Four Cereus flowers almost fully open, usually by 10 or 11 p.m. The entire performance, which happens only one night per blossom, is finished by 3 a.m. [Photo of my specimen courtesy of Judd Friedman, Enchanted Gardens.]
This is a plant I have had for at least forty years. If I'm not mistaken it bloomed for the first time on the night of my friend Karen's 21st birthday.
Since that time it has produced anywhere from one to fifteen blossoms per season, usually on the night of the full moon. When not in bloom it is not a beautiful plant. It has also eaten a third of the real estate of my living room.
The buds hang on long pendulous stems and look like creatures from another planet and you never know precisely which night each one will bloom. Sometimes they bloom on subsequent nights, sometimes all at once like the ones pictured here.
Fully open. This flower has an incredible fragrance that fills the entire house. Sometimes I lie underneath it and fade into dreamland. [Photo of my specimen courtesy of Judd Friedman, Baker Extraordinaire.]
When it buds up I make sure to be at home every evening to watch and see if it's going to open. When I'm sure it's starting I call the A-list of Cereus Appreciators to come over and celebrate. The buds unfurl in a slow-motion spiral over three to four hours.
Once it is full open it is impossible not to sit and stare at it. It is absolutely magnificent.
The plant is an epiphytic cactus that grows in the Amazon. Margaret Mee's painting of it is documented in the book In Search of Flowers of the Amazon Forests. There is an older version of a Cereus in the Temple of Flora set of botanical illustrations commissioned by Dr. Robert John Thornton in the collections of both the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and the Missouri Botanical Gardens Library.
I painted a version of it many years ago. It was first published on the cover of my 1998 calendar. Drawing this flower at night was no small feat. I also struggled to paint it in a way that indicated it was open during the night because I didn't want to set it in dark blue or black.
The painting went into a private collection long ago but is now available as a limited edition print.
I've made one other painting of it that was published in the 2014 calendar.