The native desert cactus called queen of the night (Peniocereus greggii) blooms during the summer in the deserts of Arizona, Texas, New Mexico and northern Mexico. Slender ridged gray stems grow amid bushes in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8 through 11. Plants are hard to find except for when they bloom, producing night-blooming large, fragrant white flowers that advertise their presence to hawk moth pollinators. Names are descriptive of how and where the plants grow.
The name of queen of the night is used for this cactus throughout its range, reflecting its nocturnal blooming period. A further modification describing the flowering habit is night-blooming cereus or desert night-blooming cereus, which refers to the former classification of Peniocereus as a cereus. Flowers open after dark and close in early morning, lasting just one night. A large cactus can produce 100 or 200 flowers a night. If pollinated, the flower's ovary develops into a red edible fruit.
Multiple stems rise from an underground tuber, which can weigh more than 40 pounds in old cacti. The brownish skin covering the tuber and its somewhat irregular shape has given it the name sweet potato cactus. The enlarged root stores both water and food. The purplish-gray stems branch as they grow up through supporting bushes, with the branching pattern resembling a deer's antlers, giving rise to the name deerhorn cactus or antelope horn cactus.
The name chaparral cactus comes from the particular Chihuahuan Desert shrub that frequently gives queen of the night support and protection. Creosote bush (Larrea tridentata), also called chaparral, is hardy in USDA zones 8 through 11 and can grow over 12 feet tall. In Arizona, the cactus is called Arizona queen of the night. Texans call it Texas night-blooming cereus.
The Spanish name "reina de la noche" is a direct translation of "queen of the night." It is used not only by native Spanish-speakers but generally throughout the Southwest. "Huevo de venado" means deer egg and probably refers to the large underground root. The Mexican names of "sarramatraca" and "jaramatraca" also apply to queen of the night.
- The Gardener's Guide to Cactus; Scott Calhoun
- Arizona Sonora Desert Museum: Digital Library: Peniocereus Greggii
- Cacti of the Southwest: Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana; Del Weniger
- Rare Plants of Texas: A Field Guide; Jackie M. Poole
- Plants For a Future: Larrea Tridentata - (Sesse. & Moc. ex DC.) Coville.
- Wordnik: Mezquites
- A Natural History of the Sonoran Desert: Steven J. Phillips and Patricia Ventworth Comus