A rare moonflower (Selenicereus wittii) at Cambridge University Botanical Gardens (CUBG) in the UK has bloomed for just one day in a remarkable flowering event caught on camera.
The blooming event, which only happens once a year at nighttime for this particular species of Amazonian cactus, was live-streamed and closely followed by CUBG in the days leading up to the event that caught the attention of hundreds of thousands of people around the world who eagerly waited in anticipation for the day blooming would begin.
"We’ve been totally overwhelmed by the interest our flower has created. As scientists, botanists, and horticulturalists here at the Garden, we are all fascinated by plants, but its been so heartwarming to see how our Moonflower has captured the hearts and interest of so many people across the globe," said Beverley Glover, Director of the CUBG, in a statement.
This was the first time the rare blooming of Selenicereus wittii has taken place in the UK, and one of the only recordings of it happening in the world. Alex Summers, the supervisor of the glasshouse where the plant is housed, was there to witness the opening on February 20, and described how it happened:
“In the morning we saw on the livestream that the sepals on the bud had started to part and by lunchtime, it became apparent that it was beginning to open much earlier than expected. It started to open fully over the afternoon, reaching full bloom at 5 pm.”
The flower, which normally blooms overnight caught many slightly off guard when it started to open at around 1.40 pm GMT local time and reached full bloom around 5 pm on February 20. You can watch the incredibly rare blooming below to see how it unfolds.
“We are so excited that this rare cactus has flowered now – ever since I realised that it was going to flower soon, we’ve all been in suspense! Everyone here at the Garden has been fascinated and I feel so lucky to have been here to experience it.” Summers said.
There was a jasmine-like smell in the air when the flower bloomed, Summers explained, and after around 12 hours everything started to fade again, which brought with it a much less pleasant smell, something Summers described as smelling like public toilets.
Nevertheless, the team at CUBG says there is still much to learn about these rare plants.
“Relatively little is known about the Moonflower, so having it here in cultivation enables us to deepen our understanding about it. I took a sample of a couple of tepals, which we will look at under the microscope to analyse the cell shape. They’re currently being stored in the fridge before they die fully and we’ll prepare casts from them to enable us to study them," Glover said.
I’m really interested to know how the expansion of the floral tube takes place and how the stamens and stigma (that’s the male and female reproductive structures) grow to the right length. I’d also love to explore how the plant has developed various features which fit it for pollination by the hawkmoths. This would probably need access to multiple flowers so might be a job for when the plant flowers again next year.”