The Cactus Queen and her Moth | Desert Botanical Garden

OPEN DAILY 8 A.M.|7 A.M. FOR MEMBERS WED. & SUN.

Following a perfumed path in the night, hawk moths in the desert of Southern Arizona find the queen of the night cactus blossom held aloft on what appears to be a dead stick. The skinny cactus stems grow from a large tuberous root that weighs more than 40 pounds.

The tuber stores nutrients and water to keep the plant alive during dry times; a great adaptation for the Sonoran Desert where rainfall is scarce. The root also provides necessary energy for the cactus to produce the spectacular blossoms that its famous for.

The queen of the night, as elusive as real royalty avoiding paparazzi, is nearly invisible when not in bloom. However, it doesn’t like to party alone. Plants growing in the same area tend to bloom on the same night, sending a fragrant invitation on the breeze to hawk moths that fly in from afar to feed on the flower’s nectar. Pollinated flowers produce bright red fruit–two to three inches long–that provide a feast for birds who complete the cycle by dispersing seeds as they fly to their next food source. We can hope a seed will settle in among the base of creosote bush, where it will germinate and produce a new queen of the night ready to send its message to moths!

Hawk Moth Pollinating a Queen of the Night Bloom

Photo: Jan Emming

Queen of the Night Root

Photo: Jan Emming

Queen of the Night Root

Photo: Jan Emming

Queen of the Night in Bloom
Queen of the Night in Bloom

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