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Dama de la Noche
Queen of the Night Orchid

A bloom half open at night...
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by Laura Honse, text and photos
(Photos were shot on an iPhone, some shot at night with a flashlight.)

At about nine o’clock one recent evening, I pulled up some chairs in our dark courtyard and my neighbors joined me in their bathrobes. It was a warm, starry night and cicadas were singing. We had gathered to watch the unveiling of my Dama de la Noche plant, for on this night most of its seventy buds would blossom into giant flowers in slow motion throughout the evening. This social gathering to celebrate the blossoming of this plant is quite common in Oaxaca, where the plant is abundant.


The flowers have long swan-like necks.
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Closed and opened flowers
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The closed buds of flowers that opened two nights before and flowers that opened the previous night which are closing early in the morning.
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Epiphyllum Oxpetalum, a type of orchid cactus more commonly known as Queen of the Night, is often mistakenly referred to as Blooming Cereus although it is not closely related to any of that species. It has several vernacular names in different countries. In India it is called Brahma Kamalan after the Hindu god. In Japan it is known as Beauty Under the Moon, in Sri Lanka as Flower from Heaven. The Indonesians call it the Flower of Triumph.


This is how they look the day they are to bloom later in the night.
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Inside of an open flower and a young bud.
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Large specimens of this plant can produce several crops of flowers in one season, from late spring through late summer. It has stems up to six meters long, the smaller ones profusely branching out into large, flattened, scalloped portions like leaves. The white flowers are produced from the flattened portions and are eleven inches long and five inches wide, shaped like majestic waterlilies. This fragrant nocturnal bloom opens in the evening and closes again at dawn, when the flower begins to wilt. The blooming process takes several hours, and the flower’s heady fragrance intensifies as the night wears on. The flower center contains several yellow stamens that are exposed when the flowers begin to open at dusk, but it may not be in full bloom until after midnight. Often, the flowering is followed by small, purple red fruits.


The plant has meter long stalks shooting upwards.
I had to tie part of the plant up to a tree branch, the weight of all the flowers was pulling it down.
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The incredible anatomy of the Dama de la Noche.
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The flower bud starts off as a tiny canine red pin point on a leaf, rapidly acquiring a stem of the same color. As it grows, this stem gets longer and curves downward, resembling a swan’s neck. After awhile, the canine red elongated outer petal casing begins to reveal a white bulb in the center. When this bulb is swollen and heavy, the size and shape of a peeled hard boiled egg, it is ready to bloom. It unravels much like a camera aperture, very slowly emitting a view into the deep heart of the flower, opening into a cup shape that widens out at the height of blooming with the outer camine red petals pulled back flat. Since the flowers open at night they cannot be pollinated by the usual daytime pollinators like bees. Instead they attract moths and bats. On this night we had the extra bonus of witnessing a Hummingbird Moth (Sphinx Moth) appear with a great humming of wings, hover before the flowers, and enter several where it lay in the flower’s inner depth to pollinate it with its long uncurled tongue.



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A flower slowly opening at night, shot with a flashlight.
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I acquired my Queen of the Night from a small cutting, one of the flattened leaves, while in Oaxaca years ago. I brought it back by car and planted it. The first two years it grew slowly and had no flowers. Eventually it had one or two. Now it has around seventy flowers each time it blooms, and produces several crops in one season. It has spread out its meter high stalks and leaves so wide that I have had to find more room for it. This plant likes shaded sun and much water during the blooming season. Although these very intricate flowers only last for one night, the magnificence of the white giant blossoms reflecting the light of the moon as they sway eerily like ghostly ladies in ball dresses in the breeze is a truly unforgettable experience. A surreal Garden of Eden.

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Laura Honse was born in the US and raised overseas in Brasil, Uruguay, Australia and New Zealand. She received a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design and then moved to Germany, where she lived and worked for twenty years. She is a photographer and also makes jewelry out of hand painted fabric and paper. She currently resides in San Miguel de Allende.

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