The night blooming cactus is also called night blooming cereus, queen of the night and deer horn cactus. Its botanical name is Cereus greggii and it is native to southern Arizona, western Texas and northern Mexico, which are all desert areas. The stems look like plump twigs, but the flowers, each of which opens only for one night in mid-summer, are large and fragrant.
Description and Habitat
The night flowering cactus is usually inconspicuous in its native habitat because its branches look like long, dead twigs. But in June and July, it produces large, fragrant flowers that live for only one night. During its short night of life, insects such as moths visit and pollinate the flower, resulting later in a reddish orange fruit that is three inches long and elliptical. The night flowering cactus can be found from 3000 to 5000 feet in elevation and often grows in the shade of other desert plants such as the creosote shrub in the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts.
Night Flowering Cactus As a Food Source
The large, fleshy roots of the night flowering cactus can weigh up to 100 pounds. Native American Indians used this root as food. The fruit has served as a food to indigenous people who live in its native range. Some Indian tribes made a jam or jelly-like substance from the fruit.
Night Flowering Cactus In the Home Landscape
The night flowering cactus is often planted in rock gardens along with other succulents, cactus and plants that require very little water. Because it is a desert plant, it survives well in hot arid climates such as the Kona coast of Hawaii, where people have planted it in yards and along roadsides.
How To Propagate and Grow Night Flowering Cactus
To start a new plant, take a stem cutting of an existing night flowering cactus. Four inches is a good length. Prepare a nursery pot with a drainage hole by filling it with a sandy potting mix and then insert your cutting into the soil at least 1-1/2 inches deep. Keep it in a fairly dark place and keep it moist. When it shows signs of new growth, you'll know that roots have begun to form. You can transplant it to your garden after this occurs. The night flowering cactus can endure salty soils and air. Do not over water it, but it benefits from monthly feedings of a balanced soluble fertilizer in spring and summer. If you dilute a fertilizer having an N-P-K ratio of 20-20-20 to half strength, this plant will respond well. Do not fertilize during winter and also reduce the amount of water during this season. In spring, begin watering and fertilizing, but don't allow the soil to stay too wet.
Medicinal Uses of Night Flowering Cactus
Although the purported medicinal uses of the night blooming cereus have not been studied or confirmed, folklore claims its root has medicinal properties that have been used as a cardiac stimulant. It is said to function much like the drug digitalis. In folk medicine, it has been used to increase secretions from the kidneys and also to relieve the symptoms of some types of heart disease.