more than 130 years old. It is currently in bloom.