May 30th, 2007
Four o’Clock Surprise

Zanthan Gardens: four o'clocks cross
2007-05-30. The two parent four o’clocks on either side of their offspring. I like the new flower color best.

A few years ago Valerie @ Larvalbug gave me some seeds for the wild magenta four o’clocks that you see growing all over Austin. These things are monsters and once they get hold, they don’t let go. Not only do they profusely set seed but they create deep tuberous roots that are don’t take any efforts to remove them seriously.

One year when I participated in the RHS seed exchange I got some more refined four o’clocks. The plants were much smaller, only about a foot high and wide. The leaves smaller and deeper green. The flowers were cherry red, although in photographs I can see a little magenta star inside. Unfortunately the scent was bred out of them.

Mirabilis jalapa
The RHS reds have a magenta star in the center.

Last year I dug out the corner of the bed where the red four o’clocks had lived. I didn’t see any roots so I thought they were gone. But no. I’m talking about four o’clocks here. They came back just as strong.

I try to keep all of one kind together but there were two plants I couldn’t tell whether they were red or pink. Turns out they were neither–or both depending on how you look at it. My two four o’clocks had crossed and produced a third type which I like better than either parent.

Zanthan Gardens: four o'clocks cross
2007-05-30. New flower in the middle.

The flower is frilly and has the scent (although less strong) of the magenta type. I like the color, a cerise pink, much more. The plant is somewhat bigger than the cherry red type but not as large or aggressive as the magenta. The flowers are larger and more frilly than its parents’ flowers.

Defying their name, the four o’clocks all open at different times, too. The original magenta flowers open first around 5PM. The new cerise pinks open around 7PM. And the RHS reds don’t open until past 8PM.

by M Sinclair Stevens

13 Responses to post “Four o’Clock Surprise”

  1. From Angelina (Oregon):

    I love how plants hybridize themselves the way people do into endless interesting combinations of strength,colors, scent, and form. I like the new color too.

    Mixing and matching is a lovely process with fascinating results. — mss

  2. From Annie in Austin:

    How fascinating, M. You’ve managed to regain the scent without a reduction in flower size. Isn’t that a goal for professional hybridizers, too?

    I grew four o’locks as annuals in the north – then bought a couple of dormant roots from local sales here but they never woke up. Your yard has so much shade – what kind of sun-hours does the new one get?

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    They’re all in the same place and get mid-day sun for about four hours. Because the flowers won’t open in the sunlight and because they can survive a drought (although the plants die back to the ground) they are pretty useful for my yard. — mss

  3. From r sorrell (Austin):

    In a border bed on the side of my house, I’ve got some plants that spring up every year… they look a lot like your pictures. I wonder if that’s what they are? I’ve got several different colors, including some that are yellow with a pink blush on the petals. I’ll have to post it some time.

    That new color is great.

    Four o’clocks come in yellows. If the flowers open in the evening and have an intense scent, they’re probably four o’clocks. They’ll start looking ragged once the temperatures reach the high 90s but sometimes they’ll come back in the early fall. — mss

  4. From Julie (Austin):

    Believe you should start a line of nail polish–Zanthan Gardens beats the heck out of Revlon!

    It hadn’t occurred to me before, but they do look rather like summer nail polish colors. Ah, inspiration from nature. — mss

  5. From Pam/Digging (Austin):

    The colors and the shape of the flowers in the upper right photo remind me of azaleas.

  6. From Renee (Kentucky):

    Your pictures are wonderful! I can almost smell your beautiful flowers.

  7. From Cynthia Walsh:

    I planted some four o’clock wonders in ahurry and have lost the seed envelope. I may not have the best spot because the bottom leaves and turning brown and others are curling. What and where is the best location for it. thanks cynthia

  8. From donna dalzell lexington KY:

    help ! i have given up trying to kill my four o’clocks BUT since i hate pink flowers of any variety plzzzzz tell me how to weed out the pink four o’clocks that are dominant in favor of the yellow & coral colored blossoms

  9. From B.L.Richardson,Landrum,SC:

    Have a lilac color 4 o”Clock with cherry red stamen.What is it ? Produced but a few seeds. Will they be viable? Can’t have any luck at all with yellows. Wonder why?

  10. From B.L.Richardson,Landrum,SC:

    All my 4 o’Clocks were very leggy. Should they have been pruned? Anybody know?

  11. From deborah yon belton,s.c:

    i have fushia & yellow &some of both on the same plant

  12. From Josh in Austin:

    We went outside this evening to find a gorgeous yellow and pink 4 o’clock. We’ve never planted them… our back and front yard flowerbeds are full of 4 o’clocks – all from a single plant my mom gave me ~16 years ago when I moved to Austin for college.

    Here is a photo of the beautiful surprise in our front yard this evening:

    That’s cool! Thanks for sharing the photo. — mss

  13. From Ryan:

    I have several plants this year that are not opening. You can see the blossom is ready but it just will not do any thing. If they do bloom they are doing it between 10 pm and 7 am.
    I have read that too much water will do this but we have others that came back as perienals and are doing good. Any help would be great and I would love to trade seeds with anyone.