It’s late afternoon, and hundreds of intensely magenta flowers begin to open for the night. They will be pollinated by hawkmoths attracted to the flowers’ musky scent. Mirabilis means “marvelous” and multiflora means “many flowers”—a fitting name for the Desert Four O’clock. Surrounded by attractive blue-green leaves resembling elongated hearts, the petunia-shaped blooms cover a spreading sub-shrub up to 2 feet high and 4 to 6 feet wide. Related to the old-fashioned biennial four o’clocks, this perennial dies back to its roots in winter, and is somewhat late to emerge come spring.
Desert Four-O’clocks thrive in the hottest, driest parts of the garden. Once established, their gigantic tap root gives these plants the ability to survive on natural rainfall. Irrigate only during periods of extended drought. This root also makes it difficult to establish large specimens; start with small seedlings or seeds. They tolerate any soil type, even clay.
Wild plants are found in pinyon-juniper woodlands up to 7,500 feet, throughout the southwest. In the landscape, try them under small conifers and native shrubs like Fernbush and Apache Plume. They also combine well with cacti, succulents, and other low-water perennials.
Contributed by Leslie Holzmann, Colorado Master Gardener. For answers to your horticultural questions, contact the Master Gardener Help Desk at 719.636.8921 or CSUmg2@elpasoco.com.
Photo courtesy of Leslie Holzmann