Time for Four o’clocks

2011
07.28

Many people have memories of four-o’clocks in their family garden. These beautiful flowers have been popular plants for generations.

photo Renees Garden

Four-o’clocks (Mirabilas jalapa) self seed. Often you can find them still growing in a long-abandoned garden spot. It’s an old Southern tradition to plant them near the front door. These jasmine-scented flowers will greet your guests.

In South America, where these flowers originated, four-o’clocks are used as a dye. The root is used medicinally and is said to be a hallucinogen. In herbal medicine, parts of the plant may be used for diuretic, purgative or vulnerary (wound-healing) purposes. I can’t speak for any of these herbal or medicinal uses—I have only enjoyed the flowers and their fragrance.

I’ve also read that the flowers are used in food coloring. The leaves may be cooked and eaten as well, but only as an emergency food. An edible crimson dye is obtained from the flowers to color cakes and jellies.

7-26-2011-four o'clocks
Four-o’clocks are also also known as the ‘Marvel of Peru’.
Photo courtesy
Renee’s Garden

Four-o’clock ‘Broken Colors’ are a special variety with starry, 2-inch blossoms that are beautifully splashed with showy, contrasting colors. Their delicio7-26-2011-renee's garden four o'clocksus jasmine fragrance floats on summer breezes. These flowers are both easy to grow and reliable. You can find the seeds on Renee’s Garden’s website for $2.79 a packet.

Before planting, soak the seeds in water overnight to speed the sprouting. These flowers are trouble-free, love full sun and have only moderate watering requirements.

Your four-o’clock flowers probably won’t bloom at exactly 4 p.m. Mine bloom at about 6 o’clock. The blooming time depends on your time zone and the plants’ exposure, but whenever it blooms it will stay consistent. You can count on your flowers to bloom at the same time every day. However, if it is cloudy or rainy, it may throw their solar clock askew.

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