In Bloom: Night Blooming Cereus

It’s hard to miss the three hundred meter long hedge of cacti surrounding the grounds of Honolulu's Punahou School. By day, the cacti are relatively non-descript: green and gangly, sitting on their lava rock perch.  But these aren’t just any cacti, these are Night-Blooming Cereus, Hylocereus undatus.  What most of us didn’t know, is that when the sun sets, these plants come to life.

Between the months of June and October, these summer loving superstars begin to open in the late afternoon, taking many hours to reach full bloom. Not much of a night owl? The Cereus can also be seen early in the morning till about 6 o’ clock.

image from: http://stevendn.smugmug.com/

image from: http://stevendn.smugmug.com/

If you’ve ever seen the Night Blooming Cereus, or “Queen of the Night,” in other parts of the island, chances are they’re related to those growing around the Punahou grounds.

In the late 1800s, on the ship Ivanhoe, first mate, Charles Brewer picked up a few clippings of the plant in Mexico while on his way over to Honolulu. Only a single clipping survived the journey, which was later planted and given to a woman affiliated with the school. Eventually the entire hedge was planted, becoming one of the most impressive night-blooming cacti hedges in the country.

Unfortunately, these gorgeous gems are only for looking. Taking clippings or flowers from the hedge is strictly prohibited and is an offense that is taken very Cereus-ly (tee hee). 

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Fun Fact: Hylocereus undatus plants are the source of the treasured dragon fruit or 'pitaya', but the variety found at Punahou is ornamental and sadly produces no fruit. Look for the fruit producing variety of Hylocereus undatus in many Honolulu back-yards and gardens.

Photos & story by: Kenna Reed