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Mysterious cactus blooms at night

Q: Recently, I moved to a new home with a giant cactus near one corner of the house. It is at least 30 feet tall. Although it looks dried out (almost woody) in ­areas, it blossomed in early May. The flowers are white, as large as dinner plates, and open only at night. The neighbors seem to think it might be a night-blooming cereus. Can you shed light on this and tell me how to care for it?

J. Beaudoin, Fort Meyers, FL

A: Dr. Seymour Linden, Secretary of the  Cactus & Succulent Society of America  (CCSA) in Los Angeles, California, replies: There are hundreds of cacti with white flowers that bloom at night, and they are often classified under the generic term “night-blooming cereus.” Most cereus varieties will have similar nocturnal habits, but the cactus you describe is most likely Cereus peruvianus, also known as C. uruguayanus. It is a common cactus that grows almost anywhere, especially in Southern California and Florida. It can easily reach 35 feet tall.

Don’t worry about the dry, woody-looking spots on the cactus. The lower stems get corky with maturity. There isn’t anything to do to prevent it, or any reason to.

It’s not easy to care for a 30-foot plant, but it sounds like your cactus is doing just fine without a lot of attention. Since your cactus has probably been surviving on rainwater all along, there doesn’t seem to be any need to water it. And it appears that light and soil conditions are favorable to growth. The cactus should continue to flourish as long as it’s left in the same conditions that you found it.

From Fine Gardening 52, pp. 20