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PlantFiles: Night Blooming Cereus, Mandacaru
Cereus fernambucensis

Family: Cactaceae (kak-TAY-see-ee) (Info)
Genus: Cereus (KER-ee-us) (Info)
Species: fernambucensis (fer-nahm-boo-KEN-sees) (Info)

Synonym:Cereus fernambucensis subsp. fernambucensis
Synonym:Cereus variabilis
Synonym:Cereus pernambucensis
Synonym:Cereus neotetragonus
Synonym:Piptanthocereus obtusus

5 members have or want this plant for trade.

Cactus and Succulents

36-48 in. (90-120 cm)
4-6 ft. (1.2-1.8 m)

24-36 in. (60-90 cm)
36-48 in. (90-120 cm)

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)

Sun Exposure:
Full Sun

Plant has spines or sharp edges; use extreme caution when handling

Bloom Color:
White/Near White

Bloom Time:
Late Spring/Early Summer


Other details:
This plant is attractive to bees, butterflies and/or birds
Flowers are fragrant
Average Water Needs; Water regularly; do not overwater
This plant may be considered a protected species; check before digging or gathering seeds

Soil pH requirements:
6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)
6.6 to 7.5 (neutral)
7.6 to 7.8 (mildly alkaline)

Patent Information:

Propagation Methods:
From woody stem cuttings
From softwood cuttings
From seed; direct sow after last frost

Seed Collecting:
Allow unblemished fruit to ripen; clean and dry seeds
Seed does not store well; sow as soon as possible

Click thumbnail
to view:

By palmbob
Thumbnail #1 of Cereus fernambucensis by palmbob

By palmbob
Thumbnail #2 of Cereus fernambucensis by palmbob

By Xenomorf
Thumbnail #3 of Cereus fernambucensis by Xenomorf

By Xenomorf
Thumbnail #4 of Cereus fernambucensis by Xenomorf


4 positives
4 neutrals
No negatives

Gardeners' Notes:

Neutral bluetexasbonnie On Sep 14, 2013, bluetexasbonnie from Geronimo, TX wrote:

I live in zone 8b. It must have winter protection, which I used to provide by moving to sunny south side in winter and covering when frost was predicted. It has gotten too big to move. It is growing in large pots on the northside of a low rock wall. In the winter I cover the bottom 2 feet with hay, and cover top with cloth when frost threatens.

Everyone should experience at least once, the thrill of watching your own cereus open and bloom for that one night of the year. It looks amazing. The bloom is so large, frilly, and sweet smelling. You can almost see it swell and fluff out before your very eyes.

However after the first couple of years, sleep starts to seem more interesting -- been there, done that.

There are some major downsides --
1. The plant is always sprawling, out of control, ugly looking. Even the best looking plants I have ever seen in nurseries and botanical gardens are not attractive.
2. Given the chance and proper habitat, they will sprawl for at least 6 feet. You can cut them back (the cuttings root readily just by sticking them in dirt), but the cut on the mother plant tends to look ugly.
3. Bits that freeze, rot to a gooey mess with a stick down the middle. When you cut this off, the cut looks ugly. (see above)
4. They can not take direct Texas sun. They sunburn. Mine are planted near the south drip line of a pecan tree, so they experience a nice bright open shade once the pecan leafs out. Unfortunately for me, this is one of the later pecans to leaf, so I either need to rig up some sort of temporary shade, or live with ugly brown sun burns.
5. They do need to be fertilized to bloom. I use an organic fertilizer 3x per year -- early spring, mid summer and fall.
6. There is nothing more disheartening than to have watched that huge bud, night after night waiting for your first ever bloom experience, and then get up one morning and see the spent withering flower.

Every year, I swear that I am not going to cover them and just let them freeze. ... and soft hearted me, never does. It is September 14th, and I am on bud watch. I don't think it will be tonight, but it might be tomorrow. ;)

I've been practicing night photography with some other white flowers to work out better exposure conditions -- point-n-shoot style conditions overexpose the bloom and you loose much of the frills.

Neutral kepij On Aug 26, 2010, kepij from Kaneohe, HI wrote:

Can I get any thoughts on how to hand pollinate these flowers. One of these nights it looks like I"ll be having my last group of flowers for the summer.

Positive tesaje On Aug 4, 2008, tesaje from Jefferson, MD (Zone 6b) wrote:

I agree that some of the pictures are for the wrong plant. The night-blooming Cereus is an erect columnar cactus with infrequent spines. Mine has 4-6 ribs and now blooms in June and usually August or September with 5-8 booms a year - once per night. Getting it to grow 6 ribs is an indication that it is happy.

It is not very fragrant. The Queen of the Night is often confused with this plant as they both bloom only at night and each blossom lasts only one night- The Queen has flat non-spiney leaves. I added a bloom pic for the actual night blooming cereus.

I got mine from my great uncle who was a horticulturalist and his was over 60 years old when he gave me a 6 inch cutting some 20 years ago. I keep mine in a pot and bring it indoors to overwinter. It can take a light frost a couple of times but that is it. I water it very little in the winter and it is very happy on my NE facing deck with morning-midday sun all summer in MD. This is my most treasured plant.

It is important to not remove the rotting blooms from the cactus. Doing so will impair its ability to rebloom. They will fall off naturally when it is ready - a few days after blooming.

Positive jungleboy_fl On Jun 25, 2006, jungleboy_fl from Naples, FL wrote:

There appears to be a great deal of confusion regarding this cactus. In fact, four of the photos presented here are for a different species altogether- Epiphyllum oxypetalum, I believe. The first three photos are correctly identified. The true "Night Blooming Cereus" is a columnar type cactus. The Epiphyllum has flat stems, is branching, and is very vinelike. In fact, you can clearly see the similarities between the potted specimens here, and their "orchid cactus" relatives. Most of the confusion arrives from the fact that both cactus have very similar looking flowers (well, at least somewhat), and both bloom in the evening. Another point of confusion- there are many more cactus that look similar, and have nearly identical flowers.

Neutral Xenomorf On May 4, 2005, Xenomorf from Valley of the Sun, AZ (Zone 9b) wrote:

There is a species name 'Cereus variabilis' that a person named Pfeiffer used in 1837 for this plant, turns out, the name was misapplied to this species [C. fernambucensis].
A person named Engelmann also used 'Cereus variabilis' in 1859 which is now a valid synonym of Acanthocereus tetragonus.
The crested monstrose form of C. fernambucensis in todays market will usually be labeled C. variabilis, which is Still a misapplication of the name, According to E.F. Andersons book "The Cactus Family".

Another synonym not listed in Modern books is "Cereus formosus" per Britton & Rose (1920)

Neutral bluespiral On Jul 26, 2004, bluespiral from (Zone 7a) wrote:

A night-blooming cereus (is it the same as this one?) was gorgeously painted in 1800 as part of Dr. Robert J. Thornton's Temple of Flora, along with other flowers.

Positive heavenlyplanter On May 4, 2004, heavenlyplanter from Cocoa, FL wrote:

My grandmother raised this plant for more than 40 years in Kentucky.(outside in summer - inside in winter) She called her plant "Chirst-In-The-Manger". I have had my plant in Florida for about 10 years. I have it growing in several pots, under an oak tree and in my flower beds (shade and partial shade). I keep it mainly in places where it will be shaded in the afternoon. My main plant (the one I take most cuttings from) is in the original old blue pot, under the down spout at the corner of my house with very little direct sun. It likes the extra water and it does like to be pot bound. Mine did not bloom for the first three years. Now it blooms several times a year. Last August, I went out of town. My husband called several times to let me know my plant was getting ready to bloom. When I arrived home on Sunday evening, he had invited guest over to watch about 30 blooms open. The blooms and smell were heavely. It continued to open new blooms for approximately two weeks. It bloomed again in November and December.

Positive Monocromatico On Feb 18, 2004, Monocromatico from Rio de Janeiro
Brazil (Zone 11) wrote:

This is a cactus from the brazilian litoral. Some call it Cereus "pernambucensis", because of the state of Pernambuco, but it's officially described as C. "fernambucensis". Why? I don't know. Anyway, this is a common columnar cactus on the sandy plains along the coast. In the dry Northeast, they took out the peel of the stem and eat this cactus.

The stem looks a bit fleshy, and the cactus may grow horizontally sometimes, but usually it gets up to 1.5-2m tall. It has five, sometimes less, some times more angles, with short spines. The flowers are big, white, with many petals and a long tube. It opens at night, and with its sweet scent, it atracts beetles. In the next morning you can find many bees that just woke up and found these flowers, still full of nectar. The fruits have a waxy and thick peel with no spines, and it's delicious inside (now I can't remember if it was pink or white inside... I am mixing up the species in my memory).

It likes white sand, a bit salty if possible and some air humidity from the sea. It likes regular watering, full sun, and high tempersatures.


This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:

Madison, Alabama
Phoenix, Arizona
Tucson, Arizona
Venice, California
Cocoa, Florida
Kissimmee, Florida
Naples, Florida
North Port, Florida
Ocala, Florida
Sarasota, Florida
Spring Hill, Florida
Summerfield, Florida
Honomu, Hawaii
Raleigh, North Carolina
Charleston, South Carolina
Summerville, South Carolina
Beaumont, Texas
Cuero, Texas
Geronimo, Texas
Harlingen, Texas
Knippa, Texas
Santa Fe, Texas

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