Epiphyllum, from the Greek epi: upon + phullon: leaf, oxypetalum: with acute petals.
The queen of the night is a very intriguing flower.
A type of cactus and sometimes confused with the night-blooming cereus; oxypetalum is an epiphyte, meaning it grows supporting itself on other plants. The Cereeae family –which includes Selenicereus- grows on the soil. It is also a succulent that thrives in temperate zones, and despite its popularity being widely cultivated for its spectacular flowers; it can take several years until actually starting to produce blooms.
As the vernacular suggests, the queen of the night blooms at night and the flowers wilt before dawn. On a random year the queen of the night may produce multiple buds opening a single night, in a decadent display where some flowers may reach 9” in diameter.
But most times a plant over 7 years of age may produce one or two buds that bloom together or one per night. Or not bloom at all, living for years without blooming. The random choices taken by the plant are still a mystery.
Its alien-like, cocoon-shaped flowers emit a mesmerizing perfume that diffuses like very few do, attracting a nocturnal moth that may detect it up to 150 miles away. Loved as a garden ornamental and relatively easy to grow, it is nevertheless hard to cultivate en masse; and sometimes the flowers just won’t smell. It is classed as a mute flower and as with lily of the valley or freesia, once cut many components in the scent stop being dispersed; making its perfume difficult to reproduce. It is native to Southern Mexico and South America, and it is one of the exotic plants that crossed the Atlantic Ocean during the Age of Discovery.
My grandmother grew a specimen that today covers an entire fence dividing a portion in the galería of her house; it was her favorite flower and she sensed if the plant would bloom or not as if it spoke to her. I never caught open flowers, only seeing them wilted in the morning; but vestiges of the queen of the night would remind me of smelling it at night, carried off by the breeze into grandma’s bedroom when we would leave the giant wooden shutters opened. Given the opportunity, smells can indeed, become part of our dreams.
Oxypetalum imprinted in my memory and one mid-afternoon shopping on the Rue de Castiglione in Paris many years ago, I stumbled upon an Eau de parfum that instantly recalled it. Since then, I hoped I could someday re-create it as I remember it.
The perfume of the queen of the night at its peak is very floral-sweet almost fruity and reminiscent of Datura, but it is also musky, spicy, green-minty, and lemony at the same time; bewildering and hard to define, thus extremely unique and very fragrant, it is a scent that captures summer nights in the Wet Pampas.
Oxypétala, our rendition of the queen of the night, is a strong, heady floral scent with a decidedly mysterious side.