Unique horticultural event has short window at rural Andrews home

Sharon Laupp, of rural Andrews, shows one of the flower buds of her night-blooming cereus plant, just hours before it opened for one night only on Wednesday, Aug. 30. The plant blooms only once per year, after nightfall, and closes with the first rays of the morning sun.
Sharon Laupp, of rural Andrews, shows one of the flower buds of her night-blooming cereus plant, just hours before it opened for one night only on Wednesday, Aug. 30. The plant blooms only once per year, after nightfall, and closes with the first rays of the morning sun. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.

Originally published Sept. 4, 2017.

Sharon Laupp describes a horticultural event at her house as like “waiting for a baby to be born.”

On Wednesday, Aug. 30, her unusual plant gave birth, at night, to a single, fragrant flower. And then it was gone.

Laupp’s plant is a night-blooming cereus, which she believes is the only one of its kind in the area.

“It’s kind of tantalizing as to when it’s going to open, kind of like when you’re having a baby,” she explains. “You know the due date, but it’s not always right on that date. You have to take your clues from the flower, see how it’s doing, and when it’s going to open.”

When it does bloom, it starts after 8 p.m., a creamy-white flower about four inches wide that releases an intense, exquisitely-scented fragrance out into the night. But it doesn’t last long.

“By morning it will be drooped down already, and it’s spent,” Laupp says. “It closes forever with the first ray of the morning sun.”

Laupp has about 20 blooms on her cereus, which stands about 10 feet tall. She says they can open anytime from July until late September, when the days get a bit shorter and the evenings are cooler. The plant must be moved indoors to winter before frost.

“It’s a lot of trouble to bring that huge plant indoors,” she said. “We have to put it on a dolly to get it in the door.”

The plant, a member of the cactus family, can be found in the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts of southern Arizona, as well as western Texas and northern Mexico. Other species grow in tropical forests, such as in Hawaii.

It is known by several names, including Princess of the Night, Honolulu Queen, Christ in the Manger, Dama de Noche, Cinderella plant, dragon fruit and Queen of the Night. Some species produce fruit and Native Americans used the plant’s tuberous roots as a food source.

Laupp got her plant when she was a member of the Huntington Garden Club, which is now defunct. Another member, the late Frances Lawver, gave her a cutting of her own night-blooming cereus (Hylocereus undatus) in the early 1990s.

Laupp, who is also a master gardener, says none of her master gardener friends in Huntington County have the unique plant.

“I know one other person that Frances gave a start to, but I don’t know her last name anymore, so I don’t know if she has it or not,” Laupp adds.

To get a start, you cut one of the cereus’ stems on the diagonal, let it cure in the air for a while, then stick it in sand. She says keeping the plant healthy and productive is not hard, as long as you treat it as if you live in the desert.

“You’re supposed to fertilize it from March through July, and not overwater it, especially in the winter,” she says. “Like I said, it’s in the cactus family and it likes to be dry. When you water it, you don’t want it to stand in a saucer of water, so you lift it up from the base a little bit, so it drains.”

In the wintertime, it sits inside near north and east windows until around the middle of May, when Laupp and her husband, Tom, move it outside. Then, like expectant parents, they wait.

Some cereus gardeners hold “birthing parties,” Sharon Laupp says, in which they invite over friends, neighbors and fellow gardeners to witness the blooms open for the short, but sweet, period of time. She says there are at least five more that are just a couple of days away from blooming.

“It took about 17 days for that one to bloom, from the first little bud until now,” she adds. “I watched all that formation from when it was one-eighth inch long.”