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Queen of the Night blooms for crowd at Selby Gardens

The flowering cactus only shows its blossoms for one night each year.

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As they relaxed in lawn chairs, hundreds of attendees had their eyes on the center of the arrival courtyard on June 6 at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. 

It was a once-a-year event, but you had to look closely to see the action. 

The flowers begin to open.
Photo by Ian Swaby

As the sun set, the hundreds of buds of the Queen of the Night plant slowly expanded to reveal the large white flowers inside. 

It isn't known quite why the plant, a cactus of the genus Selenicereus, evolved to open just once a year at night, said Mike McLaughlin, Selby Gardens' senior vice president of horticulture. 

The blooms open further.
Photo by Ian Swaby

Nonetheless, the event has become an annual tradition for Selby Gardens, one which resumed this year after a two-year hiatus for the construction of Phase 1 of the organization's master plan. 

Found in Central America, the Caribbean and northern South America, Selenicereus grows on the surface of other plants and on rocks. When it blooms each year, the buds begin to open as the sun sets, and close as it rises. 

Austin Scherer and his son Charles Scherer, 6, watch the flowers bloom. Their family just returned to Sarasota after a long road trip to New York. "We came straight from our road trip to see it bloom," Austin Scherer said. "It's a once-a-year opportunity, right?"
Photo by Ian Swaby

Jennifer Rominiecki, president and CEO of Selby Gardens, called the plant “a really spectacular, mature specimen."

"Anytime we can make the public aware of the importance of nature to life as we know it, we want to do that, and this is a great way to connect the public to nature and to really encourage the public to appreciate nature," she said.

One of the flowers nears full bloom.
Photo by Ian Swaby

Formerly located on historic Palm Avenue at Selby Gardens, the cactus was relocated to the Hobart K. Swan and Janis F. Swan Live Oak Arrival Court about two-and-a-half years ago after its original tree began to deteriorate. 

McLaughlin said the relocation involved a painstaking process of several days to remove the plant from the tree, followed by a trip to the courtyard that was "like carrying an anaconda."

"It's transplanted beautifully, and it's certainly grown beyond where it was when we brought it, so it's a good success story," he said. 

Elaina Bishop, 8, came from Venice to see the Queen of the Night.
Photo by Ian Swaby



Ian Swaby

Ian Swaby is the Sarasota neighbors writer for the Observer. Ian is a Florida State University graduate of Editing, Writing, and Media and previously worked in the publishing industry in the Cayman Islands.

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