VI: The Four O'Clock Flower

A flower that likes to party all night long.

A marvel-of-peru in bloom. Photo by Div Manickam / Unsplash
A marvel-of-peru in bloom. Photo by Div Manickam / Unsplash

Good morning. Today is sextidi, the 16th of Vendémiaire, Year CCXXXI. Today we celebrate la belle de nuit, a flower of many names.

If you're looking for this prolific flower, don't get stymied by its many common names. Search at the garden store or online for seeds of the Mirabilis jalapa (which translates to "Admirable Xalapa" and refers to the place in Mexico it's most associated with). Common names include four o'clock plant, marvel-of-peru, beauty-of-the-night, chandrakantha, shower flower, and my favorite, in Polish, dziwaczek, which means "little weirdo."

When I was younger, I took any nighttime shift I could find. I especially loved delivering newspapers, which entailed going to work at 2 am when the papers were fresh off the press, rolling and banding them for an hour or so of relaxing mindless labor, then driving around during the pre-sunrise hours to throw them onto driveways between active sprinklers moistening the lawn in preparation for another dry, sun-filled Colorado day.

Growing up in the high plains, where clouds are rare and atmosphere is thin, gives you a strong appreciation for the relief of sunset. I'd muddle through my days in the harsh, almost fluorescent daylight to make it to the first blushes of evening sky, when my mind and body would come alive. I believed I was nocturnal, and I tried to structure my life accordingly, but the duties of daytime always pulled me back.

There are flowers that do this, as well, including the famous moon flower that blooms brightly and whitely under the cover of darkness for moths to pollenate. But those are the true vampires, the ones that never risk the glare of sunshine and revel in the encroachment of sunset.

No, the patron flower of the night romanticist is the belle de nuit, the 4 o'clock, which opens its buds when the sun starts flirting with the horizon, releasing their wild bursts of color and sweet fragrance into the dusk.