HALL: Destin garden features rare Medusa-like flower, which only blooms in the dead of night

Laura Hall, Gardens with Annie
Dinner plate hibiscus.

As the birds settle their wings down into the safety of their nests for the night and the glow of the sunset stretches out into darkness, I anxiously wait for the call.

I pass several hours reading and then in anxious anticipation, I open the door and walk out into our courtyard where water flows down a man-made waterfall. The frogs let loose at full throttle, a cacophony of identifying calls to one another or to no one in particular. The sounds build into a thunderous crescendo as all the tiny green frogs have tuned in to have their say.

Then instantly — quicker than a maestro can swing his baton down, complete and total silence.  Soon some little pip-squeak decides to start again and all hell breaks loose.

Ah, the wonders of nature are there for us to enjoy if we can stand the volume on the boom box of small green frogs no bigger than the end of your little finger.

I close the door and decide to turn in for the night… no phone call, yet.

All in my house have drifted off into the quiet realm of peaceful sleep. At the bewitching hour of 3 a.m., suddenly there comes the ring, ring of the phone. I answer. Hubbub sits up in bed saying, “What’s going on?”

“It’s Sara, and it’s Cereus I say.  “Oh my God” chimes in Hubbub, “How serious is it?”

No, not serious but the Night-Blooming Cereus is opening its flowers — NOW!  Hubbub drops his head back on the pillow muttering, “You and Sara are both crazy as loons.

Goodnight.” Our dog Annie decides all this commotion is not worth her attention as her head also drops back to the pillow.

I madly pull on my travel clothes, grab the camera and drive the car at warp speed over to catch my first glimpse of the exotic flower often called Queen of the Night, which blooms rarely with fragrant white flowers — and only after dark.

This plant, which is part of the cactus family, is difficult to find anywhere and is usually passed from friend to friend or grandmother to mother to child. Where it originated is unknown.  Out of the darkness it arose one night, and garden lovers have been getting up ever since, in the dark of the night, to admire its unique beauty.

The plant itself reminds me of Medusa with a mass of snake-like tendrils hanging down some ten or perhaps fifteen feet.  When the fragrant blossoms open, the large, white, nocturnal flowers look somewhat like a shredded magnolia blossom hanging on the end of the branches.  We both hooted like drunken sailors as we dance around this Queen of the Night, taking pictures and admiring its beauty.

Call us crazy but I’ll bet we are not the only two who have fallen for the beauty of the Hylocereus undatus! Sara had often mentioned her Cereus to me and I’m glad that I have finally had the chance to see it in bloom.

Several days later, I revisit this Destin couple, to see Sara’s container garden.  Sara and Richard Wood moved here from Wisconsin in 1998 and several years later added an English Yellow Lab Retriever, Chloe, to the household.  Sara says, “I became so frustrated with the plants that did not grow here in Destin that I decided to try gardening in containers.”

Walking around her lanai, I see pots of deciduous Dinner Plate hibiscus, and Miniature Powder Puff plant also known as (Calliandra Beamotocephala).  If I have several stout sips, no, half a bottle of some strong wine, I might be able to mumble this name to you if I see you in Fresh Market.  Across the swimming pool is a luscious Double Pink hibiscus in full bloom and dozens of pots of orchids.

The orchid family is probably the largest in the plant kingdom with over 17,000 species.

Sara says, “I recommend the beginners try the Phalaenopsis, a mild-weather and grower friendly orchid.  Two of the most important things for success are light and water. The Phalaenopsis needs bright but indirect sun.” The Dendrobium prefers more sun and is one of the few orchids that have a very faint perfume. “Be careful with this one because when you find out how easy it is to grow, you buy another and before you know it, collecting becomes an obsession,” Sara says with a knowing smile.

Sara waters only once a week and she takes the entire plant to her sink and gently waters it thoroughly. She tells me, “Never plant these orchids in regular soil because they need more air around the roots.  Regular soil holds the water and rots them.”  Sara also says, “Don’t be alarmed if the roots grow outside the pot and dangle in midair. That’s just what they enjoy.”

Well, my dancing half the night away is now just a memory, but the dance with the Queen of the Night lives on.  Who out there has done the same?  Come on, quit laughing and confess!!

Laura Hall is a longtime gardener and Destin resident. She explores area gardens and other local topics with her cavalier spaniel Annie. If you would like to show off your garden or be profiled in a future column, contact Laura at