My cereus site FAQ

(Original: June, 2003. Updated: February, 2005, and December, 2007.)

I get a lot of email regarding this plant and this site, and in general, and can be very delayed in responding to queries. Below please find an attempt to answer the most common questions I have received. Thank you for visiting my site and I hope you have enjoyed seeing the pictures.

Q. I have a plant just like yours. Can you advise me on care, feeding, etc?

A. My advice and five pennies is worth one nickel :-) Compared to other similar plants I've seen and read about, our plant is relatively unproductive, historically blooming only a few times per year and then having only a few flowers per blooming event. We repotted the rootbound plant in late 2001, and it did not bloom at all during 2002. (We have heard the plant must be rootbound to bloom, but can't swear that's true.) Since summer, 2003, it has appeared to grow better, and provide more blooming events and more blooms. In 2004, we applied Miracle Gro to the plant, which may not have been an unalloyed blessing. At one point, we had over 20 buds on the plant simultaneously, ostensibly too many for our cereus to handle. Many of those buds survived to bloom, and we had several events in which more than four flowers appeared, but the flowers appeared smaller, and several did not succeed in opening fully. Next experiment: less Miracle Gro.

Q. Is your plant really an official night-blooming cereus?

A. The plant I have ostensibly has the Latin name of Epiphyllum oxypetalum, which sounds to my ear like a tropical disease. However, this same plant is frequently called "night-blooming cereus", as well as "Dutchman's Pipe cactus"; see this site. Other plants also go by the "night-blooming cereus" moniker, but I've found the vast majority of references to "night-blooming cereus" have turned out to be the same plant as mine. It is a member of the Cactaceae family but doesn't have the spines we commonly associate with cacti. I have seen a virtually identical flower at the Huntington Library in Pasadena, CA. Its host was a spiny cactus, and it bloomed in the daytime, to boot. To echo Shakespeare's Hamlet, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy.

Q. How did you acquire your plant? Is there a story behind it?

A. Our memories are hazy. We believe we obtained a leaf cutting from a friend, planted it in a spare pot, and apart from regular watering promptly forgot about the thing. It took years to grow, only to develop into this ugly plant with mottled, disfigured leaves. The pot was shunted into a shady corner, hidden behind more beautiful plants. More than once did we consider ripping it out in order to put its pot to better use. Somehow, we never could bring ourselves to do that. By that time we had no idea what the plant was (if we ever really did know.) It received water but no other care.

Then came one evening in June, 2000. We returned home from a memorial service for a graduate student named Brian, who had been tragically killed the month before in an auto accident. Somehow, we noticed that our ugly duckling was sporting one very large bud, perched at the end of a "U" shaped stem. The bud was threatening to bloom, and my wife realized she recognized the plant from her childhood. Her Chinese-English dictionary translated the plant name as "night-blooming cereus". She said the bloom would be large and fragrant but would wither before the dawn. I stayed up late, taking pictures of the bloom. We have come to regard the plant as Brian's flower.

That summer, Brian's flower bloomed every three weeks or so, producing one or two (and even three, on one occasion) blossoms at a time, finally quitting in November after we had a very cold (for Southern California) snap. The next summer (2001) it bloomed on several occasions. On four of the past five years, it has bloomed on my birthday! The only year it missed was 2002, the year in which the plant did not bloom at all.

Update: In January, 2007, we experienced several consecutive nights of subfreezing conditions here in our inland valley. We lost a lot of plants to that unusual cold wave, including Brian's plant. Last summer, I purchased a cutting of the same plant from Don's Epiphyllum World, a site I found highly recommended on online forums. The plant is growing slowly but surely, but it will be a while before I get to take more pictures -- at least in our backyard.

Q. Two of your cereus blooms actually survived the dawn. How?

A. I don't know for sure. Both were September blooms, having occurred in 2000 and 2001. The nights were lengthening, so that could not have helped the blooms persist (presuming they have a preset lifespan). It may be relevant that I had squirted both September blooms with water for its optical effect. I don't know if that mattered (and would be grateful for further information). (Update: I also squirted the July, 2003, bloom and it lasted past sunrise. Three for three now.)

Q. How did you take these pictures?

A. All of the pictures on this site were taken digitally, with Olympus C-2000Z or C-4040Z cameras. I also tried taking pictures on film -- especially because I wanted to make poster-sized enlargements -- but those pictures turned out very poorly. I was quite amazed at the sharpness of the Olympus camera's macro lens, the camera's exceptional dynamic range and its white balance capabilities. I took these pictures at night, using harsh halogen lighting. The Olympus cameras excelled under these conditions (the 2000Z in particular; the 4040Z has proven touchier).

Q. Do you have newer pictures than the ones shown on this site?

A. Yes, you can find some at my weblog, Are you cereus?. Because of the way I created this site, updating it is a pain. Plus, I wanted to have a site that could record comments and also host my non-cereus photographs. On the right side of the page, note the links to cereus-specific posts, in case that's all you are interested in. If you leave an anonymous comment, I can't respond. Many of the new pictures were taken with a Canon Digital Rebel XT, which I acquired a few years ago; the Olympus cameras have been retired. It may be worth visiting there just to see this one, which is now my absolute favorite!

Q. May I reuse your pictures?

A. Yes. I have given permission to persons to use my pictures, as long as I approve of the use and get credit. Please email me at rfovell at ucla dot edu for information. If you use the picture in a book or other publication, I greatly appreciate receiving a copy.

Q. Will you sell me copies of your pictures?

A. I created a site to host my pictures over at Exposure Manager. They set the prices and fill the orders. After 15 months, I've had no feedback, positive or negative, from this endeavor, but they came highly recommended.

Q. What happened to the high resolution versions of your pictures?

A. I removed them to save space. If you'd like higher quality versions of the pictures, please email me.

Q. Do you have advice on digital photography?

A. Sorry, no. The pictures you see on the site as of this writing (May, 2003) are virtually untouched, straight from the camera pictures. I would take that as indicating how good the Olympus cameras are. More recently, I have finally purchased Photoshop, and have started learning how to use it. I realize now I can improve some of the pictures. But all I know about Photoshop I learned at this site. Hope this helps.

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