The Night-Blooming Cereus is putting on quite a show in our Colonia San Antonio courtyard tonight.
One night only, folks. By morning these beauties will be withered old crones, bereft of the intoxicating scent currently filling our home.
Rose spotted the — what shall we call it? — the chrysalis of the Cereus earlier this afternoon. Raul our gardener was just as excited to see them — there are two. We missed the blooming of several of the cactus flowers earlier.
“Come out tonight,” Raul said. “They will be in bloom. Very beautiful. Tomorrow, they will be done.”
Around 9 p.m. the botanical pyrotechnics had begun. It is as if the white shards around the delicate papery bloom exploded into the night, releasing the creamy white bloom and its most alluring scent. Almost a creamier, earthier version of jasmine.
There is much work to do before sunrise for this Queen of the Night. She has to attract pollinators if she is to propagate. The window for fertility is narrow and quite dark.
She is known by many names, like “moonflower,” “Cinderella bloom,” “belle of the night,” and variously princess or queen of the night.
Seems a tragedy that something so structurally complex and beautiful has such a fleeting span. This queen is no Queen Elizabeth among flowers, but the Cereus blooming is timely as it symbolizes transitions, for example, from this world to the next. Queen of the Night, your brief reign coincides with the record-setting reign of Elizabeth.
Gently accompany her spirit to the hereafter.
In 1836, night-blooming cereus cacti were brought to Hawai’i by a traveler from Mexico. They are planted as a hedge against the stone wall of a missionary school. The cacti hedge, called panini o kapunahou in Hawai’i, thrives to this day.
During World War II, students picked the buds and took them to recovering servicemen in a local hospital. Their ability to thrive under adversity proved inspirational to the wounded and the fragrance when the Queen of the Night bloomed was unimaginably comforting.
In India, seeing the Cereus bloom is considered fortunate, bringing luck and fortune to those who witness this fleeting event.
Not surprisingly given its brief tenure, there is a sacredness about witnessing the Cereus bloom. A sudden burst of white in the blackness of the night is fraught with symbolic opportunity.
Poet laureate Robert Hayden recognized this when he wrote of the Queen of the Night that its blooming is a “lunar presence, foredoomed, already dying with a plangency older than human cries.”
The brief but showy life of the Night-Blooming Cereus inspires shamanic energy. One site proposes reciting this affirmation in her majestic presence: “I open to the beauty and the healing gifts of my shadow. I accept the transitory yet eternal nature of life.”
My thoughts while in the presence of this Queen of the Night: Even the most beautiful life can be cut tragically short by design. Embrace life, cherish the good and the beautiful. Accept your destiny with grace. When the time comes, play your part and play it so well that few will forget it when you exit the stage.
Good night, my Cereus. May your journey give you new meaning in realms we do not comprehend.