Queen of the Night:
May 3 to
Tohono Chul Park Gallery
She is called the Queen of the Night, La Reina de la Noche, or the Night-Blooming Cereus, but whatever you call her, every summer Peniocereus greggii is the superstar of the
Bloom Night is a signature event at the Park and is the inspiration for our special art exhibit in the “Queen’s” honor. Artworks by 22
Thousands of visitors have attended the Park’s Bloom Nights and many have snapped photographs of the beautiful cereus flowers. We are inviting people to contribute prints of their favorite Bloom Night photos for a Community Album displayed in the Gallery. Participants may bring prints from 3½x5” to 8x10” in size to the Exhibits Department during May. The photographer’s name, phone number, and the year the photo was taken should be on the back of each print. Photos will not be returned. We may not be able to use every submitted photo, but will include at least one or two from each contributor.
To find out when Bloom Night 2007 will be called, phone the Special Events recording at (520) 742-6455 x 915 or check daily at www.tohonochulpark.org/bloomwatch.html. To get on the general Park reminder email list or the night-blooming cereus (only) email notification list, email
All Hail the Queen!
Peggy Hazard, Assistant Exhibit Curator
Sixteen Years Living with Cinderella
I remember stories my grandmother told when I was a boy growing up in rural
I relocated to
Over twenty years later, I ended up working at
The next year Big Ron found the plant that bears his name growing in the hill near the east gate into the Park, growing under a mesquite. Several years later, that plant along with several others had to be moved to make way for additional parking and new trails. Most of these plants now happily reside under the mesquite tree behind the entry wall at Ina and Paseo del Norte in Ron’s Garden. Ron has passed on, but I like to think he still holds his flashlight for the visitors to his little garden, just as proud of the beautiful plant he found as the morning he showed it to us.
Over the years, the number of plants in the park has grown from around 20 to over 340. Many of these cacti were planted, some were found growing in the Park, and quite a few were saved from the bulldozer blade or donated (sometimes both). The number of flowers blooming in one night has been as high as 174 on 69 plants. The number of visitors has grown to over 1,000 on Bloom Night, many experiencing the magic of these plants for the first time. The national media have taken note of our little park and our ugly little cacti with their one night of magic. People return year after year, coming to experience the Queen on her special night and the promise of the coming monsoon rains of summer. Come join us this season, the 16th time around the sun. Experience the magic of the desert.
The Legend of Old White-Haired Woman
It is said that long ago a young woman from the Desert People fell in love with a young Hiakim, a Yaqui, and went to live with his family far to the south. The mother of the girl, Old White-Haired Woman, loved her daughter very much and missed her. Every evening she would go out to the foothills and call to her daughter’s spirit, and every night there was an answer. One night, though, she heard nothing.
That night she went to her husband and said, “My daughter needs me. I must go to her.”
Her husband, who was also old and lame besides, shook his head. “You are a bent old woman, and the Hiakim live far from here. How will you find your way?”
“The Little People will help me,” she said. So the next morning she got up and called to Ali Chu Chum O’othham, the Little People, in their own language, for Old White-Haired Woman still remembered how to speak to them. As soon as they heard her call, the animals came right away.
“What do you want, Old Mother?” the Little People asked.
“My daughter’s spirit is calling me from far away in the land of the Hiakim. I must go to her, but I am old and do not know the way.”
“We will help you, Old Mother. We will help you go to your daughter.”
And so the birds brought Old White-Haired Woman seeds and grain to eat along the way. The bees brought her honey, and Coyote, who had once been in the land of the Hiakim, guided her footsteps. After many, many days, they reached the village where Old White-Haired Woman’s daughter lived with her husband and her baby, but the bent old woman found that her daughter was very sick.
“Mother,” the girl told Old White-Haired Woman, “my husband’s people are waiting for me to die so they can take my baby off into the mountains and teach him to be a warrior. I want you to take him back home to the Tohono O’othham,* so he can grow up to be kind and gentle. You must leave tonight. Tomorrow will be too late.”
Old White-Haired Woman was tired and wanted to rest, but she knew her daughter was right. Late that day, she loaded the baby into her daughter’s burden basket and went through the village, this way and that, so people would think she was gathering wood. Then, when she was out of sight, she started back north.
Once more, the Little People came to help her, but the next morning she could hear that a band of Hiakim warriors were following her trail. When they were almost upon her, she called out to I’itoi** for help. He sent a huge flock of shashani, blackbirds, who flew around and around the Yaqui warriors’ eyes until they could see nothing. Meanwhile, I’itoi led Old White-Haired Woman and her grandson into a wash that became a canyon. In this way, they went north toward the land of the Tohono O’othham.
But Old White-Haired Woman was very tired after her long journey. Finally, one day, she could go no farther. “I must stop here,” she said. So I’itoi took the boy the rest of the way home. When he came back, he found that the old woman’s feet had grown underground and all that was sticking up were two sticks of arms.
“You are a good grandmother,” I’itoi said. “You may stay here and rest forever, but once a year, you will be the most beautiful flower on the earth.” He touched the sticks. Wherever he put his fingers, beautiful white flowers grew. “Once each year,” I’itoi said, “during the night, Wind Man will be heavy with your perfume, but when the sun comes up in the morning, you will be gone.”
And that, nawoj (my friend), is the story of Old White-Haired Woman and the beautiful flower that the Mil-gahn call the night-blooming cereus. The Desert People call it kok’oi ‘uw, which means ghost smell, or ho’ok-wah’o, which means witch’s tongs.
* Tohono O’odham
** also called Elder Brother, the Tohono O’odham creator god
Based on the tale collected by author Harold Bell Wright, published in Long Ago Told: Legends of the Papago Indians (New York: D. Appleton, 1929). Copyright 2001-2007 by The Family of Harold Bell Wright and used with the permission of the copyright holders. This adapted version is found in J.A. Jance, Hour of the Hunter (Avon Books, 1991), pp. 247-249.
|Last Update: 5-13-08.