Mirabilis jalapa 'Broken Colors'
FOUR O'CLOCKS, MARVEL OF PERU, CLAVILLIA, PRETTY BY NIGHT
syn. Mirabilis lindheimeri
Pronounced: mee-RAH-bih-lis HAH-lah-pah
Sunset zones: 4-24, H1, H2.
USDA zones: 8-11.
Heat zones: 12-1.
Height: 36 inches (90 m).
Width: 36 inches (90 cm).
Midsummer to late summer.
Fragrant, 2-inch long flowers open in late afternoon and continue until morning when the flower closes up and dies. The blossoms are in shades of pink, white, red or yellow.
Up to 4-inch long ovate leaves.
Humus rich, well-drained soil.
Mulch in the fall with a dry mulch. Fertilize monthly, spring through early summer with a complete organic fertilizer.
In early spring sow seed at 55-64°F (13-18°C). | Divide tubers in spring.
Pests and Diseases:
White or brown rust and leaf spot may be a problem. This has not been a problem on my plants.
Rainy Side Notes
It has been a long working day; to get to work and back you had to fight your way through the commuter traffic. Now that you are home, you climb out of your uptight business clothes and throw on the loose-fitting clothes that demand you to let go of the day. After fixing yourself a glass of ice tea, you step out into the garden to relax, plopping down into your favorite outdoor chair. As you begin to unwind, you throw your feet up on the ottoman and breathe in a sweet fragrance, and sigh letting all the stress of the workday release from your body. There in front of you are the lovely four o'clock flowers. It is as if they waited for you to come home and unwind the day. Then they open up their pretty faces and release their sugar and lemon fragrance into the cool, evening air, as a compliment to your ice tea.
The miracle of Peru, as it is sometimes called, means more than how it helps you to relax after work. As you unwind, you can sit there and imagine what a stir this plant caused when it was brought back from the Andes Mountains in the New World to Europe. The miracle, they thought, was how this shrubby perennial could have flowers of varying colors on just one plant without the help of grafts, or multiple plants in the same planting hole. Imagine how plant collectors get excited about a new genus today and you can imagine how exciting this plant's introduction was in the Old World back in the 1540s.
More Notes Below
A Victorian horticulturist once said, Pretty-by-night (one of its other common names) and flower names beginning with pretty were "only used by the vulgar." Sounds like this person needed some loose-fitting clothes to help get rid of the "uptightness."
Originally named Admirabilis, Linnaeus came along and changed it to Mirabilis the Latin word for wonderful. Pharmacists who mistakenly believed that the purgative jalap (named after Jalapa, a Mexican town) came from the roots of Mirabilis so they named the species, jalapa. It turned out it was not so, however, the name stuck.
In my garden, the plants winter over underground. In spring they begin to grow and by summer they are three feet tall and filling their space as green bushes. Mirabilis assumes a quiet position in the garden during the day. However, as evening draws near, the flowers burst open and perfume the night air, making it the perfect commuter's flower. When you have a mirabilis to greet you, who needs a dog? In addition, you don’t have to take it for a walk.
If you live in the colder parts of the Pacific Northwest, you can lift the tubers in the fall as you would a dahlia, and store them in a warm, dry place. Plant them out again in spring once the soil warms up. The plants will self-seed but not obnoxiously. You will want to weed out young seedlings anywhere they are not wanted. Once tubers form, they can be more difficult to dig out. Tubers will flower earlier then seedlings. Excessive winter moisture is detrimental to the tubers so provide good drainage.
Even though this plant is used medicinally, parts of the plants are poisonous when ingested.
Photographed in author's garden.