Night Blooming Cereus Fruit

October 17, 2008

Today, while hiking a dirt road on the bajada among prickly pear, yucca, and shrubby mesquite and acacias, we spotted a red glow under a mesquite tree. 

It’s the fruit of a night-blooming cereus, the twiggy cactus that is practically invisible for most of the year except on the night it blooms.  Here’s the fruit and the grayish-green stem up close in the late afternoon light:

It is famous for its glowing white, heavily-scented flowers, but the fruits are rarely photographed. Peniocereus greggii is rather rare and easy to overlook, and I’ve only seen a few wild plants.  They always seem more significant than might be expected from their appearance, perhaps because the thin stems, otherworldly flowers, and ephemeral fruits all spring from a large brown tuber that spends most of the year resting quietly in the desert earth.  A mysterious plant with a strong, undeniably feminine presence.  Photos of the flowers, taken at Tohono Chul Parkon several “Bloom Nights”, are here on my cactus website:


3 Responses to “Night Blooming Cereus Fruit”

  1. judithornot said

    Fascinating! I had no idea they created fruit! My mom had a night blooming cereus in the back yard, which she transfered into a pot when she moved into an apartment, and then it traveled with her until the end. But she always picked the flowers off a day or two after they bloomed, so I guess it never had the chance to come to fruition.

  2. Dave Brown said

    I have a neighbor who has a 20-year old NBC in his yard here in Ft. Myers, FL. It blooms twice a year on a staked up configuration. It is about 15′ tall and has just bourn those beautiful, orchid like blossoms, which the early rising honey bees dive into at first light. Now the fruit has appeared. I was not aware of its name, but thought it was a ‘paw-paw’. I remember it from the Disney movie, THE JUNGLE BOOK which featured Phil Harris as the voice of the bear (can’t remember his name) who waxed lyrically about this fruit.

    I would appreciate knowing how it is prepared, or does one eat it raw like other fruit?

    I would be happy to share pictures showing the bee’s feasting.

    Thank YOU for sharing such an interesting account.


    • ironwing said

      Dear Dave,
      Cactus fruit are edible but some taste better than others. In Mexico and Central America, the sweet, juicy varieties are sold in markets for eating raw. In the southwestern U.S., fruits of the prickly pear, organ pipe, and saguaro are sometimes cooked into jam or syrup, but I haven’t heard of anyone eating the night-blooming cereus fruit, probably because it is uncommon and the flowers do not always set fruit. The fruits have no colloquial name. Prickly pear fruits are called “tunas” and organ pipe fruits are called “pitahaya”.
      Pawpaws are the fruits of a small tree (Asimina triloba) that grows in wet sandy bottomland woods in the southeastern U.S. and Mississippi Valley. The plant is in no way related to cacti and is the northernmost member of a mostly-tropical family that includes several edible “custard apple” fruits. Pawpaws are blunt, oval, green fruits with smooth skin, about the size of a peach but more elongate, with several large brown seeds. They turn brown and soft when ripe, and the creamy orange flesh tastes like a cross between a banana and a peach. They can be eaten fresh or used to make cakes etc.
      I’ve read Kipling’s Jungle Books but haven’t seen the Disney version. The stories take place in India, which has a lot of tropical fruits that people in the U.S. would never see, hence Disney’s probable substitution of something American and (thus) nonsensical. Cacti are strictly New World plants, although the commercial prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica, one of the world’s most ancient cultivated plants) is grown as an ornamental and for food (pads and fruits) throughout the Mediterranean region.

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