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What is a Ballerina Flower?

By Terrie Brockmann
Updated May 16, 2024
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The ballerina flower, or Weberocereus tonduzii, belongs to the cactus family. Some growers value it for its pretty white flowers. The stems tend to be leggy because the plant is a climbing or sprawling succulent in its native areas of Costa Rica. The stems are triangular and segmented, with long aerial roots growing from hairy areoles. Typically, the stems are green to dark green and may grow to be 16 inches (about 40 cm) long and 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm) in diameter.

Sometimes botanists and plant enthusiasts call the plant Werckleocereus tonduzii in reference to Alsatian botanist Karl Werckle, a collector of Costa Rican cacti. The name tonduzii is a tribute to Adolphe Tonduz, a Swiss botanist who sometimes worked with him. Other botanists believe it belongs to the group Cerei or Cereus and call it Cereus tonduzii. As not all authorities agree on how to classify the plant, buyers need to search for it under each name.

The ballerina flower has stems that some people describe as triangular or three-sided in shape. The edges are shaped similarly to an elongated arrowhead and notched or mildly scalloped and vary from large to smaller at the growing tip. Typically, many aerial roots dangle from the stems. In their native habitat, these roots help the plant climb trees, and the flat surfaces help the plant gather sunlight.

Cacti have areoles, from which new growth, flowers, and fruit grow. The areoles on the stem of the ballerina flower plant often have what is called white wool at the base. The flower pericarpels, which is similar to a thick stem, has black wool. This wooliness helps the plant to gather dew and other small water droplets. The ballerina flower is an epiphytic succulent that also uses its aerial roots to help gather water.

Ballerina flower plants have white flowers that are funnel-shaped and topped with long elliptical-shaped, multi-layered petals. The flowers rise in a tubular pericarpel, meaning the sepals, petals, and stamen are fused together. The outer parts have a greenish tint with rosy tips, which contrasts with the snowy white petals. The plants usually have multiple flowers along the stem, creating a mass of blooms. Typically, the flowers are 2.5 to 3 inches (about 7 to 8 cm) long and approximately 1.5 to 2 inches (about 4 to 5 cm) in diameter.

Gardeners in tropical and semi-tropical areas may raise ballerina flower plants in their gardens. The plant is not frost tolerant; therefore, growers in other areas usually display them in hothouses or as large houseplants. Generally, gardeners purchase them as plants from nurseries. Dedicated cactus growers sometimes start them from seeds or use stem cuttings.

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