When I learned of the Queen of the Night, I was immediately drawn to it. A beautifully fragrant flower that blooms only one night each year!
I was at once intrigued, inspired and captivated. What does it smell like? When does it bloom? Do many people know about this flower?
Witnessing the miraculous event of its bloom is like watching the “Cinderella of the desert” become the bell of the ball. But alas, dawn is “midnight” for this Cinderella, as the flower wilts and the Queen of the Night becomes just a plain, inconspicuous cactus for another year.
Sometimes little miracles are overlooked – I didn’t want the “Queen” to be one of them. Desert Queen® celebrates the mystery of the desert and its secret fragrant treasure – something that can now be experienced by everyone!
Founder, Once in a Bloom Fragrances, Inc.
How did you capture the essence of a flower that blooms only one night each year?
The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix is home to the world’s largest and most diverse collection of succulent plants, including 40 Queen of the Night! A perfumer and I worked with the Garden’s horticulturist who kept watch on the Queen’s bloom progress that summer, so the trip could be arranged to coincide. The perfumer stayed for 10 days, eagerly awaiting the night the flowers were going to start their blooming cycle. I remember joking with him that all of our pacing and waiting brought to mind an expectant father/family, waiting for a baby to be born…
When that magical night finally arrived, he remained close to the flowers to memorize their character as the scent was released. As a perfumer, or “nose” in the world of fragrance, he has the ability to remember scents, with great accuracy, recognizing their essential and unique qualities. After returning to his lab, he interpreted the Queen of the Night’s natural aroma, capturing the most important and prominent characteristics. A perfect mixture of various oils then allowed us to recreate the essence of the Queen of the Night and “Desert Queen” was born.
Many fragrances, actually, are made from harvested flowers that go through a distillation process for their petals’ oil. Because of the “protected” nature of this flower and the fact that it blooms for only 12 hours each year (!) this was not, of course, an option for us.
Tell us more about the Queen of the Night….
Known in the botanical world as peniocereus greggii, the Queen of the Night was named for its dramatic, white, waxy flowers that are composed of elegant white petals and stamens. One of the desert’s most famous yet least encountered cactus, the Queen of the Night is virtually invisible most of the year. Reaching a height of four to eight feet, its thin, inconspicuous branches are frequently hidden amongst other desert cacti or shrubbery.
Where does the Queen of the Night grow?
The queen of the night grows naturally at low elevations in the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts of the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. Its known range includes large areas in central and southern Arizona, southwestern New Mexico, western Texas, northern Mexico as well as in Baja, California. The species, in general, is not nearly as plentiful as it once was. In fact, the numbers of these plants are so diminished in Arizona that within the Gila River Indian Reservation where it was once common, it is now a protected plant on the reservation.
Does the Queen of the Night really bloom only one night each year? When?
Yes, each trumpet-shaped blossom appears for only one night each year, usually during the end of June / beginning of July. Each cactus can and usually does have more than one bud bloom. Although each bloom lasts only one night, each queen cactus can bloom on a different night over a period of several nights during a week’s period.
Why does the Queen of the Night only bloom at night?
Night blooming cacti, like the Queen of the Night, bloom later than day-blooming cacti as they have to wait for night temperatures to reach a certain level for their pollinators to come out.
Most large cacti have night blooming flowers, but their flowers tend to be heavy and waxy and stay open for a longer period of time. Their petals can stand up to the sun. Also, their blooming cycle tends to last approximately one month.
Most small cacti have day blooming flowers. Their season is generally March-April.
Can you describe the scent of the Queen of the Night’s flower?
The flower has a warm, soft, floral scent, with a touch of sweetness. It delicately perfumes the air as far as a quarter-mile away.
Is there somewhere I can go to experience the bloom for myself?
Yes! Tohono Chul Park in Tucson, AZ, which has over 340 “Queens”, hosts a free “Bloom Night” each summer if you happen to be in town. “Mother Nature” picks the date as they say, but if you join their mailing list, they will email you with 24 hours notice of the bloom night. According to TCP, the number of flowers blooming in one night has been as high as 174 on 69 plants. This very special night attracts over a thousand people to the park from dusk to midnight and features special tours, refreshments, drawings and a live telling of the Tohono O’odham Indian tribe legend. Go to: http://tohonochulpark.org/get-engaged/ and sign up for the bloom watch!
Can I buy a Queen of the Night cactus?
The Desert Botanical Garden sells very small and limited potted “Queens” but does not ship them.
What actually makes a “cactus” a “cactus”?
Most people think they know a cactus when they see one but are often mistaken. All cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti. (Succulent plants are plants that are capable of storing water). Agaves, ocotillos and aloes, for example are among the swollen or spiny plants often mistaken for cacti. However, the term cactus refers to a particular family of plants defined by a distinctive flower pattern. To be a cactus, the plant must produce flowers with certain characteristics, including: many tepals (combined sepals and petals) that integrate with each other and many stamens (usually hundreds). If a plant lacks such a flower, it cannot be a cactus.
Flowers also determine the family/species. If they attract the same pollinators, they are from the same species.
I’m curious about the deserts in the US. What makes one different from the other?
Deserts are given names based on the periods of rain they receive:
Sonoran: summer and winter rains
Chihuahuan: only summer rains
Mohave: only winter rains
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