Epi(c) Bloom (Epiphyllum oxypetalum)

We recently adopted a friend’s quite big Epiphyllum oxypetalum. This a so-called “orchid” cactus, a somewhat weird looking plant that is native to Southern Mexico and South America. I instantly liked it when I took care of a smaller cutting because it began to grow new leaves quickly and made it easy to see some success. It’s also known as “Dutchman’s pipe cactus” or “Queen of the night” – the latter because the flowers open only at night, and only for one single night. They fully open around 10pm, and then wilt in the morning.

The plant our friend gave us had already formed plenty of buds so we were expecting a massive bloom. It started slow and over the course of four days, all the flowers blossomed – the first night only two, then two nights with around 15 flowers each, and the last two late ones yesterday night.

And even when you know what to expect – it’s still pretty amazing to see this happen. To think that flowers of this size (I’d say up to 15cm/6″ in diameter and 30cm/11″ long) somehow come out of a flat and somewhat weird looking cactus leaf, it’s almost surreal. Both the complexity and delicate fragility of the tepals, pistil and stamen is simply astonishing to see – and interesting to photograph, when it’s dark… :-)

The flowers are also very fragrant, an intoxicating smell of an intensity that reminded me of the heavy patchouli combined with rose wafts from the blooms, so strong that it gave me pause when another cloud of fragrance surrounded me while working the camera.

With Shuwen’s help, I think I quite thoroughly explored and studied the flower’s qualities, photographically:


For most of the photos I used two external flashes placed at a 45° angle left and right of the flowers. One was going through an umbrella, the other in a small portable soft-box. I used the camera hand-held just like in most of my other flower photos, in order to be flexible enough to move around (albeit just a little bit). With flash, it’s really a non-issue – at 1/60s it’s easy to hand-hold the stabilized 105mm macro lens at these distances (the flowers are huge and there’s no need to get extremely close), and with the 50mm (last two photos) it’s not a problem either.

The biggest obstacle was focusing in the dark. I used a small hand-held LED flashlight as a manual “AF assist” light, but had to make sure I turned it off (or pointed it away from the flowers) for the actual exposure because the color balance of the LED and flashes is quite different.

I briefly thought about focus stacking to make one image where all the anthers and the stigma are in focus, but a light breeze constantly moved the flowers, so I quickly abandoned that idea. :-P

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6 Responses

  1. These are just glorious. Still very impressed that you hand hold your camera – the DOF is so good.

  2. Diese Blüten sind soooo schön und speziell – und du hast sie wie üblich wunderbar eingefangen. Wir haben eine ziemlich große Pflanze von einer Freundin geschenkt bekommen, die erzählte, dass sie erst nach über 15 Jahren geblüht habe. Der Duft, den sie verströmen, ist allerdings schon recht speziell. Im ersten Moment dachte ich, es hätte jemand Anti-Gelsen-Mittel aufgetragen ;-)

    1. Anti-Gelsen-Mittel, wie wunderbar, damit hast du mich wirklich zum Lachen gebracht! Diese Assoziation hätte ich mit dem Geruch nicht gehabt – er ist wohl sehr intensiv, mir aber nicht unangenehm. Na ja, das ist wahrscheinlich wie fast alles von Mensch zu Mensch verschieden. :)

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