The Night-Blooming Cereus

night blooming cereus


And now, for a late night lesson in botany (my second love, directly after the written word.)

My favorite professor from college gifted me with a beautiful potted plant after we shared a farewell meal at his gorgeous house.”Her name is Stella, and we grew her from a seedling,” he told me as he plopped the green giant in my lap. Her leaves and branches sprawled and waved. I was fairly nervous that she was going to wrap one of her long “stabilizers,”AKA tentacles of death, around my pale neck and emit a foreboding “FEED ME” from deep within.

But she didn’t. Although her long arms grabbed at the headrest in the backseat of my car, and I wondered briefly if I should put a seatbelt around her, she was surprisingly tame. I presented her as a gift to my mother, who has a greener thumb than someone crushing grasshoppers under their fingers, and she happily found Stella a place to grow, despite much pondering and scratching-of-chin about where she would fit another flower.

My professor had impressed upon me the gloriousness of the out-of-this-world smell that would soon waft from the blossom of our night-blooming cereus. What he failed to mention, or perhaps I failed to hear, is that the night-blooming cereus blooms on one night only. What night, you ask? Oh, just one night a year. That’s right. Just like birthdays and holidays, the night-blooming cereus blooms annually. My mother and I awaited Stella’s first blossom with as much anticipation. Our vigilance was only outmatched by the guards posted at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Because once a night-blooming cereus grows a blossom, you better hope you don’t miss it. As my mother and I had to find out the hard way, the cereus’s blossom will close and wilt the next morning. She’s the Cinderella of the flower world.

And so, we thought we were truly blessed last year. Stella brought us one blossom, and we took turns kneeling beside it to sniff its truly awesome scent. We pulled a similar stunt with some particularly fragrant moonflowers before that…

But you can imagine our delight when this year, after a rather risky “hack back,” we saw that Stella produced 4 blossoms. We are now patiently waiting for them to bloom. And when I say patiently waiting, I mean checking anxiously a few times every day, even though we know she only blooms at night.

So, why am I telling you about my weird, lazy flower that only blooms once a year?

Well, it’s rather simple. Rarely will life plop a metaphor so squarely in your lap. I’m sure you’ve already figured it out yourself: if you are going to do something, do it right, and do not worry about how long it takes. I don’t care what it is: a new job, a new relationship, an old friendship, a dream, a single day. If we could all be like the night-blooming cereus, if we could direct all of our energy towards doing something, even if it takes a year (or several), simply to create one glorious product, then we could be fulfilled. But that kind of dedication is rare.

So, how about another philosophical lesson from our cactus cousin? The night-blooming cereus blooms at night. I knew that one would knock you back on your heels. I’ll wait for you to get back up. Okay, ready? Here’s why that’s important: the night-blooming cereus does not bloom in the daytime. Thus, it does not get any recognition for its beauty by the shining sun, or the bees, or the green thumbs of the world. It does not compete with the other flowers. It opens at night, when no one is around to see it. It is a gift only to the light of the moon, who adorns an altar unto herself. And so, in its resplendent beauty, it blooms without distraction or inhibition. It does not try to be anything, it just is.

Now, there are a few metaphors inherent in that. Be more deliberate in your actions, and do not openly seek acclaim and fame are the two big ones that come to mind. But you can read in between the lines as much as you want. That’s the beauty of the night-blooming cereus: it’s full of potential.

And here’s another kicker: so are you.

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