The Sonoran Desert Florilegium

plants of the florilegium

Peniocereus greggii var. transmontanus
Night-blooming cereus

FAMILY:  Cactaceae — Cactus family

OTHER COMMON NAMES:  Arizona queen-of-the-night, Reina de la noche

ETYMOLOGY:  The name for the genus Peniocereus derives from the Greek word pene, meaning 'thread', and the Latin cereus, meaning 'waxy taper', a general name given to cacti. Taken together, the name describes the very slender stems of the cacti in the genus Peniocereus.

DESCRIPTION:  The lovely white flower of the night-blooming cereus lasts for only one night, opening just after dusk and closing shortly after sunrise. Its strong fragrance can be sensed as far as one hundred feet attracting hawk moths and other night-feeding insects that cross pollinate the flowers.

Approximately 3" wide and 8" long, the flowers grow from slender gray-green stems, usually supported by branches of desert shrubs and trees. The stems are quite inconspicuous and are protected from animals among the branches of the creosote bush, desert ironwood, and other similarly colored desert plants, becoming conspicuous only when the flower blooms. The stems grow from a large turnip-like tuberous root that generally weighs from 5 to 15 pounds.

Individual plants within a population usually bloom on the same night, giving a spectacular show. During the blooming period between late May and early July, each population can produce this show of flowers more than once. Birds are attracted by the 3" long elliptical red fruit and disperse the seeds in their droppings after eating the pulp.