Night-blooming cereus remains notorious not only for blooming at night, but also for blossoming very quickly. A member of the cactus family, the plant looks like a dead, dry bush growing in the desert. Most people never notice the plant, but one night during the summer, a highly fragrant, large, white flower unfolds as the sun goes down. The bloom closes by the next morning, never to appear again until the next summer.
Two plants go by the name of night-blooming cereus, including Selenicereus and the Hylocereus genus. Both plants feature similar growing habits, including flowers that bloom during one night in the summer. Both plants come from the cactus family. Most gardeners in the United States grow Hylocereus.
The rather unnoticeable but fast-growing vine either sprawls or remains erect, reaching up to 8 feet in height. Night-blooming cereus features grayish, gangly stems that reach up to 1/2 inch in diameter. The plant grows from a large tuberous root, typically weighing up to 15 pounds. But older specimens may weigh as much as 100 pounds. Native Americans used the root as an important food source.
During the summer, flower buds start to grow along the leaves. Watch the buds daily to help determine what night they will bloom. The night the plant blooms, the intensely fragrant, trumpet-shaped flowers reach up to 4 inches wide and up to 8 inches in length, opening up right before your eyes. After the flower finishes blooming during its one night of glory, the plant eventually produces pods that mature into reddish-orange fruits growing up to 3 inches in length
Night-blooming cereus grows best indoors. In the summer, the plant grows well outside, as long as it receives filtered sunlight and plenty of warmth. While the plants exist in some nurseries as transplants, most gardeners start the plant from cuttings provided by someone with an established plant. Plant a 2- to 4-inch length of the cutting in sandy potting soil, and keep the soil moist. In about three to six weeks, the plant will root. The plant needs to grow for two to three years before it blooms. For transplanting a plant from a container from a nursery, the easy-to-grow plants require well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter and sand mixed in.
While night-blooming cereus requires little maintenance, the plant benefits from a monthly feeding of water-soluble fertilizer during the summer. The plant also requires regular watering, but do not let the soil get water-logged. During the fall and winter, reduce watering, and avoid feeding the plant fertilizer to encourage blooming the following year.