The wait is finally over as rare moonflower blooms in Cambridge

  • A web cam captured the moment the petals began to unravel

After days of anticipation, a rare cactus at the Cambridge University Botanic Garden has finally flowered for the first time anywhere in the UK. 

The moonflower which spirals around tree trunks only stays in bloom for twelves hours and usually starts to flower towards sunset, but this one started much earlier in the day.

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.

Cambridge University Botanic Garden Director Beverley Glover

When the cactus flowered there was a "jasmine-like scent" say staff, though it was not as powerful as expected..

The flower began to fade at almost 12 hours later. The scent also changed to something much less pleasant, according to staff it was "smelling like public toilets". 

In the morning we saw on the livestream that the sepals on the bud had begun to part and by lunchtime it became apparent that it was beginning to open much earlier than expected – it started to opened fully over the afternoon, reaching full bloom at 5pm

Glasshouse Supervisor, Alex Summers

The anticipation of the flower blooming has been going on since the 9th February, when the shoot had reached 20cm. That was the length at which its parent plant from Bonn Botanic Garden bloomed, staff thought that it would flower at a similar length, but it took a bit longer.

Moonflower bud. Credit: Cambridge University Botanic Garden

The flower is usually found in the Amazon rainforest and this particular one was brought to the botanic garden in 2015.

  • The plant’s name, Selenicereus wittii, is derived from the Greek (Selene), from the Greek moon goddess, and cereus, meaning “candle” in Latin, referring to the nocturnal flowers.

  • The species name wittii comes from the man who discovered it – Karl Moritz Schumann (1851 – 1904) was born in Germany and worked as a botanist at the Botanical Museum of Berlin.

CUBG says that Moonflowers can be seen as a symbol of blossoming in dark times - perhaps good timing for this to be flowering during a global pandemic.

The moonflower in full bloom Credit: Cambridge University Botanic Garden