Monday, January 24

Nocturnal bloomers to brighten the darkness

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Moonflowers will wilt before dawn. — Photo by Benjamin Graves

WE might not be aware that there are several nocturnal flowers, especially those with fantastic fragrances in our midst, worth considering for a change. I recall the white moonflower that was once seen along Jalan Simpang Tiga. These and other nocturnal flowers can be a special treat in the garden.

Moonflowers

Moonflowers or Ipomoea alba are vines that climb upwards, comparable to the morning glory that we are familiar with. The flowers among the green heart shaped leaves release a strong fragrance after sunset. The showy white flowers attract pollinating moths. However, these flowers will wilt before dawn.

Cacti and dragon fruit flowers

Queen of the Night is a type of cactus that also flowers at night as its name implies. The flowers will also wilt before dawn. This shrub is a vine in nature with tap roots and green foliage.

The famous dragon fruit and the related desert cactus vines that grow under very harsh environments are also known for their nocturnal flowers. Yes, we all know and love eating the three varieties of red, white, and yellow fleshed dragon fruits. Together in this group, we also have the lovely flowers that open briefly after midnight.

This group of lovely flowering cacti, with such names as Dutchman Pipe Cactus or Epiphyllum oxypetalum, would produce big flowers of over 10 inches long and four inches wide. They can have an extremely fresh fragrance or a foul smell. This is to attract pollinator moths, which love to come out to taste the speciality only best known to them.

Queen of the Night is a type of cactus that flowers at night.

Tuberoses 

Tuberose recently appeared at a flower stall at the wet market at Third Mile Bazaar (this stall only operates on Saturday). I planted tuberose many years back and wrote about it for gardening friends once. It was refreshing to see that others have successfully gotten it to flower. The price was RM35 for a single plant, which looks like a spring onion plant. These white flowers are planted for oil extraction in Mexico, where it is turned into a fragrant perfume.

Nightingales

This attractive Nightingale (Telosma cordata) will trail along the fence without any bushy growth habit but rather maintain a single line. The vine was really loved by older generation housewives, who were fond of the strong sweet fragrance that permeates the damp night air.

The yellow flowers are also good for frying with eggs as a vegetable. I remember my mother-in-law had urged me to grow more vines. However, after we removed the old wooden fence, these vines sadly also left the garden because the base was cemented for a concrete wall.

Four o’clock

These lovely small beauties are tender perennials with displays of elegant flowers at night. There are many varieties with different colours from white to blue, yellow, and red.

Our tropical species generates a sweet smelling fragrance all through the night. The fascinating facts about this plant do not stop there – the flowers can amazingly change colour as they age.

The name Four o’clock also suggests that they begin flowering from late afternoon and will last into the night to provide us with their beauty. In fact, we have some here where the flowers will remain even during the day.

Night jasmine

You might have read my column in the past about the Queen of the Night Jasmine? Botanically known as Cestrum nocturnum, it can send its fragrance some 300 feet away when the night air is clean and damp. However, this can be more difficult now as the air has become rather polluted in certain areas.

This plant originated in the West Indies and was brought to Europe by Columbus in the 15th century before being spread all over the globe.

Well, I think it is time to try some of these lovely nocturnal flowers in your home gardens soon. Do send me an email if you have questions, comments, or suggestions. Happy gardening.