Natural La Jolla: A night-blooming cactus that yields delicious fruit

NATURAL LA JOLLA:

During warm summer nights over the next couple months, you may catch a glimpse of one of the prettiest blooms of a cactus in the Hylocereus genus. The night blooming cereus (one of many varieties) produces fragrant and beautiful flowers. The beauty is short-lived; a flower may last only one night before it wilts and fades.

These luminous flowers nearly glow in the dark with their white feathery petals and yellow depths that attract nocturnal pollinators like bats and moths, and bees during the early morning hours before the flower closes up.

Once the flower fades after being pollinated, the dragon fruit (or pitaya) begins to develop. Eventually the exotic-looking fruit will have sharp spines and when ripe, it tastes like a strawberry combined with a pear.

The cactus itself can grow on its own in tall columns, but it may also be found clinging to a host tree that can support its growth, more like a vine. Cereus thrives in both sun and shade and is salt tolerant; it can be grown in pots or planters. It is recognizable by its three-sided stems with distinct sections that are two or three feet long. The flowers bud off the divisions in the stems and angle upward when they are ready to bloom. Because these blooms only last for one night, they are really a lucky summer find.

Kelly Stewart is a marine biologist with The Ocean Foundation who writes about the flora and fauna of La Jolla. She may be reached by e-mail: NaturalLaJolla@gmail.com

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