Unique Plant Blooms Unpredictably and Only at Night

Queen of the Night cactus in bloom
Photo provided by Yuxi Xia '20
October 2, 2017

Students, staff, and faculty gathered in the almost empty Margaret C. Ferguson Greenhouses Thursday night to witness a rare blooming of a Queen of the Night Cactus (Epiphyllum oxypetalum), a plant that blooms only at night.

The unique plant could very well be the last to bloom in the Ferguson Greenhouses, which are being prepped for demolition. Most of the plants have already moved to their new temporary home in the Science Center as the College awaits the construction of the new Global Flora greenhouses.

Yuxi Xia ’20, one of the Thorndike interns at the Botanical gardens witnessed the moment with about 100 other plant lovers from across the campus. At the center of their attention, Xia said, were about 12 buds that were attached to a stem from the main plant, which had grown into the wooden frames of the greenhouse over many years.

The blooming happened very gradually over two hours. “First the buds started getting bigger, and then the petals slowly opened,” said Xia. “At the end of two hours, each bulb had bloomed."

According to Xia, as the plant bloomed, it put out an "intoxicating" fragrance, meant to attract pollinators.  

"This was my first time seeing this plant bloom, and it was very magical, she said. "Watching this, you felt like you were really in the moment.”