Readers’ wildlife photos

Today have our first contribution from Official Website Artist™ Kelly Houle, who, after six years of waiting, was finally able to see a night-blooming cereus, a sporadically-blooming flower on a cactus native to northern Mexico and the American Southwest. There are noms in the report, too. Kelly’s words are indented:
Here are some photos I took last night in Tucson during “Bloom Night“. It’s an event centered around the collective blooming of the largest public collection of night- blooming cereus (Peniocereus greggii), put on by Tohono Chul Botanical Gardens, a hidden gem of Tucson.
You can sign up on the Tohono Chul website to get updates each year leading up to the event. The park takes great pains to have food, drinks, and luminarias lighting the path on the special night with only a few hours notice. Yesterday at 11am the announcement was made that “The Queen of the Night” would be making her appearance, so I packed a bag and hustled down to Tucson to be there for the mass flowering.
First, a lovely dinner in the Tohono Chul Garden Bistro—the cool salmon chop salad sounded good on a 111-degree afternoon!
Here is a bad photo of the Peniocereus greggii for sale in the Tohono Chul Botanical Garden greenhouse. You might not be able to tell from the picture, but if you’ve seen one of these you know that it’s best described as a clump of thin, spiky cactus sticks in a pot. The cost was $100 for these mature, ready-to-bloom plants, with smaller, even less attractive spiky sticks going for $20. I may go back for one of these. How have they even survived?
JAC: The Tucson Gardner website shows a picture of this species from the Tucson Botanical Gardens:
Peniocereus greggii
A full moon (hiding behind a tree) and lots of bats and nighthawks (not pictured, don’t strain your eyes) set the scene for a presentation on the science of predicting such an event and an oral reading of the Papago Tohono O’odham legend of the night-blooming cereus.
Mourning dove [Zenaida macroura] on a Seussian desert century plant (A. americana, possibly?):
Luminarias border the winding desert paths for the very long line of visitors. At sunset it was probably  just starting to dip below 100 degrees.
The spectacular blooms open on only one night a year. Nobody knows what triggers almost all of them to do this on the same night. Temperature does not seem to be the cause. It’s a scientific mystery yet to be solved.
There’s a book about such flowers called The Evening Garden, Flowers and Fragrance from Dusk till Dawn by Peter Loewer. It has a nice chapter on night-blooming cactuses. Maybe it will inspire people to plant “moon gardens” with night-blooming plants that attract moths and bats!
I’ll add that Kelly has put some new paintings, prints, miniature art books, and “Darwin cards” up for sale on her eBay site, so go have a look. For many of the items, a part of the proceeds goes to the Official Website Charity™, Doctors Without Borders, and most of the other art items benefit other good charities.


  1. Posted June 21, 2016 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    That’s a White-winged Dove on the Century Plant.

    Lovely cactus flowers!!

    • Posted June 21, 2016 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      You’re right. I grew up calling them all Mourning Doves! Thank you!

  2. Posted June 21, 2016 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    Oops. Forgot the scientific name. It’s Zenaida asiatica although it’s native to North and Central America and the Caribbean.

  3. Kevin
    Posted June 21, 2016 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    I’ve been there: Tohono Chul Garden, Botanical Gardens. Great place! A hidden gem, indeed.

    >110F does nothing to me. Really, I am a camel in disguise. The trick to hot weather: obviously, water, but you must run or walk briskly. Sitting or sauntering will send you to an early grave.

    • rickflick
      Posted June 21, 2016 at 10:12 am | Permalink

      This just in…”An extreme heatwave in the Southwest has already killed at least two people.”

      • Kevin
        Posted June 21, 2016 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

        I did see that. It can happen. Sad and regrettably, avoidable too when one knows one’s limits.

  4. Posted June 21, 2016 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    That’s a White-winged Dove (Zenaida asiatica)not a Mourning Dave

  5. Posted June 21, 2016 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    Very cool, thanks for sharing these photos and the information.

  6. Christopher Bonds
    Posted June 21, 2016 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    I’ve eaten at the Tohono Chul lunch room. Nice place.

  7. Posted June 21, 2016 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    Mmm salmon. But I don’t exactly associate Arizona with fish …

  8. Amy
    Posted June 21, 2016 at 12:58 pm | Permalink


  9. Posted June 21, 2016 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been to Bloom Night a few times but always wanted to find some plants out in the desert somewhere closer to home and quieter. Last year we found several plants SE of Tucson and saw them bloom, and I photographed one again this year. It’s growing at a slightly higher elevation than the Tohono Chul plants, and bloomed a day later.

    Photo of three views of the same flower, from tiny bud to open bloom:

    Closeup of a bud and a flower:

    In Arizona, several species of Coryphantha have flowers that bloom all on the same day (usually 3-5 days after the first monsoon rain).

  10. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted June 21, 2016 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    The question is why? Why does this plant flower on such a limited schedule?
    The closest analogy I can think of are corals that mass-spawn to ensure fertilization whilst overwhelming predators by sheer #s. So if this plant is following this strategy what is their predator?
    Maybe its b/c they have a pollinator that is around only once every several years?
    Just thinking here while proctoring an exam…

    • Posted June 21, 2016 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

      Yes–it’s very strange. I wonder the same thing about the desert sage that seems to coordinate its blooming. You’d think it would be something like temperature or humidity, but apparently neither one has been shown to be the cause. Also, I was wondering if this kind of event might interfere with the natural process of pollination with everyone walking around with flashlights and cameras on the one night a year the flowers are blooming. I hope not, but maybe it’s a question that should be asked. Maybe the flashlights attract more moths. Who knows?

      • Posted June 21, 2016 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

        The event doesn’t last all night, so the moths probably have plenty of time to pollinate the plants, and anyway the visitors might scare off predators.
        The pollinator is the white-lined sphinx moth (Hyles lineata, locally called “hummingbird moth”) which is common, widespread, and visits many kinds of flowers.
        My guess is that blooming is triggered at least partly by day length, as it is in saguaros and some others.

        On the century plant in the photos:
        It’s Agave chrysantha, which grows in the Catalinas and north to central AZ, and is replaced south of Tucson by its close relative, A. palmeri (pink flowers).

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