- Author: Carmen Kappos
I won't forget the first time I saw Mirabilis multiflora, commonly known as Colorado Four-O'clock, while hiking on the East side of the Owens Valley. I stood there staring at this bush full of bright pink flowers, thinking it looked like a tropical plant plopped down among our stoic sage. Later I read that bougainvillea is in the same family, the Nyctaginaceae family, with many tropical plants.
These bright flowers are tubular shaped, with five lobes. They are about one inch across and 1.5 inches long. The leaves are arrow head shaped, the bush growing in a domed mass. The flowers had just started opening that day in the late afternoon, and it's this feature that gives the four-o'clocks their common name. Opening in the late afternoon or evenings, the flowers wither during the next day, with more flowers blooming again in the afternoon. Insects that forage late in the day are particularly attracted to the blooms. The large pink and brown Sphinx moths, that are often mistaken for hummingbirds, are frequent visitors. Hummingbirds also visit the flowers as do native bees and butterflies.
This first Colorado Four-O'clock I saw was blooming out in the open in full sun, growing on a gravelly slope. However, the USDA notes list the light requirements of this plant as partial shade to sun. The notes also state that all native Four-O'clocks in the Western US prefer dry sandy or gravelly soils.
Mirabilis multiflora is an herbaceous perennial, growing a large taproot and dying back to the root each winter. In your garden, it can be cut back in the late fall. A mature plant can get to three feet across and about eighteen inches high. Plant it where it will have room to spread. It is suggested as a good plant for erosion control, and that it looks well spilling over the edge of rock walls, or retaining walls. It should also be a good addition to hot and dry areas of the garden that are a challenge for many plants. When first planted water regularly, but once established the plant will need little supplemental water.
Our local chapter of the California Native Plant Society, the Bristlecone Chapter has listed Mirabilis multiflora on their website as a plant that has sometimes been offered at their annual plant sales. Four-O'clocks more commonly found at nurseries are Mirabilis jalapa, a non-native plant. This plant is also called “Marvel of Peru,” it is a perennial from South America, noted for the flowers' pleasant scent. In colder climates, Marvel of Peru is not reliably hardy. The tap root can be overwintered by digging up and storing in a dark frost free spot and planted up again in the spring. It can also be treated as an annual and let reseed in the garden. Be cautious where you plant either of these Mirabilis species as the seeds have a minor toxicity if eaten, and the roots may cause dermatitis when handled. Consider planting in spots away from play areas.
Other common names for Mirabilis multiflora are Desert, Wild, Large or Showy Four-O'clock. It is a very showy and wild looking Four-O'clock. The blooms provide nectar and pollen from dusk to dawn, possibly into the next day, and are a vibrant pink color. This could be a wonderful addition to an area of the garden especially enjoyed in the evenings.
- Rounded bushy form
- Low water use
- Part shade / sun
- Dry, well-drained soil
- Showy flowers, pink-magenta
- Many flowers open at once
University of California: Safe & Poisonous Garden Plants: ucanr.edu/sites/poisonous_safe_plants/
California Native Plant Society, Bristlecone chapter: bristleconecnps.org
USDA Forest Service: www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers
- Author: Harold McDonald
Gardeners know that the old saying “location, location, location” doesn't just apply to real estate. As the local Farm Advisor, Dustin Blakey always stresses, put the right plant in the right spot. But what if you live in Chalfant. It doesn't really seem to be the right spot for anything! Next time you're driving out Highway 6—maybe for a great burger at The Merc—notice the native vegetation. Not far past Laws the sagebrush disappears. By the time you're coming down the hill toward Chalfant, even the rabbitbrush has deserted you, and aside from the relative lushness of the occasional saltbush you're faced with a lot of things that pretty much look dead, so it's hard to say just what they are.
Last time I wrote about one of my top ten favorite shrubs, California coffeeberry (Frangula californica). When it comes to flowers, there is no contest for the winner in my neighborhood—the entire Salvia genus. If I were going for my yard's top ten flowers, maybe three of them would be salvias. I had two or three species when I lived in town, but I never really appreciated the diversity of the genus until I moved out here, where Salvias seem to succeed where others struggle. When I picture the star performers in Bishop, I'm thinking things like Rudbeckia and Echinacea. Why they thrive there, yet not here, I'm not sure, but salvias don't struggle, even in my yard, and nothing attracts more creatures. From before dawn until after sunset, from April through October, there are always hummingbirds in my yard.
Here in the Owens Valley, most of the salvias we are familiar with require relatively little water, so it is easy for us to forget that salvia is the largest genus of the mint family Lamiaceae—plants that normally like wet conditions. Salvias do vary with their water needs, and some are bog plants, but most are relatively un-thirsty and all require well-drained soil. Of more concern to us is cold tolerance. Nearly any salvia will grow well here in the summer, but many are tender perennials. Salvia leucantha (Mexican bush sage), for example, is one that is big and beautiful in summer, and though I had some success with them overwintering in Big Pine, Chalfant is a bit too rugged for that one. Like another beautiful sage that is widely available in our area, Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Blue,' it is rated zones 8-10, so if you're in the southern end of the valley, you might be able to count on a return performance next year; the farther north you travel, the more you'll have to be content with buying new plants every year. By the way, the American Horticulture Society has good gardening maps at http://www.ahs.org/gardening-resources/gardening-maps and our own website has great local info at http://ucanr.edu/sites/mginyomono/Resources/Climate/. As long as we're looking at external sources, here's another one of interest: a list of all the known species of Salvia!
Sage has one of the longest histories of any of the useful herbs, and the essential oils of another, clary sage (Salvia sclarea), are widely used in aromatherapy, perfumes and liqueurs. It's interesting and easy to grow from seed, but somewhat rank. Fortunately, there are lots more interesting choices and we'll get to them next time.