Which Cactus Blooms at Night and Why?

by Lynn KirkDec 30, 2021

cactus blooms


Night owls, these cacti are for you!

If you’re a creature of the night, chances are you’ll appreciate a plant that blooms during your shift, a.k.a., the night watch. Though most houseplants flaunt their blossoms during the daylight hours, there are particular plants that open their petals in the dead of night. Night bloomers are coined ‘nocturnal’ because their flowers start to open as the sun starts to set. Some even do so as a one-night stand!

So which cactus blooms at night and why? One of the best known ‘nocturnals’ is the easy-to-care-for Cereus cactus. The reasons for its wee-hours blooming are as interesting as the plant itself.

* Different DNA. Night bloomers are as different as night and day from their daytime counterparts – genetically speaking, that is. The nocturnal plants’ stomata—tiny pore structures through which water vapor, carbon dioxide, and oxygen move in and out—open up during the night, which is exactly the opposite of most houseplants. This sophisticated plant adaptation ensures that pollination continues, regardless of the time of day (or night). But let’s not forget that several of their insect cohorts co-evolved along with them. Some night-flying insects developed incredible adaptations, which range from color vision and compound eyes that see well in darkness, to scent-smelling structures conveniently positioned on their long antennae.

* Optimal Origins. Nocturnal-blooming cacti typically are native to arid deserts and rainforests. . As ambient temperatures drop after sunset, some flowers offer warmth to their prospective pollinators. Hence, nighttime environments tend to support the cacti's flora pollination

* Persistent Pollinators. Speaking of pollination, the birds and bees may pollinate by day, but moths and bats pollinate by night. In fact, there are some nocturnal pollinators that pollinate specific nocturnal plants! These succulents' night-blooming flowers are naturally white or pale in coloring, so they’re more easily noticed by night-flying pollinators. The flowers also tend to emit a strong, fragrant scent that attracts pollinators, just like ladies of the night. Once pollinated, they develop fruits.

So which cactus blooms at night? Let’s check out the Cereus cactus, a genus of night-blooming succulent plants. It’s known for its ginormous flowers, which  at maturity can measure the size of a dinner plate! Yet, its magic is short-lived. Like Cinderella, its beauty lasts but a single night, for it opens at dusk and wilts by dawn. Its name surely fits, for cereus stems from the Latin words meaning ‘candle’ or ‘torch.’ Imagine when an entire outdoor area of cereus cacti bloom in one glorious night!

Succulent Market nurtures and sells 2 night-blooming Cereus cacti:

  • Cereus ForbessiShrubby and treelike, this cactus grows greyish, blue-green columnar stems with groups of long spines (the botanical reference for thorns). The cactus features many ribs, as well as many aureoles. Its white, single flowers bloom once in the evening, and then wither around daybreak. Cereus Forbessi hails from South America’s forests, hills, and arid plains across Argentina, Bolivia, and Paraguay. That explains its preference for a dry environment with full sun and temperatures around 70 to 95 degrees F.
  • Cereus Paolina. One of the newer Cereus cultivars is Paolina, which suggests a girl’s name (e.g., Paula or Pauline). It was premiered in Italy in 2017, and it is characterized by a freely branching growth habit, several dark-green main stems, four prominent ribs, and several upright horizontal branches. It also is marked by a small quantity of soft, white spines.

So now you know which cactus blooms at night and why! But don’t forget that there are other members of this succulent family worthy of collection. Though not night bloomers, here are 8 other Succulent Market favorites that are fascinating and fun to have on hand:

  1. Cleistocactus Strausi / Silver Torch Cactus
  2. Echinocactus Grusonii /Golden Barrel Cactus
  3. Ferocatus Pringlei / Mexican Fire Barrel Cactus
  4. Manmillaria   
  5. Opuntia Subulata
  6. Pilosocereus Pachycladus / Blue Torch, Blue Column Cactus
  7. Parodia Lenninghausii  / Yellow Tower Cactus
  8. Red Graft Cactus / Moon Cactus

Succulent Market’s cacti are farm-fresh and ideal for landscapes in USDA Zones 10-12 (sometimes up to 14). They add quirky charm to the home or office, too! Log on www.SucculentMarket.com and decide which cactus—or cactus collection—is right for you!

'Til then, nighty night!