Cool plant of the month: Moonflowers!
If you go to Circle B and take a walk out by the lake, look up in the trees. You’ll see a mess of vines with solid green, heart-shaped leaves, and odd, pale green drooping things. Those drooping things, which also litter the paths, are the crumpled remnants of the night before’s flowers. (Stop walking before looking up; there’s muddy swamp on both sides of the path, not to mention possible alligators, etc.) Moonflowers will open during the day if it’s an exceptionally dim afternoon or evening, for instance with heavy clouds, but generally they only open at night. So a person can’t usually see them in nature, because it’s dark at night and hard to get where they grow. As opposed to my neighborhood, which is lit up like a prison yard all night long, except for . . . part of my back yard, where I have carefully created dark. Weird, huh? To have to plant your garden to create night shade? But in that night shade, I grow moonflowers (and poinsettias, which need dark nights to color up in the fall). And each evening, all summer long, immense white morning-glory-like flowers slowly open to attract night-flying pollinators. Sometimes the pollinators miss the flowers and end up bumping into my kitchen window, but I try to keep the light levels low out there. Recently, I saw an immense furry Sphinx moth, as big as a small bird, visiting the moonflowers! (It was a full-moon night so I could see, and I captured her in my insect net and took her inside to look more closely. Yes, I let her go.) By the way, the hummingbird moths visit them also. The flowers do have a sweet scent, also, but nothing like as penetrating as the night-blooming jasmine, so I think that insects must use sight to find the flowers as they search for nectar. Although maybe not; maybe they can smell something I can’t smell. (Night-blooming jasmine will knock your socks right off, and I highly recommend it for a night garden.)
Moonflowers can be grown from seed, as mine was, and will persist for many years if they’re happy, slowly becoming larger and ever more lovely. They’ll bloom year-round, depending on the weather. They are climbers, so they need support, and will take advantage of any nearby tree. Out at Circle B, they’re 40 feet up the cypresses! I don’t expect mine to get that large, because . . . I don’t have a swamp in my back yard, and they do like wet feet. So if you plant them, I advise you to grow them somewhere that’s easy to water. There is a bucket under my gutter that collects dew running off the roof, and I pour that water onto the moonflowers when there isn’t any rain. And I water the heck out of them during the dry times. I suspect that they develop some kind of tuber, as do some other morning glory relatives, but I’m not going to dig up my plant to find out. (They are native here in Florida, so it makes sense that they’d have a mechanism to get through our dry spells.)
But as I say, mine is too precious to me to take chances with. For more information, contact UF/IFAS Extension Polk County at (863) 519-1041 or visit us online at http://polk.ifas.ufl.edu. The Plant Clinic is open Monday-Friday, 9:00 am-4:00 pm to answer your gardening and landscaping questions.
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