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Nature Notes
Set your clocks!
-By Rani Iyer

Every evening, as the milkman milked the cows, my granny would wander around the backyard watching the plants. Then, she would head indoors to boil the milk and rush to the backyard. It was her quiet time. Bathed in the golden light of the setting sun evening flowers of rainbow hues would begin to bloom in profusion. Granny watched the four o’clock flowers bloom. The magic, of a flower blooming in the evening, never faded for her since she discovered it as a five year old.
Flowers of Mirabilis jalapa, the four o’clock plant open at sunset and close at sunrise, they also remain open during dark cloudy days. Ranging from yellow, red, pink, white, to purple and bicolour varieties, the flowers are very popular world over. The seed resembles a peppercorn, although they are larger.

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And the seeds of a plant can produce plants with different colours than the mother. The flowers have a soft, distinctive fragrance that attracts butterflies even when the flowers are closed!
Being extremely hardy and adaptable, they can grow in poor or clayey or salty soils and with little watering. They can withstand the heat of the largest summer days. In nature, the plant is an annual, but in gardens with cooler climate they can be grown as biennials. They also self-seed and survive frost.
When my neighbour invited me to view her ‘pride of Peru,’ I expected something exotic instead of the four o’clock plant. Scientists love this plant because it is a fast growing, ‘short-day plant’ (needing short amount of light for it to bloom), and for their ability to distinguish between seasons by measuring the relative amount of light and darkness. Whenever I have encountered the flower in upscale gardens in Canada and America, I always whisper, ‘way to go!’



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