It was an all-nighter for Ben Johnson — and we're not talking about waiting for votes to come in.

On the night of Oct. 24, the night-blooming cereus put on a show at his Baton Rouge home.

“That was amazing. We’ve never had that many blooms at one time,” said Johnson. “It was 80 or 90 of them. It was huge.”

The succulent isn’t common to south Louisiana, though it grows easily here. It's just not very popular because the plant isn’t particularly attractive, said Johnny Naylor, horticultural consultant with Clegg’s Nursery.

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But for those who do like it, it’s all about the blooms, which are both infrequent and short-lived. Some cereus bloom only once a year, always at night, and the blooms are wilted by morning.

“You’ve got to watch it,” Naylor said. “You can tell when it’s about to open. You’d better be up that night and watch it.”

“Eight hours later, it’s gone,” Johnson said. “It’s bye-bye.”

So, when buds on the cereus outside his home in the Westdale neighborhood began showing signs they were ready to bloom, Johnson acted fast, inviting a photographer to come and record the floral show. And what a show it was.

Dozens of buds burst into big, beautiful white flowers in the half-dozen pots outside his home.

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Johnson, 73, doesn’t consider himself to be an avid gardener but said he’s fallen in love with the night blooming cereus, partly because it’s not typical for this area. There are several varieties of cereus, and Johnson isn’t sure which he has, but added that they’re easy to propagate.

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“All you do is cut a leaf off and stick it in the ground,” he said. “Cut a twig off and stick it in a vase of water, and it’s going to root.”

The cereus is a hermaphroditic plant, which means it doesn’t need insects for pollination, Naylor said.

For days afterward, however, Johnson said he noticed bees were showing up at the wilted blossoms.

“It did attract bees. Had you walked down my street Sunday morning, it would have attracted you because it’s the most gorgeous fragrance in the world,” he said. “It’s unbelievable.”


Email George Morris at gmorris@theadvocate.com.