Selenicereus pteranthus (Princess of the Night)

Scientific Name

Selenicereus pteranthus (Link ex A. Dietr.) Britton & Rose

Common Names

Princess of the Night, Snake Cactus


Cereus pteranthus (basionym), Selenicereus nycticalus

Scientific Classification

Family: Cactaceae
Subfamily: Cactoideae
Tribe: Hylocereeae
Genus: Selenicereus


Selenicereus pteranthus is one of the most popular night blooming cacti. It is a perennial, vine like, clambering or scrambling, spiny, leafless epiphyte, with 4 to 6 angled stems up to 10 feet (3 m) long and up to 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter. The conic spines are solitary or in clusters of 2 to 4. The flowers are spectacular, very fragrant, trumpet-shaped, white or pale cream and up to 12 inches (30 cm) long.


USDA hardiness zone 9b to 11b: from 25 °F (−3.9 °C) to 45 °F (+7.2 °C).

How to Grow and Care

Like most cacti, Cereus are fairly, low-maintenance and hardy. Make sure they receive enough water without becoming waterlogged, especially during the summer, and fertilize them for best results. If the roots have become black or overly soft, the cactus could be experiencing root rot. Cut away the affected parts and replant. Most gardeners interested in cacti should be able to cultivate these without much problem.

It may become necessary to repot your Cereus if it outgrows its container. If so, make sure the soil is dry and then remove the pot. Knock away old soil and prune away any rotted or dead roots, then replace it in a new pot and backfill with new soil. Make sure not to overwater cacti planted in new pots, as this can lead to root rot. It should be left dry for about a week and then watered lightly… – See more at: How to Grow and Care for Cereus


Selenicereus pteranthus has a wide distribution, occurring in the Bahamas, Cuba, Haiti, Cayman Islands, and Mexico.


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Princess of the Night, Snake Cactus (Selenicereus pteranthus)

Growing outdoors in Santa Barbara, California

Lovely green stems, but to me this looks more like some sort of a Stapeliad. I don't see any spines on it, really. Did it ever bear these big white flowers the cactus is renowned for?
I tend to think it is a different plant.

Well that's what the garden has it labeled as. Never been to the garden at night so never seen the flowers. It is definitely a cactus has many little tiny spines at every raised nipple on the plant- covers the side of a wall like some sort of climbing cactus, too. Not sure if this cactus flowers all year long (maybe April is not flowering season), but morphologically it is identical to Selenicereus grandiflorus that I have seen in other photos- even down the the subtle striping. But if there is mistake of identification, I apologize. I will try to find out more about this plant next time I'm at the gardens.

Irene, the pictures you posted look just like Bob's.
The other 'Queen of the Night' is Epiphyllum oxypetalum.

I think that taxonomists are now trying to combine many of these Selenicereus into forms or varieties of Selenicereus grandiflorus. For instance, I acquired mine as Selenicereus urbanianus but in many places I now see it listed as Selenicereus grandiflorus v. urbanianus. To make matters worse, my particular plant is the monstrose form, so it would be called Selenicereus grandiflorus v. urbanianus f. monstrosus. How's that for a name.

Like I said, some of the other Selenicereus such as S. pteranthus and S. macdonaldiae are being combined under S. grandiflorus as merely varieties or forms, so it can be quite confusing.

Yes it is confusing, but this plants is quite easy to recognize. It is Selenicereus macdonaldiae. The green knobby stems are typical. It has one of the largest flowers of all Selenicereus and quite distinct is its relatively loose shape, short stamens and very long style. But they are all closely related:

The most commonly grown "species" i a strict sense is:

Species with lost of hair on the floral tube.

S. grandiflorus - very unknommon and almost never cultivated. Thin stems with 5-8 ribs Here is a good image: [[email protected]]

S. pteranthus - by far the most common species in cultivation. Rather thick stems with 4-5 ribs and short, often blackish spines. Most images on internet is this species. Image: [[email protected]]

S. boeckmannii - is very similar to S. pteranthus but said to have brown areoles. [[email protected]]

S. urbanianus (West Indies) and S. coniflorus (Mexico) are long spined versions of S. pteranthus and hard to separate.

S. validus - form rather small pendent plants that flowers from the base. [[email protected]]

S. hamatus - easily reconized by the hooked stems: [[email protected]]

Two rather commons species without hairy tubes are:

S. vagans - has large flowers and often very pointed tepals: [[email protected]]

S. spinulosus - smaller flowers, shorter spines and fewer rins than S. vagans: [[email protected]]

Note that most of these images are posted on internet as S. grandiflorus.

Selenicereus pteranthus (Princess of the Night) – Cactus Plants

Selenicereus pteranthus (Princess of the Night) is the most popular night-blooming cacti. It is a perennial, vine-like, clambering or scrambling, spiny, leafless epiphyte, with 4 to 6 angled stems up to 13 m long and up to 5 cm in diameter. The conic spines are solitary or in clusters of 2 to 4. The flowers are spectacular, very fragrant, trumpet-shaped, white or pale cream and up to 30 cm long.

Scientific Classification:

Family: Cactaceae
Subfamily: Cactoideae
Tribe: Hylocereeae
Genus: Selenicereus

Scientific Name: Selenicereus pteranthus (Link ex A. Dietr.) Britton & Rose
Synonyms: Cereus pteranthus (basionym), Selenicereus nycticalus
Common Names: Princess of the Night, Snake Cactus

How to grow and maintain Selenicereus pteranthus (Princess of the Night):

It thrives best in the light shade when young, then when they are mature, full sun is recommended, they need bright light all year round. Extra light in the early spring will stimulate budding.

It grows well in a rich-organic, well-drained soil mix.

Water regularly, during the growing season, but water sparingly when dormant (autumn and winter). Allow the top of the soil to slightly dry out before watering again.

It prefers average room temperatures of around 16°C – 24°C / 60°F – 75°F. The temperature should not be kept under 4 °C (39 °F) in winter.

Fertilize once every 15 days with compounds containing nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium or use a good cactus fertilizer.

Repotting should be done every other year, or when the plant has outgrown its pot. Make sure the soil is dry and then remove the pot. Knock away old soil and prune away any rotted or dead roots, then replace it in a new pot and backfill with new soil.

It can be easily propagated from cuttings in spring or by Seeds. Simply sever a branch and replant in moist, well-drained soil. It helps to allow the cut end dry out and harden before you replant it, this makes it easier for the new cactus to form roots.

Pests and Diseases:
Selenicereus pteranthus are susceptible to the scale or mealybugs. If bugs are detected on the cactus, apply an insecticidal soap to the plant according to the directions on the label.

The Princess of the Night

Night-Blooming Cacti

Today’s post is a change of pace from my usual fare…flora, not fauna. I don’t usually photograph plants: too easy! They just sit there and pose for you. I like the challenge of capturing dynamical situations, such as manatee grazing in Blind Pass Lagoon, or a flock of ibises in flight over Little Sarasota Bay.

Today, however, was a rare opportunity to photograph a flowering cactus called the “Princess of the Night” (Selenicereus pteranthus). This particular cactus is an epiphyte, which means that it grows on the surface of another plant, and derives its moisture and nutrients from the air, rain, and debris accumulating around it. (Remember, nearly all of a plant’s mass comes from the air, not the soil!) Unfortunately, many of the plants of the Selenicereus genus bloom for only a single night of the year, so you have to be in the right place at the right time (not my forté, as you will see below).

The Night Of…

If you are an early-to-bed type, this plant is not for you! The Princess of the Night blooms between dusk and dawn. Sadly, I missed last night’s display. (I didn’t get the memo.) Fortunately, my neighbor Lorelei Fischer did, and she very generously contributed some of her wonderful photos for this post.

Lorelei indicated to me that there were 11 or 12 blossoms vying for attention last night. She captured 10 of them in this photo alone:

Selenicereus pteranthus. Photo courtesy of Lorelei Fischer

The blossoms themselves are a luminous white, fringed with a radiating crown of orange sepals. Pollination of the plant is primarily done by moths.

The ornate blossom is very captivating when viewed up close. You can easily spot the delicately colored stamina residing just inside the petals:

Photo courtesy of Lorelei Fischer

The Morning After…

Having missed the evening show, I visited our “Princess” this morning, just before sunrise. The natural lighting at this time of day often contains radiant reds and oranges. This casts a magical glow on our tropical plants, but quickly disappears as the sun breaks the horizon.

Here is a shot of the entire plant, which envelops one of our palm trees:

The blossoms are already starting to close the morning after the evening display

The now-orange flowers emerge from reddish nodules on the surface of the slender, green arms of the cactus:

Nikon D5600 FL = 55mm SS = 1/60 sec f/10 ISO = 1600 EC = 0 Nikon D5600 FL = 240mm SS = 1/80 sec f/10 ISO = 1600 EC = 0

The blossoms are still radiant in the morning glow, but with a decidedly different character:

Nikon D5600 FL = 195mm SS = 1/1000 sec f/6.3 ISO = 1600 EC = +0.3

During the shoot, I noticed that some of the nodules had not bloomed the night before, so I was hopeful of catching a reprise of last night’s performance. Alas, when I returned in the evening, all was in slumber – the magic already gone!

Epilogue: Queen or Princess?

When I started researching our Selenicereus, I immediately came across a discrepancy in the common name. Locally, we had been calling it “Queen of the Night”, but an article that I found by searching the genus Selenicereus calls it a “Princess”. So, I decided to investigate…

Here is the article that I found on Selenicereus pteranthus. This plant is a dead ringer for the one on our palm tree:

Photo borrowed from this article on succulent plants

On the other hand, when you do a search for “Queen of the Night”, you get Epiphyllum oxypetalum, a different genus and species! A fortiori, this plant does not look like ours:

Photo borrowed from this article on Epiphyllum oxypetalum

Note, in particular, the different appearance of the cactus arms.

A third article states that the name “Queen of the Night” is used for a number of different, unrelated species. Still a fourth article calls the Epiphyllum oxypetalum a “queen/princess”.

So…The nomenclature appears to be inconsistent at best. I guess it’s a personal decision, but I’ve always preferred princesses to queens. ♦♦♦

Selenicereus Species, Night-Blooming Cereus, Princess of the Night, Snake Cactus

Family: Cactaceae (kak-TAY-see-ee) (Info)
Genus: Selenicereus (sel-ee-nih-KER-ee-us) (Info)
Species: pteranthus (ter-AN-thus) (Info)
Synonym:Cereus pteranthus
Synonym:Cereus brevispinulus
Synonym:Cereus nycticallis
Synonym:Selenicereus nycticallis
» View all varieties of Orchid Cactus


Tropicals and Tender Perennials

Water Requirements:

Average Water Needs Water regularly do not overwater

Requires consistently moist soil do not let dry out between waterings

Sun Exposure:


Foliage Color:




USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 °C (25 °F)

USDA Zone 10a: to -1.1 °C (30 °F)

USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 °C (35 °F)

USDA Zone 11: above 4.5 °C (40 °F)

Where to Grow:

Can be grown as an annual


Plant has spines or sharp edges use extreme caution when handling

Bloom Color:

Bloom Characteristics:

Bloom Size:

Bloom Time:

Other details:

Soil pH requirements:

Patent Information:

Propagation Methods:

Allow cut surface to callous over before planting

From seed direct sow after last frost

Seed Collecting:

Allow unblemished fruit to ripen clean and dry seeds

Unblemished fruit must be significantly overripe before harvesting seed clean and dry seeds

Properly cleaned, seed can be successfully stored


This plant is said to grow outdoors in the following regions:

Palm Bay, Florida(2 reports)

Gardeners' Notes:

On Jun 10, 2010, Syl_Vee from Bradenton, FL wrote:

This plant has been growing on an old avocado tree in East Bradenton for about thirty years. Tonight my friend called me over to photograph the blooms he would describe to me year after year, as we looked at the withered remnants in the morning.

These flowers are so beautiful they are almost intimidating! 'Princess of the Night' is a good name . but really they give a completely magical aura.

Talk about easy to grow! My friend does . exactly nothing. I hope you enjoy the pictures.

On May 21, 2006, Two_and_a_cat from Titusville, FL wrote:

The plant is very easy to grow. We grew ours from several cuttings from a "wild" one in Melbourne, FL. I just stuck the cuttings in the ground. If left out of control, they can take over. However, if you manage it, it produce lots of beautiful evening flowers. This species has a slight musty odor to the flowers, no real scent. They like to climb. They prefer scrub palms. They are in partial shade. We have an irrigation system that provides them with 90 minutes of water, twice a week. The soil is sandy. We are in Titusvile, FL. Our microclimate is

Hardiness Zone 10. We have two selenicereus, this pteranthus and a beautiful anthonyanus.

On Dec 31, 2004, NativePlantFan9 from Boca Raton, FL (Zone 10a) wrote:

Watch the video: Selenicereus validus Cactus - Care Tips u0026 Info u0026 Repotting

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