It happens only once a year. If you miss her arrival you have to wait a whole year. This Queen of the Night clearly wants to maintain an air of mystery!
For 364 days a year she masquerades as an ugly cactus, a mere stick that looks like something you’d swear was dead. Then on one night of the year she musters up all her energy for a spectacular show. She will not open her petals until dark has enveloped the desert and by morning’s light her petals will wilt. Her beauty is revealed only in the darkness. The interesting part is that all her sisters in the area bloom on the very same night! The reason is one of practicality – they need to be pollinated and since they bloom for only one night during the year, they need to be coordinated. No one knows how they do that either. A Queen must maintain her mystery! Bats and sphinx moths are tasked with pollinating Her Majesty.
Another part of this Queen’s mystery is that you never know for sure when she will arrive. It is known that she will be here sometime over the summer but she keeps her exact arrival a mystery, usually until that morning. As soon as she has made up her mind the people at Tohono Chul Park, where there are more Queens than anywhere in the world, send out emails to all on their mailing list that “tonight’s the night”! Two thousand people managed to experience her in all her glory last night. I wasn’t sure I’d be one of them. I asked a friend if she wanted to go with me to meet the Queen but hadn’t heard back from her. I would’ve tried getting there myself, a mere three miles from where I live, but yesterday was not a good day for me so I was thinking I might not make it. But my friend came through and off we went.
We got there early which was a good thing since parking became nearly impossible later in the evening. To be honest the Queen of the Night didn’t look like much when we first saw her but it was still daylight so she remained in hiding. As darkness approached one by one she allowed her petals to open as people were pouring in to the park. The ugly turned into the beautiful under the cloak of darkness. Photos that had been relatively easy to take when we first got there were now much more difficult with the crowds seeking their own audience with the Queen.
One of my issues yesterday was that I kept losing my balance. When given space around me it isn’t too terrible since I just move my leg this way or that to accommodate the listing of my body! But when there are people all around me that quickly becomes impossible to do. I was leaning over to take a photo of our fair lady and, upon getting up, really lost my balance. With no place to maneuver I did the next best thing – I grabbed on to the shoulder of the woman next to me, the one I would’ve fallen into otherwise! Luckily she was quite understanding as I explained to her that, no, I had not been drinking but just had balance issues! We both laughed! They did have prickly pear margaritas at the park and I had one but, alas, without any alcohol in it. So sad but someone who cannot walk straight doesn’t need alcohol!
We left just before the Queen of the Night fully opened. I would’ve loved to have stayed but between the heat, humidity and my acrobatics I really thought it was better to leave before I had an accident! After all, I had met the Queen and managed to spend some intimate, one on one time with her before the crowds interrupted our alone time. She shared her beauty with me . What more can you ask?
[For those who like to know these things, our Queen’s official name is Peniocereus greggii, or cereus for short. If you are interested in more information, please go to the Tohono Chul website. . This particular page deals entirely with the Queen of the Night and has a video as well as information. Well worth the click!]
© 2017 deborah kauffeld