© 1987
The Amazon Moonflower
Her life embraced art, politics, the threatened environment and a quest for a very elusive Amazon flower. Most of all all Margaret was an brilliant story-teller .

Selenicereus wittii

from South American Pictures

The Moonflower is a cactus of the genus Selenicereus. As many of the species flower at night the genus is remembered by the name Selene from the old Greek word for 'Moon'. This species is known only from small parts of the enormous Amazon forest and was named wittii at the beginning of the 20th century after a German collector. Sometimes the plant is known as Strophocactus wittii.
Selenicereus wittii is generally found close to water and widely in the flooded Amazon forests or igapós of the Rio Negro This is an immense tributary of 'black' tea coloured water flowing from the north to enter the main river just below Manaus.
Selenicereus wittii is an epiphyte - it uses other plants as a foundation. Its leaf-like flattened stems are usually attached to the trunks of trees. Some older stems appear to have become detached and hang loosely over the water
Selenicereus wittii The colour of the flattened stems varies from green to crimson,often on the same side of the tree.The younger stems seem to be green and frequently the plant grows with others on the same tree. Hetre the flowers protruding on long tubular floral structures are almost fully developed.
Selenicereus wittii The edges of the broad flattened stems are edged with fine, short spines
Selenicereus wittii The flower head and tube are part of the same plant structure groeing from the flattened stem.The tube is covered with fine hairs pointing outwards.
Selenicereus wittii Here, soon after dusk the flower head began to open. The tube was still erect
Selenicereus wittii Once daylight had gone the flower opened rapidly often moving visibly as the white or pale yellow perianth leaves resembling 'petals' began to unfurl.
Selenicereus wittii After an hour the flower on the end of its tube was almost fully open
Selenicereus wittii In the case of this plant the flower was full open long before midnight. All the perianth leaves were long and firmly pointed
Selenicereus wittii At this stage the flower had a faint, softly sweet perfume attracting numerous small insects.
Selenicereus wittii The insects gathered on the stamens - see the black specks top left, centre and various in the lower half of the picture.
Selenicereus wittii The insects did not stay all night and by the time the flower began to close, they had gone.
Selenicereus wittii As dawn approachedthe perianth leaves like 'petals' began to droop and close.
Selenicereus wittii By the time of first light the perianth had closed and the flower tube drooped. The life of the flower was over

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