Night Blooming Cactus

Written by Em Casalena
Published: March 29, 2023
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Have you ever heard of the night blooming cactus? The term refers to a few different types of tall-growing cacti whose blooms open only at night and for a limited time. As a result, the term night blooming cactus refers to a wide variety of species and genera.

Night blooming cacti are well-known for the huge flowers and flat, leaf-like stalks that they grow. These unique cacti are almost exclusively found in warm, tropical parts of Asia, South America, and Central America where they thrive in high temperatures and require little upkeep.

In this article, we’ll take a look at some interesting facts about these cool cacti. We’ll also explain how you can care for these plants at home or in a garden.

What is a Night Blooming Cactus?

A night blooming cactus is, naturally, a species of cactus that only blooms at night. Many flowering ceroid cacti that bloom at night are together referred to as night blooming cereus. Any species of cactus with extremely long bodies, such as columnar growth cacti and epiphytic cacti, are referred to as ceroid cacti. The names princess of the night, queen of the night, and the Honolulu queen are also used to refer to one or multiple cacti that have similar behavior.

While many of the cacti known as night-blooming cereus are members of the Cereeae tribe in the subfamily Cactoideae, night-blooming cacti can also refer to other night-blooming cacti in the subfamily Cactoideae. Many species of cacti that go by this name include cacti of various species and genera. Night blooming cereus species belong to several genera, such as Echinopsis, Epiphyllum, Harrisia, Nyctocereus, and others.

The night blooming cacti’s blossoms fade quickly. While the majority of these species produce several blooms over the course of several weeks, each of which opens for just one night, some of them bloom just once a year, for one night.

A closeup of the white and yellow flower of the dragon fruit cactus.

The dragon fruit cactus (pictured) is a well-known species that only blooms at night.


Anatomy of the Night Blooming Cactus

Night-blooming cactus flowers are often white or have very faint tints of other colors, usually huge, and frequently fragrant, regardless of the genus or species. The majority of the flowers bloom after dusk. Before daybreak, the majority will already have started to wilt. The same night is often when plants in the same region bloom.

However, for healthy plants, there may occasionally be up to three distinct blooming occasions spaced out during the hottest months. Such blooms are produced by plants that can grow to be tall, columnar, or even quite huge and tree-like, but climbers with thin stems are more common.

In cooler climates, some night-blooming cacti are grown indoors in homes or greenhouses, but the majority of these plants are too big or ungainly for this method and are only seen outside in tropical regions.

Flower buds gradually grow after initially emerging. The flower stalk bends a few days before it opens, making the blossom parallel to the ground. On the day of bloom, outer bracts become plump and wavy, petals are plainly seen, and flower buds enlarge.

Night Blooming Cacti Native Environment

Because the definition of night blooming cacti is so broad, many different species grow in areas around the world. Many are found in Central or South America, as well as tropical regions around the globe.

Night Blooming Cacti Varieties and Subspecies

As mentioned earlier, night blooming cacti can refer to a wide range of species in various genera. One popular species is Epiphyllum oxypetalum, or the queen of the night cactus. It is a popular houseplant due to its bright white and cream flowers. The red orchid cactus is another night blooming species and variety that shows off massive red-pink flowers. Epiphyllum hookeri or hooker’s orchid boasts spikey, white-pink flowers that can be up to nine inches wide. There are dozens of other species and varieties that would be considered night blooming cacti.

Colors of the Night Blooming Cactus

Night blooming cacti come in many different colors. The bodies of these plants are usually some shade of green, with some looking more grey or brown than others. Their flowers can virtually be any color. In general, night blooming cacti have flowers that are white or cream, but often boast very light shades of yellow, pink, orange, or red.

What Will Make My Night Blooming Cactus Bloom?

There are a few things you can do to ensure your cactus blooms at night. To start, they need lots of bright light, regular fertilizing treatments after being moved, a smaller container that will help them stay just a little bit rootbound, and the right wintering treatment.

The wintering treatment is essential to getting your cactus to flower. Prior to the first frost, bring your cactus indoors. Give the plants the brightest area you can if they are budded. If not, even dim lighting should be okay. These plants should be kept in a cool area throughout the winter, with temperatures between 35 and 60 degrees F. Although they have tropical roots, night blooming cacti can survive the winter with minimal humidity. From November to March, give your young plants only a little water. Cacti that are mature require little to no water at this time. Water should be given if leaves begin to shrivel.

Plants frequently grow long, pencil-like stems throughout the winter. These stems produce flattened leaves when left alone. To keep the plant under control, prune these stems as necessary. As soon as evenings consistently remain above 40 degrees in the spring, move plants outside. Start feeding plants once they’ve become used to the outdoor environment to prepare for the summer flower display.

A closeup of the white flowers of Epiphyllum oxypetalum, the Dutchman's pipe cactus, princess of the night or queen of the night.

Most night blooming cacti (pictured) need some special care in order to bloom.


How to Grow a Night Blooming Cactus

There are many different types and species of night blooming cacti. Epiphyllum oxypetalum, a night blooming cereus renowned for its fragrant white blooms and flat stalks, is the most popular night blooming cactus kept as a houseplant. For the sake of this article’s brevity, we’ll focus on how to grow this particular species at home.

Repotting and Transplanting a Night Blooming Cactus

Repotting of night blooming cereus is only necessary when there are indications of inadequate drainage. It thrives when it is just a little bit rootbound, but if it gets too rootbound, water may have a hard time draining out of the container. If you decide to repot your cactus, keep in mind that the stress on its roots may prevent it from flowering in the summer. It should, however, improve in the next year.

Plan to hydrate your cactus a day before repotting it to lower the possibility of transplant shock. The soil shouldn’t be excessively moist while repotting. Get a container that is an additional size larger than the previous one, some drainable potting soil, and a bit of perlite or similar drainage aid in the interim. Remove your cactus from its original pot before repotting it. If you have trouble with this step, you may remove it by using a flat object, such as a knife.

Once it’s removed, brush off any extra dirt from its roots but don’t entirely remove the dirtball. Transfer the unpotted plant to the new container, then re-fill it with new soil blended with a drainage additive. In order to secure your cactus, pack earth around its base.

Pruning a Night Blooming Cactus

There is no need to prune this type of cactus unless it has a number of dead limbs. Pruning these off will help with allocating the plant’s energy to its living parts. However, you can also prune these plants after they bloom.

When they do bloom, the aroma of the night blooming cereus begins to release as soon as the buds open, and they often fully unfold about midnight. Flowers close with the first light of morning. Faded flowers dry out naturally and fall off of plants, but you can remove them by carefully breaking the flower stems.

Water Needs for Night Blooming Cacti

Never allow the soil dry up entirely before watering it. As a result, the plant can sustain harm and have trouble developing roots. These plants cannot tolerate lengthy periods of dryness, thus it is essential to maintain the soil just a bit damp.

Make sure the soil drains effectively to prevent water from pooling at the bottom and leading to root rot. It is advised to water your plant once a week in places that have extremely hot and dry summers. It is also advised to wait until the top two inches of soil are dry before watering again.

Choosing a pot with drainage holes will enable the drainage of extra water, which is a crucial aspect of keeping the night blooming cereus. In the spring and fall, you should only water once every one to two weeks. Reduce watering to every two to three weeks in the winter. Compared to the roots of immature plants, adult plant roots require less water.

Sunlight Needs for Night Blooming Cacti

This type of plant prefers the cover of the jungle, so avoid placing it in full sunlight, especially in the sweltering afternoon hours. Take care not to expose them to too much direct sunshine, but also remember that too much darkness may prevent them from blooming. The night blooming cereus won’t suffer from a few extra rays, though. Positions that provide more than two hours of direct sunlight should be avoided because of their susceptibility to sunburn. Bright, indirect sunlight is often best.

Picture of a San Pedro cactus flowers. Around mid-summer, this cacti plant produces white flowers, together with a few edible fruits.

One species of night blooming cactus called the San Pedro cactus (pictured) needs sufficient sunlight to bloom.

©Chris worldwide/

Soil Needs for Night Blooming Cacti

The best soil types for night blooming cereus maintenance are well-drained, aerated soils. The recommended method is to combine some orchid bark with a little amount of perlite. The recommended pH range for the soil of the night blooming cereus is between 5.5 and 6.5. Its development can be supported by implemented peat moss, pine bark, and sandy soil because of the superior drainage provided by these soil types. This plant’s roots don’t require much room in the pot you choose; in fact, they often grow more efficiently when confined in the pot.

Fertilizer Needs for Night Blooming Cacti

For the night blooming cactus, low nitrogen fertilizer is ideal since nitrogen-rich fertilizer might negatively impact flowering. Use cactus-specific fertilizers since they will also be effective on this particular variety of cactus. Throughout the spring and summer, when the plants are blossoming, fertilize them every two to three weeks. You shouldn’t fertilize your plants in the winter since they become dormant at that time and won’t require it.

Temperature and Humidity Needs for Night Blooming Cacti

A night blooming cereus should be kept in a space that is between 50 and 90 degrees F. Avoid keeping this plant near vents with drafts as well as extremely low temperatures. Like the majority of indoor plants, night blooming cacti thrive in conditions that are most comfortable for people. While it can endure low temperatures, many horticulturists advise against leaving your cactus in spaces under 40 degrees F if you want to keep it in the best possible shape.

Night blooming cereus plants can do quite well outdoors as well. They can be grown in USDA hardiness zones 10 through 11. If you don’t reside in one of these hardiness zones, you should put your night blooming cereus outside only when the nighttime temperature low is regularly at least 55 degrees F. To prevent burning, position your plant in full shade at first. Your plant will require some time to harden off if it has spent a lot of time indoors.

The humidity levels in a typical home are ideal for night blooming cacti. That being said, they function best at humidity levels around 50%. These plants are a wonderful option for people who don’t use a humidifier in their homes because they can survive low humidity as well.

Pests and Diseases to Watch Out For

Mealybugs are the insect that causes this plant’s most frequent pest complaints. Just as well, aphids, scales, and mites pose a potential hazard. That being said, they are often less prone to insect infestations, particularly when cultivated inside.

With night flowering cacti, root rot may become an issue. Yellow lower leaves, stunted or softened growth, and stem collapse are the main symptoms of this illness, which can eventually cause plant death. Avoid overwatering your plant to avoid this illness. A dark, decaying plant base can also result from overwatering. To save the surviving pieces of plants whose trunks have rotted away, cuttings must be removed and propagated.

It appears that the night blooming cactus is not afflicted by illnesses or infectious diseases very often. A majority of the time, infections are brought on by soil with a lot of water retention. These illnesses, which most often manifest as fungal leaf spots or root rot, might endanger the general health of your plants. Again, avoid overwatering to prevent these issues.

Is It Hard to Grow a Night Blooming Cactus?

Not at all! As long s you follow the instructions outlined in this guide, your night blooming cereus will be very easy to care for. Just make sure that you do some research on the specific species and variety that you choose.

Night blooming cacti are really fascinating, and their flowering habits are rare in the cacti world. If you can provide this type of cactus with the right care and environment, you might just be lucky enough to see them bloom!

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Gonzaga Sutrisno

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About the Author

Em Casalena is a writer at A-Z Animals where their primary focus is on plants, gardening, and sustainability. Em has been writing and researching about plants for nearly a decade and is a proud Southwest Institute of Healing Arts graduate and certified Urban Farming instructor. Em is a resident of Arizona and enjoys learning about eco-conscious living, thrifting at local shops, and caring for their Siamese cat Vladimir.

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