Alternate name: Desert Night-blooming Cereus
Family: Cactaceae, Cactus view all from this family
Description This plant looks like an inconspicuous dead twiggy shrub most of the year, usually growing under a creosote, ironwood, mesquite, or other desert tree for shade and support, until it blooms spectacularly a few times each summer.
Habit: succulent native perennial shrub; large tuberous root.
Height: 1-4 ft (30-120 cm), or much more in cultivation
Stem: few, ribbed, thin, barely spiny, gray-green to dark gray, to 0.5-1 in (12-25 mm) diameter.
Leaf: spine, dark, very short, 9-17 per areole, to 0.125 in (3 mm) long.
Flower: large, creamy white (rarely rose-pink), fragrant, 3-5 in (75-125 mm) wide or much more, 2-3 in (50-75 mm) tall, on long purple-brown stalk; opening at sunset for only one night, closing at sunrise.
Fruit: oval berry, bright red to red-orange, 2.5-3.5 in (63-90 mm) long, to 2 in (50 mm) diameter.
Flower May to July; each plant blooms 3-5 times per year.
Habitat Desert flats and washes; also cultivated as an ornamental.
Range Southern Arizona east to western Texas and south to northern Mexico.
Discussion Also known as Arizona queen-of-the-night, deer horn cactus, sweet potato cactus, desert night-blooming cereus. Two varieties are proposed. Endangered in New Mexico, restricted in Arizona. This cactus, sometimes placed in the larger genus Cereus, is inconspicuous most of the year. When in bloom, it is easily spotted only in the evening and early morning when its spectacular night-blooming flowers are open. It is very popular in desert rock gardens and in the cactus trade; when a population is found, all too often the large, turnip-like roots are quickly dug up. It can be grown from stem cuttings, if the cut end is allowed to heal in shade for several weeks before it is planted in dry sand. The plant is legally protected in most of its range and should be left in the wild.