Blink and you’ll miss it! The incredibly rare Moonflower Cactus recently bloomed, but it only lasted for a single night and was gone by the time morning rolled around. The elusive and unusual plant only shows off its majestic white flower once a year at night, and releases a jasmine-like scent into its rainforest surroundings.
“It’s very rare to have this plant in our collection and we believe this is the first time the Moonflower has flowered in the UK,” said Alex Summers, horticulturist and glasshouse supervisor from Cambridge University Botanic Garden. Horticulturists have only successfully grown about 13 of the Amazon moonflower (Selenicereus wittii), as they take years of diligent nurturing.
This one in particular was propagated from another one in Germany’s Bonn Botanic Garden in 2015 and now grows around a Water Chesnut tree. It is an epiphyte, which is a type of plant that grows on another plant. Its native habitat is subject to floods and so it typically grows meters above ground and drops its seeds into the water, which are then carried away and (hopefully) find a place to grow.
In November 2020, Summers noticed a flower bud growing 12 feet off the ground. Since then, Summers and his colleagues kept an eye on the bud, waiting to see it part. In nature, these flowers typically bloom in May, but it’s common for them to bloom in February when kept in a greenhouse. Summers thought it was going to finally bloom on February 9, and started a livestream for others to watch, but it ended up not happening until February 20. The plant started spreading its sepals at 3pm, and by 5pm, it was fully open, which you can see in this video:
Experts were right there to take photos and collect all kinds of data. They had to work fast, however, as 12 hours later (as they expected) the flower faded, lost its sweet scent and started to smell more unpleasant.
“We are so excited that this rare cactus has flowered now—ever since I realized that it was going to flower soon, we’ve all been in suspense,” stated Summers. “Everyone here at the Garden has been fascinated and I feel so lucky to have been here to experience it.” It was an excellent opportunity for botanists to gain a stronger understanding of the plant, especially since pollination of it has never been observed outside of captivity.