Moonlight cactus

Moonlight cacti or (genus Selenicereus) is a poorly defined cactus genus found in Central America, the Caribbean and northern South America.


Clambering plants with flat to angled stems, producing aerial roots. Areoles may be with or without spines. Flowers are large and nocturnal, pollinated by moths or rarely bats. The receptacle bears small bracts, hairs and usually spines. Fruits bear numerous spines.


Its generic name is derived from the old Greek moon goddess Selene, referring to the nocturnal flowers. The term Nightblooming Cereus is sometimes used here, but this is also used for many night blooming cacti, including Epiphyllum, Hylocereus and Peniocereus.

Summary of the species

Selenicereus anthonyanus Mexico. Stems like those of Epiphyllum anguliger but more vining and with short spines. Flowers ca. 12 cm long, 10-15 cm wide, the outer inner tepals purplish, the inner cream.

Selenicereus atropilosus Mexico. Flowers 12 cm long, receptacle with black hairs. The species is close to some species in the genus Weberocereus

Selenicereus chrysocardium Mexico. Stems deeply lobed, ca. 28 cm wide. Flowers 32-38 cm long, 23-30 cm wide, base of receptacle very spiny. The species is close to the genus Epiphyllum.

Selenicereus grandiflorus Jamaica, Cuba; Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua. Stems many-ribbed. Flowers 18 cm long, receptacle densely woolly. Three subspecies are recognized:
ssp. grandiflorus
ssp. donkelaarii - Mexico. Stems 1 cm thick, low-ribbed, spines short, appressed to stem. Flowers 18 cm long.
ssp. hondurensis

The following species are very closely related to each other and possibly better treated as synonymous taxa or subspecies.

  • Selenicereus boeckmannii'

Cuba, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Mexico. Flowers 24-39 cm long. Close to S. pteranthus.

  • Selenicereus brevispinus

Cuba. Spines less and 1 mm long. Flowers 25 cm long. A shortspined S. grandiflorus.

  • Selenicereus coniflorus

Mexico. Stems thick, usually with 5-6 ribs, spines to 1,5 cm long. Flowers 22-25 cm long. A long spined S. pteranthus or few ribbed S. grandiflorus.

  • Selenicereus hallensis

Colombia? Only known in cultivation and possibly a hybrid with S. macdonaldiae and some other "species".

  • Selenicereus macdonaldiae

Honduras? Stem ribs tubercled. Flowers 30-34 cm long.

  • S. urbanianus

Cuba, Haiti, Dominican Republic. Stems 4-5-ribbed, flowers 20-30 cm long.

Selenicereus hamatus Mexico. Stems 3-4-ribbed, with knobby projections, nearly spineless. Flowers 20-25 cm long, receptacle with black hairs.

Selenicereus inermis Venezuela, Colombia. Stems 2-5-ribbed, almost spineless. Flower 15 cm long, spiny, hairless. The following species are probably best treated as synonymous or subspecies of S. inermis:

  • Selenicereus rubineus

Mexico. Stems 4-5-ribbed. Flowers 18 cm. wide, 18-19 cm long, inner and outer inner tepals flushed ruby-red near base.

Costa Rica. Stem with 6-12 low ribs. Flower 15-16 cm long, spiny, hairless.

Selenicereus murrillii Mexico. Stems only 8 mm thick, nearly spineless. Flowers 15 cm long, spiny, hairless. Closely related to S. spinulous and S. inermis (sensu lat.).

Selenicereus pteranthus Two forms are recognized.
f. macdonaldiae - Honduras? Stem ribs tubercled. Flowers 30-34 cm long.
f. pteranthus - Mexico. Stems thick, 4-5-ribbed, spines very short. Flowers 25-30 cm long.

Selenicereus spinulosus Texas, Mexico. Stems short-spined. Flowers 8?-14 cm long, receptacle spiny, hairless.

Selenicereus vagans Mexico. Flower 15 cm long, receptacle spiny, hairless.

  • Selenicereus nelsonii Mexico. Flowers 20 cm long, receptacle hairless, spiny. Probably conspecific with S. vagans.

'Selenicereus validus Michoacan, huge nocturnal flowers with bright red fruits. (Mesa Gardens 1244.5936)

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