KUCHING (July 26): Catching a glimpse of Queen of the Night’s flowers (Epiphyllum oxypetalum) takes a fair bit of patience but is worth the wait.
The night-blooming cereus, also known as Dutchman’s pipe, orchid cactus, ‘Bunga Bakawali’, and Tan Hua, is a distinctive plant that only blooms at night and withers by dawn.
Unlike the stench of other rare blooms such as the Rafflesia and Amorphophallus or corpse flower, the Queen of the Night produces a sweet, musky aroma with notes of white jasmine and magnolia on a base of dark wood and musk.
The delicate fragrance spreads from the creamy white stamens in the centre of each blossom.
Technically a cactus species that enjoys the same environment and growing conditions as a tropical plant, the plant is not rare in warmer climates all over the world, but is easily mistaken for a dragon fruit plant.
The flowers of this plant, however, are rare as they only bloom on a single night and begin to wilt as soon as the morning sun hits them.
With 25 to 30 narrow five-inch petals, these flowers grow on long, wavy seaweed-like leaves that can drape 1.5 metres down.
According to one plant’s owner, who is the writer’s mother, there is no precise way to determine when Queen of the Night flowers will make their appearance.
“I have been keeping the plant for over five years and this year around, eight buds have blossomed, seven all at once at midnight on July 25 and another one on July 26,” she said.
She said the plant can produce up to a dozen buds in a single year, sometime between June and October.
“Each flower lasts for only a night, blooms between 8pm and 10pm, reaches its maximum between midnight and 3am, and closes before dawn,” she added.
The night-blooming cereus is unable to self-pollinate, therefore it blooms at night to attract nocturnal pollinators such as bats, moths, and other insects.
Cooler temperatures are essential for the pollinators to be active.
The flower has also been featured in popular culture, most prominently in the 2018 film ‘Crazy Rich Asians’.
Tan Hua, as it is called in the film, is a metaphor of the short-lived magic between lead characters Rachel (Constance Wu) and Nick (played by Sarawak-born Henry Golding).
Certain cultures, however, associate the flowers with prosperity, fulfilment, and beauty.
As it is claimed to have healing properties, including to improve eyesight, the writer did attempt to dab dewdrops, which sat like little crystal balls on the flower, on the outer corner of her eyes, but alas it was no magic fix.
The writer’s mother added Queen of the Night embodies patience and perseverance.
“Enjoy the small moments because they do not last,” she said.