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Moon Gardens: The Secret Life of Night Bloomers

Updated on October 10, 2014

Flower Nightlife

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.

Image Credit: TheBrockenInaGlory

Just What is a Night Bloomer?

moon flower
moon flower

Moonflower (Ipomoea alba)

Click for more info - Amazon

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

Sacred Datura Daytime
Sacred Datura Daytime

photo by author

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

Sacred Datura Evening
Sacred Datura Evening

Image credit: Wikipedia

Sacred Datura

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.
Queen of the Night: Cereus Hylocereus undatus.

Image Credit: TheBrockenInaGlory

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
Night Blooming Jasmine

Image credit: Wikipedia

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?

Night Phlox "Midnight Candy"
Night Phlox "Midnight Candy"

"MIDNIGHT CANDY"-NIGHT PHLOX~Yummy Night Scents!

Click for more info - Amazon

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.

Brugmansia "Angel's Trumpet"
Brugmansia "Angel's Trumpet"

photo by author

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?

Hawk Moth "Hummingbird Moth"
Hawk Moth "Hummingbird Moth"

Image credit: Steve Harbula

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.

Carpenter Bee
Carpenter Bee

Image credit: TheBrokenInaGlory

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.

Planting Tip

Night blooming flowers have a very strong scent -

use sparingly!

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!

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.

Thank you for stopping by. - Let me know if you learned a few secrets about night bloomers.

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    • Charito1962 profile image

      Charito Maranan-Montecillo 3 years ago from Manila, Philippines

      The night bloomer is such an attraction!

    • profile image

      RuralFloridaLiving 3 years ago

      How pretty! We get plenty of moonlight out here and an entire moon garden would be gorgeous. Neat idea.

    • justramblin profile image
      Author

      justramblin 4 years ago

      @BarbsSpot: thanks for visiting. I love blooming cactus too.

    • profile image

      BarbsSpot 4 years ago

      @Lensmaster...What an interesting twist on night bloomers! Used to have day-blooming cactuses that would entertain where they bloomed in the morning sun by the patio doors. Blooming is fascination! You've given us a beautiful variety of night life!

    • profile image

      SteveKaye 4 years ago

      This is so amazing! Thank you for publishing this wonderful lens with these beautiful photos. Wish you the best.

    • Girlwiththorns profile image

      Girlwiththorns 4 years ago

      Such a cool idea!

    • profile image

      Donnette Davis 4 years ago from South Africa

      I love the Midnight Candy. Blessed x

    • justramblin profile image
      Author

      justramblin 4 years ago

      @Rosanna Grace: RoseGrace, I bet your daughter would like making one for her fairy visitors.

    • Rosanna Grace profile image

      Rosanna Grace 4 years ago

      I've never really paid attention to night bloomers and I don't think I have any in my garden. What an interesting project to undertake with my daughter. I think she'd love to make a night blooming garden for her fairies! ;)

    • NibsyNell profile image

      NibsyNell 4 years ago

      This is so fascinating! I'd love a moon garden.

    • Close2Art LM profile image

      Close2Art LM 4 years ago

      Moon gardens are very neat will have to grow one, BLESSED

    • Carpenter76 profile image

      Carpenter76 4 years ago

      I didn't even know there were nightbloomers! They look beautiful, but I couldn't enjoy them when I'm asleep, so thanks for sharing :)

    • profile image

      JLovasz 4 years ago

      The beautiful pictures and description of the intriguing scents on a warm summer night filled me with longing to see the end of this winter. Come summer I am going to have to take some evening strolls to see if I can locate any of these moon blossoms. Great article!

    • RebaC profile image

      RebaC 4 years ago

      This is a great lens. I had never heard of moon flowers. It would be interesting to know why the scent is so strong in night blooming flowers.

    • justramblin profile image
      Author

      justramblin 4 years ago

      @ixodoi: Thanks very much for your visit and nice comment.

    • justramblin profile image
      Author

      justramblin 4 years ago

      @Doug-Wright: Yes, they do open fast, don't they? I didn't take that one, but have videotaped one before and it only took about 2 minutes.

    • ixodoi profile image

      ixodoi 4 years ago

      Beautiful pictures with so much great information. Thank you very much for sharing this magnificent lens with us.

    • profile image

      Doug-Wright 4 years ago

      Great Lens.

      That Moon Flower unfurling video is quite something. Is it really in real-time?

    • justramblin profile image
      Author

      justramblin 4 years ago

      @mrbill7474: Mr Bill, you be careful with that backwards flying thing. That moth is pretty neat, isn't he?

    • justramblin profile image
      Author

      justramblin 4 years ago

      @anonymous: Teresa, I don't know about the others, but the night jasmine can be used. If I find out more, I'll let you know.That's a good question.

    • justramblin profile image
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      justramblin 4 years ago

      @MarinaG30: I don't think the night blooming flowers get much attention. they're really special, though

    • justramblin profile image
      Author

      justramblin 4 years ago

      @Mr Criminology: HI Criminology, thanks for stopping by

    • justramblin profile image
      Author

      justramblin 4 years ago

      @shawnleeMartin: Thanks for the visit, Shawn

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      These are definitely flowers that will be in my garden starting in April. Can I get them in the greenhouses or do I need to start them from seeds?

    • justramblin profile image
      Author

      justramblin 4 years ago

      @lionmom100: I agree, I tend to gravitate toward to colorful blooms. I've found, though that the white ones really can stand out in the daytime, too.

    • mrbill7474 profile image

      mrbill7474 4 years ago

      Another great lens with brilliant pictures, Lisa! I never knew about the backward-flying hawk moth and its incredible 14-inch tongue. I'm guessing the hawk moth has to fly backwards just to unfurl the darn thing. I've had some backward flying experience myself, but it's never done intentionally and usually only happens after several beers. :-)

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      This is an excellent lens!....I have heard a little about these plants but thank you for enlightening me even more! Could you tell me whether any of these night flowers can be used in dried form to make tea?

    • profile image

      MarinaG30 4 years ago

      I didn't know much about Night Bloomers until now. There is a all world for flowers, isn't it?

    • justramblin profile image
      Author

      justramblin 4 years ago

      @anonymous: You may have a hard time finding the moon flower vine in a nursery, but they're easy to grow from seed. The others can be found in nurseries and you can also grow from seed.

    • Mr Criminology profile image

      Bigwas 4 years ago from Philippines

      I like the pictures, it is very clear.

    • shawnleeMartin profile image

      shawnleeMartin 4 years ago

      The real time video is so cool!

    • profile image

      lionmom100 4 years ago

      This is a wonderful lens. I have though of planting a moon garden. I just get distracted by colors other than white. It really is wonderful to have flowers that stay open at night. Lovely job.