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Southern Garden Can Come Alive At Night
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
While "in the heat of the night" can refer to crime and passion, it also can be a time of miracles for the Southern gardener. Night blooming plants are very exotic yet much overlooked by everyone but the ardent gardeners.
Some gardeners think the night-blooming Cereus, Hylocereus undatus, is almost indescribable. It is a cactus and also a vine. It hails from tropical America and once it has adequate age, unfurls some of the most exotic flowers at night. The flowers are about a foot wide, white and funnel-shaped.
To grow the night-blooming Cereus, we must have highly porous soils that drain in seconds. This is really no different than other cactus soils. Sun, shade or filtered light is tolerated; freezing temperatures are not.
In the tropics, night-blooming Cereus are planted underneath palms or along walls where the clinging stems can be admired by visitors. We grow them in containers and allow them to cascade or cover a small trellis.
Another night bloomer is night jasmine, known botanically as Cestrum nocturnum. You will not find it in the jasmine family but in the Solanaceae family, with such unlikely relatives as the tomato, pepper and eggplant.
This most wonderful of plants is not much to look at and has no foot wide blossoms, but possesses some of the most fragrance found in the plant world.
I have been growing night jasmine for about 15 years after having discovered its wonders growing by a restaurant in Negril, Jamaica. Even though they are tropical, they are easy to propagate by cuttings, and I plan to never be without at least six.
After last winter's mild weather, those in my landscape came back and are almost three feet tall. Tiny trumpet-shaped blooms open by the hundreds at night and wonderful fragrance permeates the yard and patio. The flowers close the next morning to give a repeat performance the following night. The plant will go through a rest with no blooms, then come back with even more flowers as the plant grows larger through the summer.
At the end of September, think about propagation by cutting, or digging yours up and potting it. If container grown, just be sure to bring it in before the onset of freezing weather.
Another wonderful night blooming flower that is much easier to grow is the moonflower. It is on the verge of being considered a hot new plant that everyone will want to try. Although it has been around forever, some of the most noteworthy plant breeders and plant introducers have now discovered it. With their stamp of approval, just watch its popularity explode.
The moonflower, Ipomoea alba, is a close companion to the morning glory, Ipomoea purpurea. Its crystal white flowers resemble morning glory blossoms. Unlike morning glories which peak in the morning, moonflower blossoms open as dusk approaches and remain open through the night.
As the flowers open, a sensual perfume drifts through the evening. Moonflowers on a trellis next to a bedroom window is the stuff of which dreams are made. They require the same growing conditions as morning glory, but are not quite as vigorous.