Large, rare white flowers grow in some of the most unusual and elusive places in the world. The noteworthy efforts of botanists to document unusual plants has also helped rescue several plants and flowers from extinction.
The night-blooming cereus orchid cactus (Epiphyllum oxypetalum) is native to South America. This unusual plant has large, sword-shaped leaves with thorns along the edges. The leaves can reach lengths between 1 1/2 and 2 feet when covered in blooms. The large, white 7-inch flowers bloom only late at night, and close at dawn. Some reports say they are spent by dawn. The flowers have a strong fragrance when they bloom. This cereus orchid cactus is called “kadupul” in Sri Lanka, where it is the centerpiece of an interesting story. The kadapul is known as the “flower of the celestial Nagas.” Legend has it that when the kadapul blooms, the Nagas descend to earth from their heavenly posts to present this fragrant flower to Buddha as an offering of honor. According to the story, the floral presentation happens on the holy mountain of Sri Pada. Sri Pada is also called Adam’s Peak in central Sri Lanka. It is more than 7,000 feet high, and a place of annual religious pilgrimage for Sinhala Buddhists, among others.
The Bois dentelle (Elaeocarpus bojeri) is a critically endangered tree that is indigenous to the high cloud forests of the island of Mauritius. The tree is remarkable for its long, drooping clusters of white, bell-shaped flowers whose petals look like fine lace. The rarity of the Bois dentelle is due to the encroachment of invasive alien species. The Piton Grand Bassin hill in Mauritius is home to the Bois dentelle, but is also overrun by guava (Psidium cattleianum) and species of Litsea monopetala. The island’s Ministry of Agriculture Division of Horticulture, in cooperation with the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, successfully grafted the Elaeocarpus bojeri. This action has forestalled the total extinction of the Bois dentelle.
The giant Amazon water lily (Victoria amazonica) is as imposing as its name suggests. It is indigenous to the Amazonian rainforest in Central Brazil. Its botanical name comes from British explorers who recorded the species in 1801, naming it for Queen Victoria. The massive leaves of this plant can reach 7 feet in diameter. They support enormous white flowers, which bloom only at night, filling the air with a pineapple-like fragrance. It takes skill and experience to find these water lilies in their natural habitat--isolated ponds that are hidden within the rainforest.