What Pollinates Cactus Flowers

“Bad girls travel everywhere; good girls go to heaven.” Reading a research report on cactus blossoms that referred to their “promiscuous” blooms made me think of Mae West.

Perhaps cactus flowers are bad girls because in the dry desert they must entice scarce and far away pollinators. This requires an eye-catching outfit, strong cologne, and a tasty reward. Instantly pregnant girls produce enormous volumes of seed, which helps the species survive by dispersing their progeny far.

Both indigenous and foreign cactus species flourish here in the desert and in our gardens. Various species can be found all over the Southwest and Mexico, including the prickly pear and barrel cactus, hedgehog, and mammilarias. Many other species are indigenous to the arid parts of South America, however some, like the orchid cactus, have evolved to thrive in more humid environments. For their genes to travel to and infect other flowers, each one of them is dependent on regional pollen vectors.

This year’s cactus flowering season is earlier than usual because of the warm January weather. Take a good look at these blooms when you come across them to see if you can identify the pollinators that they prefer. They can attract particular pollinators that have influenced how the flower has evolved over time, even though they almost all host honeybees.

Bees: Bees are the main pollinators for cacti, and they help them create two different kinds of flowers. Open bowl-shaped blooms come first, followed by flat disk-shaped or “daisy” flowers. Both may lack significant smell, and blossoms may have very little or no nectar at all. To attract insects with short tongues, their nectaries are located relatively high in the flower. Desert bees come in many sizes, from tiny native species to enormous bumble bees. With 90 different species of visiting members of the genus Opuntia, prickly pears are the largest example of bee cactus flowers.

Hummingbird: Because they are native to the Americas, hummingbirds are crucial for pollinating cacti. The asymmetrical, extruded organs of hummer-adapted flowers are often found outside the tubular blooms. The nectar itself has an extraordinarily high sugar concentration, and nectaries are located deep within the flower. The majority will be in the red color spectrum, which is what these little birds prefer. The majority of the most exotic-looking tropical vine cacti are hummingbird-adapted, but they struggle in our dry climate.

Bats: In our southwestern deserts, bats are crucial for pollination plants. Bat-specific flowers are larger to match their size, have more diluted nectar, and have a strong fruity scent. For ease of access, such blooms are sometimes held high up on the cactus above brushy creosote and spiky mesquite. Cactus flowers that are pollinated by bats open at night and are often dull-colored, most frequently white, creamy, or pale yellow, making them more noticeable at night. Saguaro cacti are a well-known example of bat-pollinated cacti, so keep a watch on those plants in town that are lit up by streetlights to catch their nocturnal dance.

More wildlife will visit your yard if you choose cacti from all three pollination groups when planting desert gardens. Because these cacti represent terrestrial, tall columnar, and vine cactus kinds, it also creates an astonishing diversity. The truth is that our desert supports a huge variety of species from South America and Mexico. All too often, we imagine that the only species available are the barrel cactus and the prickly pear.

So, as the days become longer in the spring and cacti begin to bloom, try to determine what kind of pollinator the plant is courting by the shape and color of its flower. Because of this, you are forced to stop, examine more closely, and find these promiscuous girls who are the naughty and gorgeous bloomers of our desert.

Saguaro Flowers

Saguaro flowers are typically found close to the apex of the cactus’ stems and arms. They have a diameter of around 3 inches (8 cm) and are white in hue. They smell strongly, somewhat like ripe melons.

Flower pollination

The Mexican long-tongued bat and the lesser long-nosed bat pollinate the blooms at night. Bees and birds like the white-winged dove fertilize the flowers during the day.

Saguaro Fruit

The blossoms develop into brilliant crimson fruit after being fertilized. The fruit splits open to reveal luscious red pulp as it ripens. Up to 2000 tiny black seeds can be found in each berry.

Uses of the fruit

Many desert animals rely on ripe fruit as an excellent source of nutrition and moisture. Finches, woodpeckers, doves, bats, tortoises, javelinas, and coyotes are a few of these creatures. People consume saguaro fruit as well. Since they have inhabited the desert, Tohono O’odham Indians have been gathering the fruit.

Quick Fact

Less than a day is spent in bloom on saguaro flowers. They start operating at night and are open all day the following day. They only have that brief period to entice an animal to pollinate them.

Cactus flowers can they self-pollinate?

Because cactus blossoms don’t persist long, wind or insect pollination is more challenging. Cacti are unable to produce fruits and seeds without pollination. When you self-pollinate cacti, you have complete control over the outcome, whether you’re aiming to develop a novel hybrid or develop a particular cactus variety. Hand pollination is the only way to guarantee that the two types you are attempting to cross pollinate, as hybrid pollination does not always result in the production of viable seeds.

Once flowers start to develop, put your two cactus plants next to one another. You can try to create a hybrid with the same type of cactus or with two different types by crossing them. Choose which plants you want to pollinate if the cacti are outside. Although more pollen can be transported when the plants are close to one another, this is not necessary.

Check your flowers every day for pollen. The stamens, which are frequently fluffy threads encircling the part of the flower where the stigma are located, are where pollen grows. The flower’s petals show a thin dusting of pollen.

The second cactus flower’s stigma should be painted with pollen. The stigma, which resembles tiny fingers in appearance, are thicker than the stamens. In order to help them capture the pollen, the tops are typically slightly open and sticky. Wait another day before attempting to pollinate if the stigma tops are not yet open to give them time to do so.

Wait for the brush to dry after cleaning it. The second cactus bloom should be used to complete the process, with the pollen being applied to the stigma of the first cactus after dusting the stamens for pollen.

Nylon stockings should be placed over both cacti to stop pollination by other cactus plants. Only if you want to try and influence the kind of seed the plants produce is this important. If your primary objective is to induce the cactus to produce fruit or seeds, keep the plants exposed to attract insects and wind, which will aid in additional pollination.

At night, what pollinates the cactus flowers?

“In an interview, Mr. Randall said, “I just got the idea he simply wanted to share it with someone.” It was almost 11:00, it was raining, and nobody else was outside. “It really glistened with the possibility of surprise.

It turned out to be a night-blooming cereus, a collective name for a dozen different kinds of cacti that only produce flowers at night. According to Mr. Randall, this flower (perhaps of the genus Epiphyllum oxypetalum) only blooms on one night each year.

The size of the fragrant blossom, in his words, “Only a few hours of the night are spent with a newborn baby’s head in it. Its white petals droop by dawn, like a sylvan Cinderella, before the sun has a chance to kiss them.

It’s become customary to throw events and get-togethers to commemorate the appearance of these odd belles of darkness. For instance, a 1937 article in a Rhode Island newspaper recounted a group of people who met one evening at a wealthy family’s house known for throwing lavish parties.

The night-blooming cereus is a native of the Southwest United States’ deserts and subtropics, as well as the Antilles, Central America, and South America. The shapes of the plants vary from species to species; without blossoms, some resemble gnarled nests of naked sticks or flat-leaved, green hybrids of cactus and orchids.

Like air plants, some grow in the ground while others do so in trees. Numerous flowers can grow on a single plant, and depending on its size, they frequently do so in large clusters.

One species in particular has become a pretty typical houseplant since it is simple to grow from clippings.

According to Marc Hachadourian, who oversees the Nolen Greenhouses at the New York Botanical Garden, “it’s kind of large and gangly and uncomfortable.”

But it’s worth it for the allure of those blooms. It’s an effective approach to win friends over.

Nowadays, neighborhood texts, crowdsourced maps, Facebook status updates, traditional invitations, and the occasional voice in the dark give way to informal gatherings with food, drinks, or tea to welcome the large, flowering guests of honor.

On his porch, Jamison Teale, a member of The Queen of the Night Society, a Facebook group of roughly six Hudson, New York, residents who all have their own plants, has previously exchanged blossoms with pals and may have blooms soon.

There is occasionally greater commotion. For instance, employees at Tohono Chul, a botanical garden in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, spend months keeping an eye on 300 primarily native night-blooming cereus plants.

The gardens stay open late and provide tacos, ice cream, beer, and wine on the evening when the majority of flowers are anticipated (this year, it was in July).

“Jo Falls, an educator at the gardens, said, “I believe it’s really simply an excuse to be out in the desert after midnight to see what many people regard as this incredibly magical bloom.”

Temperature, humidity, or rainfall are the only factors that can cause the blooms; the majority of species bloom during the summer when it is raining. Most seem to operate on a lunar cycle, with more buds appearing during or just after a full moon.

Because some of the plants have co-evolved with nocturnal pollinators, their white petals and fragrant perfume draw them in the moonlight.

hummingbird-like bird The hawk moth comes to pollinate the twiggy desert cactus, Peniocereus greggii, while bats normally pollinate other species. The cacti can produce more fruit because other plants are less likely to compete for pollinators when they bloom at night.

The Queen of the Night is still on her way in certain locations. Buds, which grow over a period of one to four weeks until they swell up and turn away from the direction they were facing, can be watched for signs of her approach.

There will be a bloom somewhere between dusk and dawn. The petals open up over the course of one to three hours, filling the air with a strong fragrance reminiscent of gardenia or magnolia.

The Queen of the Night will vanish with the moon if you turn your back on her.

The brilliant blossom was gone the next morning when Mr. Randall came back. The essence of The Queen of the Night, however, has persisted and will continue to be shared from strangers’ gardens, haphazard passers-Twitter by’s accounts, and the many other people who are fortunate enough to see random beauty one lucky night a year.

Do cactus blooms attract bees?

Do succulents appeal to bees? They do, indeed. Succulent plant blossoms are popular among pollinators. Sedum family members produce groundcover and tall plants with spring, fall, and winter blooms. Pollinators like groundcover sedums like John Creech, Album, and Dragon’s Blood. Great examples include Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ and Pink Sedum stonecrop, both of which have tall, enormous autumn blooms.

Cacti are pollinated in what ways?

A cactus’ blossoms must be pollinated in order to set seed. To ensure genetic variation, the pollen for the majority of cactus types must originate from another cactus plant. Although it is possible to manually pollinate the flowers using a swab or by removing the pollen-bearing stamen from the flower and placing it directly into the flower of the other cactus, pollen is typically transferred from one cactus to another by insects or birds that visit the flowers in search of nectar.

Do bats help cacti reproduce?

Bats with a shorter nose are experts on cacti. Lesser long-nosed bats (Leptonycteris yerbabuena), which have tongues as long as their bodies, are unsung heroes in sustaining delicate desert habitats.

Connoisseurs of Cactus

Lesser long-nosed bats (Leptonycteris yerbabuena) consume the nectar of agave and cactus blooms with tongues that are as long as their bodies.

The aroma of night-blooming desert flowers, including those generated by saguaro and organ pipe cactus, attracts the bats. Because the blooms are light in color, the bats can see them more easily. The bats fly swiftly over the blooms, sticking their delicate noses deep inside. The bats emerge from their feast with pollen-covered heads after consuming sweet nectar with their long, brush-tipped tongues. As they keep eating, they unintentionally pollinate blossom after flower.

Heroes of the Desert

Desert nectar-feeding bats, which are sometimes underappreciated, play a crucial role in protecting the southwestern United States and Mexico’s delicate desert ecosystems. They are the main night pollinators for the saguaro cactus and organ pipe. The cactus, which may reach a height of 50 feet, in turn give a variety of birds, including red-tailed hawks, elf owls, Gila woodpeckers, and golden flickers, crucial nesting and perching locations.

The bats’ diets become increasingly centered on the sweet fruit produced by desert cacti as the season goes on. Although they may eat the pulp of the fruits, the seeds remain intact in the bats’ digestive tracts, aiding in the dissemination of cactus plant seeds.

Bats in Balance

In 1988, the lesser long-nosed bat was declared an endangered species. Invasive plants and habitat loss are obstacles to its survival. The agave business may also deprive bats of nectar sources because it is customary to harvest all agave flower buds before they open. This deficiency might be fatal in specific areas and at particular times of the year.

Daytime roosting locations for smaller long-nosed bats include mine shafts or caves. The same locations are used each year, and they may also be used as maternity wards by the bats to give birth and raise young “pups.” The bats are selective about where they find shelter, needing a rather stable habitat and safety from predators. Only three maternity roosts are known to exist in the United States out of the estimated 40 lesser long-nosed bat roosts that are known to exist over their entire territory (Arizona, New Mexico, and Mexico). Another serious threat to the survival of the bats is roost disturbance caused by human activities like rock-climbing or caving.

Lesser long-nosed bats & National Parks

Lesser long-nosed bats can be found in desert scrub habitat in Baja California del Sur, western Mexico, southern Arizona, southwestern New Mexico, and central America. Through research, educational initiatives, and collaboration with numerous private, non-profit, government, and state agency partners, the National Park Services promotes bat conservation.

Conducting bat population surveys and labeling bats to follow their migration paths and locate critical habitat are a few examples of conservation initiatives. Through public awareness campaigns and the construction of bat-friendly entrance gates, access to caverns and abandoned mine shafts where bats may be roosting is being restricted. Lesser long-nosed bats can be found in Saguaro National Park, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, and Coronado National Memorial, despite being rare and endangered.