Of all things in our experience, the night sky is truly the most awesome. For city dwellers, not even ‘pollution’ from nighttime illumination can dampen the full moon, Mars, or Venus. For those living farther out in the darker domains, even greater wonders are there on any cloud-free night. And for those with a Tanglewood conservatory, these wonders can be enjoyed year-round in the most special of ways.
Imagine: on a lovely clear night, you relax with your favorite beverage in hand and a tray of tantalizing snacks at the ready. You’ve made a special appointment with the universe—one of a rare number throughout the year. The universe wants to treat you to the most marvelous of shows: the Quadrantids, Lyrids, Eta Aquarids, Perseids, Draconids, Orionids, Taurids, Leonids, or Geminids. These are the yearly meteor showers which rain mystery down into our atmosphere.
And as you wait excitedly for that first falling star, something else can be there to enhance the experience and delight your senses. There are many plants that are active at night, sending out perfume and flaunting their beauty in hopes of attracting night-time pollinators like moths and bats.
In the case of the Night-blooming cereus, that pollinator could be you! This common moniker actually refers to quite a few cacti, but if you own the Hylocereus genre (species undatus—to be exact), you could pollinate those huge, stunning starry blooms by hand and be rewarded with dragonfruit in a few months. There is even a wonderful dwarf version that is very free-flowering. What a special thing to do on a special night—something adults and children alike would find as magical as the meteors.
It cannot be overstated that the variety of cacti that bloom at night is astounding, particularly the epiphytes (tree or rock-dwelling). It is well worth the time to do a little research into what fits your environment best. Some are desert-dwelling and others come from the rainforest; they are generally very forgiving plants. But cacti aren’t the only nocturnal bloomers.
Night-blooming plants have a tendency to be highly perfumed, because unlike the stars, moon, and meteors, they aren’t necessarily illuminated. A bat or moth needs to be able to find them, so they often out-scent even the finest roses. However, the majority of them tend to be colored in the lighter range—often white or lighter shades of yellow, blue, or pink.
Another wonderful nocternal conservatory contender is anything in the Brugmansia genus, aka Angel’s Trumpet. These semi-tree/shrubs are fairly easy container growers and have huge, trumpet-shaped hanging flowers with a beauty to match their night-time scent. There are so many varieties available due to avid fans of the plants that you’ll have a hard time choosing a cultivar. This is one plant that will entice you into trying several types. Its upright-flowered sibling, Datura, is just as lovely with a very special double purple variety that’s better grown as an annual—easily done from seed. It will bloom and bloom and bloom. Both species need consistent watering and benefit from daily showering if grown under glass. There is much to learn about these plants, which have a depth that make them great star-gazing companions.
Ylang Ylang (Cananga odorata) is a tropical tree prized for its scent and used in perfumes. Its heavenly scent is deepest at night and will send you skyward toward those stars at which you’re gazing! You can try growing it, or more manageably, there is a dwarf variety (Cananga odorata var. fruticosa). As with other tropical night-bloomers, warmth and humidity (easily created with the pot saucer filled with gravel and water) make for the best scent.
The flowers on the umbels of night-blooming jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum) are so perfectly star-shaped, a star-gazer can only marvel. The scent is so heavy that some might even prefer other jasmines, such as Arabian jasmine (Jasminum sambac), which is more free-flowering and a smaller, more manageable plant.
Other sweet-scented night-bloomers are Moonflower (Ipomoea alba), Tuberose (Polianthes tuberosa), and Night Phlox, aka Midnight Candy (Zaluzianskya capensis). These require a bit more care and planning—to be treated like annuals rather than continuous greenhouse specimens. It would be easy to time them to bloom during one of the meteor events or a full moon.
You’re bound to fall in love with some or all of these plants, even enticing you into throwing a night-time party not only for celestial entertainment, but to also do some botanical star-gazing. There are so many choices that they nearly rival the boundless numbers of stars.
Enjoy your wonderful nighttime activities and you might just catch Cassiopeia winking at you!