PUNAHAO, home to the night-blooming Cereus Flower!

Having grown up in the Midwest (Ohio) I vividly recall the harsh winters of my youth, standing outside in the ice and snow shivering as I waited for the school bus to arrive. Following that, 19 more years of snow, boots, jackets and gloves in Upstate New York and Central Germany. So it was exhilarating to finally experience the year-round warmth and many flowering plants and trees of Hawaii. But really now! Flowers that only bloom in the dead of night? Yes, that’s exactly what one will find, June to October, on the walls surrounding Punahou Preparatory School (K-12) on the Island of Oahu. There are many varieties of exotic plant life on the islands: Plumeria, Bird of Paradise, dangling Haleconia, Red Ginger, Rainbow Shower trees (they really look like rainbows when the petals fall), Queen’s Crepe Myrtle, Royal Poinciana, Monkey Pod and African Tulip trees with tulip-like flowers the size of oranges! All exhibit a menagerie of color and exotic perfume lulling one into the relaxing island life-style. Still, nothing quite compares to the Night-Blooming Cereus plant and it’s alluring flowers.

Night-Blooming Cereus

The Night-Blooming Cereus, or “Queen of the Night,” was brought over from Mexico to the Hawaiian Islands in the late 1800s. Read about them at the website, PAIKO, a floral boutique in Kaka’ako, Hawaii. Also, find it woven within the romance of Earl Derr Biggers’ first Charlie Chan novel, The House Without a Key (1925):

“Just at present,” the girl told him, “everyone visits Punahou to see the night-blooming cereus. It’s the season now, you know.” “Sounds like a big evening,” John Quincy laughed. “Go and Look at the flowers. Well, I’m for it. Will you come?” “Of Course.” She gave a few directions to the clerk and joined him by the door….

On the stone walls surrounding the campus of Oahu College, the strange flower that blooms only on a summer night was heaped in snowy splendor. John Quincy had been a bit lukewarm regarding the expedition when they set out, but he saw his error now. For here was beauty, breath-taking and rare. Before the walls paraded a throng of sight-seers; they joined the procession.

Biggers (1925), The House Without a Key, Chapter XVII

Standing aside those enchanting blooms can be surreal. I like to think them celestial reminders to put down the cell phone, shut the social media app or television and get back to nature; “…to lose my mind and find my soul” (Muir). They have graced Punahou’s walls well over a century and will remain long after our own presence on Mother Earth has passed. (see the Punahou wall on my homepage.)

So if you are heading to the Sandwich Islands (so dubbed by Captain James Cook when he stumbled across them in 1778), and it’s June to October, take a detour up to Punahou. And let the sweet scents of the alluring flora–especially the Night-Blooming Cereus–lull you into the slow laid-back ways of Aloha. Careful now! Like the gentleman in the novel you may just decide to linger a while longer.

“The bluest hills are those farthest away”

Charlie Chan, Behind That Curtain, 1928, Chapter 4

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