The white four o’clock is such an elusive wildflower. The plants are not rare, although finding them requires finding the right habitat. Too often I find the plants too late to see them bloom and only see them open up to spread their seeds. The beauty of the flowers makes the hunt worthwhile for another year.
Mirabilis albida Heimerl
May to October N Family: Nyctaginaceae
Flower: Three flowers hang on long stems from the tip of each flower stalk. The three open the same evening, but not always together. Each flower has a green cup calyx. The white to pink flower is bell-shaped with ten lobes on the flared open end. Five stamens with colored thin filaments and yellow balls of pollen stick out of the bell. A single pistil is mixed in with the stamens.
Leaf: Opposite leaves are sessile or with a short petiole. The top is darker green than the underside. The underside has a covering of very short white hairs that cover the smooth leaf edge as well. There is a deep midvein. The leaves are much longer, up to four inches, than wide but are not narrow and have a rounded tip.
Stem: The single unbranched stem can be three feet tall. Flower stalks branch out at the leaf nodes, each tipped with flowers. The stem can be hairy or not. It often appears silvery or tan rather than green. It has shallow ridges on the lower portions.
Root: The root is a perennial taproot.
Fruit: Up to three seeds form a group in the center of a large, four pointed, light green to white bract. Each white to ecru seed is long and stout, covered with bumps. Each bump has a tuft of bristles sticking out.
Habitat: This plant likes full sun. It usually grows in poor soils such as gravel bars, glades and road cuts.
White four o’clock
Pale Umbrellawort, Hairy Four o’clock
White Four o’clock flowers are fleeting. They open about dusk for an hour or two, then shrivel. The only way to see them is to stalk them.
I found several plants growing along the road. Every evening close to sunset I walked out to check on them. Flowers opened on several evenings, usually a few, but en masse one evening.
Most years I find the plants, walk out evenings and never catch a flower open. The plants have already bloomed and are setting seed. More commonly the single stalk has numerous green calyxes. The lower ones begin to flare open exposing the seeds.