Moon Gardens: The Secret Life of Night Bloomers
There's a whole world of night blooming flowers just waiting to be discovered.
You have to pay attention to night blooming flowers or you may miss them. As far as flowers go they lead a rather understated life by day. In fact, when the sun is out they may go unnoticed as you walk past them, not realizing they're so special.
It's not until the evening hours that these shy plants turn on their charm and shed their drab personalities.
Who says you can only enjoy your garden by day? Come along and discover the secret nightlife of these moon garden flowers - the night blooming beauties.
Just What is a Night Bloomer?
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Unlike most plants that bloom all day, some have a different lifestyle; they are flowers that bloom at night.
They're the night owl plants and they begin their day in late afternoon as the sun begins to slip away. Their job is to attract the night pollinators: sphinx or hawk moths, bats and even some types of bees.
Moon Gardens are gardens designed to be enjoyed not only by day, but in the evening hours as well. A mixture of white blossoms and fragrant night blooming flowers is used to assure interest whatever the time of day. Bright white petals appear luminous in the scant light from the moon and add the magical touch.
Flowers of the night have seductive nicknames such as Midnight Candy, Queen of the Night,and Moon Frolic. Many appear quite plain and ordinary until the sun slips down and they take on their evening personae..
Every detail about these night bloomers is designed with night pollinators in mind: color, shape, and even their scent.
Wallflower by Day - Unassuming Sacred Datura at Noon
You'd probably walk right past this shrub at mid day. Many blossoms are tightly shut and covered in soft green jackets as they wait their turn to show off. If you look carefully, you'll notice a few blossoms have begun to unwind from their coverings and are poised to pop open just when the time is right.
Show Off at Night - Flashy Sacred Datura at Night
Of all the night blooming flowers the sacred datura is the naughtiest. This flower of the night relies on an underhanded technique to attract her customers. She slips something a little extra in her nectar - hallucinogens. Due to her toxic nature, the datura is not kid or pet friendly.
Why are Night Blooming Flowers Often White?
Queen of the Night: Cereus Hylocereus undatus.
Daytime bloomers flaunt their colorful, showy petals to attract pollinators.
Most flowers that bloom in the evening can't rely on color to do the job; in low light brilliant hues turn a muddy shade and blend in with background.
Bright white and silver-hued flowers pop from the dark landscape and almost appear luminous in low light, making it easier for the night pollinators to find.
Why are Night Bloomers Often Trumpet Shaped?
Night Blooming Jasmine
Many night bloomers have long trumpet-shaped blooms to entice the hawk moths, their favorite pollinator. Hawk moths have an exceptionally long butterfly-like tongue, as a matter of fact, their tongues are the longest of all butterflies and moths.
Some hawk moth tongues have been recorded to reach up to 14 inches in length - that's as long as legal-sized paper. It's a good thing, too because datura blooms can be a foot long.
This trumpet shape is perfectly designed for the Hawk moth's scrolling tongue. He's able to reach the tall thin tubes of sweet hidden nectar better than any other pollinator.
Why are Night Bloomers More Fragrant?
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The most unique characteristic of these night bloomers is their drastic transformation in the early evening hours. They change from subdued to flamboyant, sometimes in remarkably fast speed.
The moon flower vine (Ipomoea alba) is the flashy cousin of the morning glory, but unlike the morning glory it pops open a large 5 inch bloom in record speed, often in a matter of minutes. These blooms only last one evening, so they have to take their job of attracting pollinators very seriously.
Once unfurled, these night blooming flowers emit a highly sweet, intoxicating scent, unlike any daytime bloom. This scent is tantalizing to the hawk moth and seductive to any moon garden visitor.
One flower, the sacred datura, is so determined to attract the hawk moth pollinator that it has devised a sneaky method of slipping a mild narcotic into its fragrant nectar. This extra juiced-up sweet drink keeps the dautra's customer sipping for longer than normal periods of time, and assuring quality pollination.
It's True: The Night Air IS Sweeter! - Flowers put on extra charm in the evening.
There's another secret about evening flowers. It's not just the night bloomers that put on a show. Some flowers that hold their blooms both day and night also go through a bit of evening transformation.
Have you ever noticed on a balmy summer evening the sweet aroma of honeysuckle that wasn't present earlier that day? Did you know that some varieties of flowers pump out extra nighttime perfume? Certain varieties of honeysuckle, jasmine, gladiolus, dianthus, and brugmansia (angel's trumpet), to name a few, work day and night to attract their pollinators.
They're the certifiable workaholics of the flower world.
What are the Nighttime Pollinators?
The hawk moth is a aerobatic night flier. It's fond of speed darting, swooping, hovering and even flying backwards. Because of its hefty body size and hovering capabilities it's often mistaken for a hummingbird. It has even gained the nickname hummingbird moth.
As mentioned earlier, this nocturnal pollinator's tongue is the longest in the land.
This carpenter bee has just finished his visit to a cereus plant, also called The Queen of the Night. Notice the pollen on his body?
Got a Minute and a Half? Watch the Moon Flower Unfurl - Real Time Video
The Ipomoea alba, better known as moon flower quickly unwraps and bursts open in the evening. It truly is a sight to see. It's saucer-sized bloom exudes an enchanting evening fragrance. If you miss its exciting evening show, all you'll find the next day are spent blooms.
My thanks to NapkinsAndDiagrams for allowing me to post her YouTube video here. I photographed my moon flower opening but it didn't turn out as well as this one.
Night blooming flowers have a very strong scent -
You've heard of neighbors complaining about barking dogs, loud cars and perhaps cats digging up gardens, but have you ever heard neighbors complaining about excessive garden fragrances? That really does happen. Some with sensitive noses find the scent of night blooming jasmine and other night bloomers so over powering they must keep their windows shut at night.
Before you plant too many night bloomers, make sure the fragrance is one you like. Start out slowly!
Night Blooming Flower Seeds
Evening Fragrant Flower Seeds - Working Overtime for You
These over achievers are quite the workaholics. They bloom all day and in the evening they crank it up a notch when they increase their perfume output.
If you've tried night blooming flowers before, you may know even more secrets about flower nightlife. If you have any to add, I'd love to hear.