April 24, 2008

By Jean Wofford, Victoria County Master Gardener

Edited by Charla Borchers Leon, Victoria County Master Gardener
Night Blooming Cerus, commonly called the Queen of the Night, is a primitive stalky looking plant that blooms an exotic and fragrant bloom lasting for one night or sometimes into a cloudy day.
The Queen of the Night bloom is large, up to four inches wide and eight inches long, ghostly white in color and with a pink pistil.
Jewels of the Evening

Four O' Clocks
• Blooms open as temperature drops late in the day
• Solid white, variegated white and red, fuchsia, yellow and peach in color
• Start easily from seed; grow in full sun or dappled shade

Night Blooming Cereus
• Blooms at night for one day only
• Ghostly white with pink pistil color
• Easy to propagate

White Moonflower Vine

• Blooms open early evening; will bloom all summer
• Brilliant white in color
• Vine produces seeds that can be replanted

Night Blooming Jasmine

• Blooms at night throughout the year
• Shrub with orange blossom fragrance
• Thrives in full sun with regular watering and feeding
Look for a Moonflower vine seed packet like this one with the large white bloom on the front.  These are available now on seed packet stands and sell out quickly.
I feel as if I am watching a miracle when I see one of the night bloomers unfold from its buds into either small bright blooms or very large ghostly white blooms.  They are both a wonder to watch.  The secret to seeing this is to be there at the right time.   The petals seem to stretch as they unfold.

Four O' Clocks

One of the flowers that are real jewels of the evening is none other than the wonderful, fragrant, old fashioned, four o' clocks. They were always in our yard when I was growing up.  The blooms are trumpet shaped and are loved by both butterflies and hummingbirds.
Four o’ clocks, Mirabilis jalapa, commonly called Marvel of Peru received its name because of its habit of opening late in the afternoon.  As a child I wanted to know how the flower knew when it was four o'clock, since I thought the name had something to do with the time.  But as I found out, the actual time has nothing to do with the opening of the flowers, but the temperature drops late in the day.  This triggers something in the plant to make it open.  The flowers will stay in bloom all day on a cloudy day, but if the weather is sunny, they will close around midmorning. 

Available in Different Colors

Four o' clocks come in a variety of colors.  Just the past year a different variety was available.  The leaf is very light green and the blooms are a very intense fuchsia, also a more intense fragrance.  The other varieties I have seen had the dark green leaf.  The blooms range in color from solid white, variegated white and red, fuchsia, yellow and peach.  
How to Plant

Four o 'clocks are very easy to get started from seed. I just plant them according to the directions on the package.  They do reseed and return year after year; however, they may not be in the place originally planted.   The wind may blow the seeds and they just germinate on top of the soil, send down their roots and a new plant starts.  I have them growing and blooming in both full sun as well as dappled shade. 

Queen of the Night

Another wonderful night bloomer is the Night Blooming Cerus, or it is commonly called the “Queen of the Night”.  I have one of these that is the most primitive looking plant I have ever seen.
This surprising plant appears to be dead a large part of the time.  It has no leaves, just this very strange wandering stalk that isn't attractive at all.  However, it is a very interesting plant.

Easy to Propagate

The stalks will break very easily.  To start a new plant, just break off a piece and put it into a pot or directly into the ground.  I have one on my back porch that grows up to 15 feet tall and has to be cut back frequently.

Eventually you will find a little bud growing on the plant. It will just grow straight out.  When the bud gets full and about three inches long, be prepared for something magic to happen.  I keep a close watch and every now and then I am lucky enough to catch this wonderful flower when it unfolds.  The first time I saw this, I know I was amazed to see the bloom take shape.  First the large petals open and slowly the middle of the bloom takes shape.  The one I have is a ghostly white with a pistil of light pink.

These blooms are fragrant and so exotic.  They only bloom for one night and if the next day is cloudy, they will stay open until afternoon.  They are very large, about four inches wide and about eight inches long. 

Other Night Bloomers

One of my favorite night bloomers is the old fashioned Moonflower vine.  I love the magic in watching this plant burst into bloom.

As soon as the seed racks start getting filled in the spring, look for the Moonflower vine seed.  The package always has a very large white bloom on the front.  If you wait, chances are you won't be able to get them.  I find they sell out quickly in the spring.

Starting Moonflower Vine Seeds

The seeds are about the size of a cherry seed, just about as hard and are somewhat difficult to sprout.  For best results, sprout them in a wet, folded paper towel placed in a plate that you continually keep moist.  After sprouting, transfer them directly to pots with soil or directly in a sunny location that has a support for the plant to climb on.

I love this beautiful plant with its very large and heart shaped leaves. The buds begin to form and will take about a week from start to the opening of the beautiful bloom. Noninvasive, the vine can grow up to 10 feet or higher.  It will bloom all summer, opening in the early evening with the brilliant white that only flowers can be.

After the moonflower blooms, let the bloom dry on the vine.  Each one will have from two to four seeds that can be kept and replanted next year.

Night Blooming Jasmine

One other night bloomer is the night blooming jasmine.  This is a shrub and is known for its strong, orange blossom-like fragrance.  It will bloom throughout the year if it is kept well fed and watered. In order to fully enjoy this tender perennial, be sure to plant it near a door or window so you can enjoy the fragrance.  It will reward you if it is planted in full sun, watered and fed regularly.

If you like blooming plants but do not have the time to admire them during the daylight hours due to a hectic work schedule, try some of these nighttime bloomers. You might even become a night owl!