Cactus Of The Week

The clue should have been in the name of the cactus, Selenicereus wittii, aka the moonflower. Excitement was mounting at Cambridge University Botanic Garden as their specimen was showing signs that it was about to open its first flower. A webcam was trained on the plant for eleven days.

In the Amazonian jungle it throws out a large white flower after dusk which emits a beautiful sweet-smelling fragrance, designed to attract its pollinators, two species of hawkmoth. After a couple of hours the aroma emanating from the flower turns to a more rancid odour before the flower dies just before dawn.

The Cambridge moonflower, though, decided to open up during the day, causing the botanists to hurriedly rearrange all their carefully prepared PR plans. Still, looking on the bright side it is thought that this was the first time the cactus had flowered in the UK.

An epiphyte, one that relies on another plant to provide its anchor point, the moonflower differs from common or garden cacti by being smooth and leaf-like. Probably though, the Cambridge one should have been called a sunflower. Its unscheduled behaviour did at least allow on-line viewers to watch it unfurl without losing a night’s sleep.

To see the momentous event, follow the link below:

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