This remarkable cactus goes by the common name of Queen of the night or Orchid cactus. They have large flowers, roughly 10 to 15 centimetres across that bloom only after sundown and wilt by dawn.

The cactus belongs to the genus Epiphyllum, a name meaning "upon the leaf" because the flowers are sent out from the edge of the plant's "leaves" (They are actually stems). The most common species are Epiphyllum hookeri, Epiphyllum strictum and Epiphyllum stenopetalum. The first name was given by Adrian H Haworth in homage to Sir William Hooker, the first botanist to record the plant, albeit incorrectly, as Cactus phyllanthus.

Native to areas south of Mexico, including Guatemala, Costa Rica, Guyana and Venezuela, the cactus has found renown around the world as an ornamental plant. Thus the original white and yellow petalled flowers now have many colourful variants due to hybridization with related genera, such as Selenicereus, Hylocereus, Heliocereus and Nopalxochia.

Apart from the obvious ornamental and nocturnal charms, the flowers are said to be a treatment for Bradycardia (slow heart beat) and in Japan the petals are coated in tempura batter, then deep fried.

If you ever come across one of these plants, grab a small cutting of the stem and plant it at home, as they are very easy to propagate from a cutting. I did it and I can kill parsley!

Cuttings and further information can be had at http://www.epiuniverse.com/

The Queen of the Night is the dark controlling power in Mozart's opera Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute). Her opponent is Sarastro, priest of the Sun, who has kidnapped her daughter Pamina.

Prince Tamino on entering her realm is told of this by her three attendant ladies, and vows to rescue the Princess. However, when he learns the truth about her, he turns to Sarastro's side. The Queen of the Night orders Pamina to kill him. But Pamina and Tamino's love for each other enables them to pass their tests of fidelity, and the Queen of the Night's power is defeated.

She is a soprano; she has an aria O zittre nicht, mein lieber Sohn! in Act One, but her best-known aria is the fiery Die Hölle Rache, in which she urges Pamina to kill Sarastro:

Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen,
Tod und Verzweiflung flammet um mich her!
Fühlt nicht durch dich Sarastro Todesschmerzen,
So bist du meine Tochter nimmermehr.
Verstoßen sei auf ewig, verlassen sei auf ewig.
Zertrümmert sein auf ewig alle Bande der Natur,
Wenn nicht durch dich Sarastro wird erblassen!
Hört, Rachegötter, hört der Mutter Schwur!

Hell's revenge is boiling in my heart,
Death and despair flame all around me!
If Sarastro doesn't feel death's pain from you,
So you're my daughter nevermore.
Be cursed forever, be abandoned forever.
Every order of nature be destroyed forever,
If Sarastro isn't struck pale by you!
Hear, gods of revenge, hear the mother's oath!

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