What is a Four O’Clock Flower Plant? - Home Stratosphere

What is a Four O’Clock Flower Plant?

Learn more about the four Oclock flower plants including their characteristics, growing conditions, uses, and some of its species. We've included tips on how to propagate these unique blossoms that have more uses than just being ornamental.

Incredible flecked four oclock flower plant with blossoming evening flowers

Mirabilis Jalapa

Plants are really cool! But we don’t need to tell you that, you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t already know that. Today we’re going to cover the four oclock flower plant for several reasons.

Number one, it’s gorgeous. Number two, it blooms in the evening which is wild (ever heard of a flower clock? Plant a morning glory, tomatoes, and four oclock flower all beside each other and you’ll quickly find out), it smells incredible, and it has more uses than just being ornamental!

Mirabilis jalapa is just one of the many types of flowering plants that we cover in our giant article of Beautiful Flowers to add to your garden. If this plant doesn’t fit the bill, you are sure to find the perfect match in that giant list.

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Related: Sun-Loving Flowers | Water-Loving Flowers | Shade-Loving Flowers | Types of Flowers | Types of Flowers by Color | Types of Flowers by Alphabet | Types of Flower Colors

Absolutely stunning four oclock flower in evening bloom with yellow and white petal and bright red stamen

What is a Four Oclock Flower Plant?

Mirabilis jalapa if you’re a botanist, four oclock flower if you’re a gardener, or marvel of Peru if you’re Peruvian, mirabilis jalapa is the most commonly grown ornamental variety of the four oclock flowers.

Four oclock flower plants have been around for quite a while, and were first cultivated by the Aztecs as both a medicinal and edible plant. Though surely they didn’t mind looking at them too much either.

The four oclock flower family (mirabilis) is a genus of plants that is part of the nyctaginaceae botanical family, otherwise known as the four oclocks or the umbrellaworts. Bougainvillea is part of the same family. The latin term, mirabilis, translates to “admirable”, which is all one can manage to do when they come across this amazing plant species.

Four oclock flowers will grow as perennial species in their native habitat, where they will continue to blossom year after year as long as their growing conditions remain perfect. In colder regions they will exist as annual species, well they will perish once the cold weather arrives.

What do Four Oclock Flower Plants Look Like?

Macro image of a stunning yellow and magenta flecked four oclock flower with bright red stamens

Flowers

The four oclock flower plant is obviously most notable because of its impeccably lovely flowers. They are unique because these flowers open at dusk (usually between 4-8pm) and close up by the morning. This is where their common name comes from.

When open, for oclock flowers emit a very strong fragrance that is said to smell like sweet flowering tobacco. The scent wafts through the cool evening air, and makes for a very enchanting atmosphere for an evening garden party.

Another unique aspect of the four oclock flower is their coloring. The flower patterns are referred to as either sectors (entire sections of the flower) or flakes (stripes upon the flowers).

A single plant can bear flowers of different color sectors and flakes. A single flower can be a combination of colors as well. Colors of patterns can include yellow, red, magenta, pink, white, and a combination of any of those. It is a rather striking sight.

Leaves

Mirabilis foliage is the lesser ornamental part of the plant but still provides lovely accompaniment for the flowers. Leaves are borne on short leafstalks. Each leaf will be an ovate shape and a glabrous green color.

Growth Habit

This herbaceous, perennial, bushy plant has quite the stature. They can grow to be between 1 and 2 metres in height. Flower stems are full and thick and boast a quadrangular shape.

A single plant will bear many tubular shaped flowers of varying colors with many ovately shaped leaves that create quite an impressive shrubby growth habit.

Fruit

Once a four oclock flower is fertilized, it will produce fruit in the form of a single seed. The seed will be green when immature, and becomes wrinkled and black upon full maturity.

Though a single seed for one flower doesn’t seem like much, an entire plant can bear many flowers. If the plant is left to self seed, it can do so surprisingly very vigorously.

What are Some Other Mirabilis Species?

Beautiful four oclock flower bush bearing white flowers with pink flecks and solid pink flowers against dark green foliage

Colorado Four Oclock Flower (Mirabilis Multiflora)

One of the lesser known and lesser widespread of the four oclocks is mirabilis multiflora. They grow in the southwestern United States in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas, and Utah.

This variety is different by its height and flower color. They produce very vibrant magenta or pink flowers that are tubular in shape with 5 lobed cups instead of petals. They also have more of a forking growth habit rather than bushy.

Growing to only about 18 inches tall, the Colorado four oclock has much darker green foliage, though flowers still only open in the evening and are closed by morning.

Wild Four Oclock Flower (Mirabilis Nyctaginea)

A more widespread four oclock variety is mirabilis nyctaginea. This is a herbaceous perennial plant that is present all throughout Northern, Central, and South America.

The differences in this variety lie in the fact that they have unscented blossoms (what a shame), they only grow to be between 2-4 feet tall, and have light green leaves that have more of a heart shape to them.

Flowers are a magenta color that still only open in the late afternoon. This variety is also wonderfully drought tolerant, and can be found growing as a wildflower in many unusual places.

Where are Four Oclock Flowers Native to?

Amazing cluster of deep yellow four oclock flowers growing in a happy garden

The four oclock flower is a native plant to the dry and tropical regions of North America, Central America, and South America, as well as Chile, Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru.

Because they are such a sturdy plant they have become naturalized in many other places as an ornamental plant in the temperate, subtropical, and tropical regions of the world as well. They are present all over Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe as well.

These wonderful plants can be found growing wild in places that are warm and dry, though they tend to be drawn to coastal environments as well. They can exist in USDA hardiness zone 7 through 10.

When growing in more mild climates they will behave as a tender perennial plant. In places that experience a harsh winter they will act as an annual flower, and in tropical climates they tend to behave as robust perennials.

How do Propagate a Four Oclock Flower?

Incredible four oclock bush with varying colors of flowers growing in a garden in full bloom on a summer evening

Any expertise level of gardener can successfully plant a four oclock flower plant in their own green space. The most important part is understanding the property that you live on, and figuring out how best to mimic the natural growing conditions of your new plant. Here are a few tips on how to do so with your four oclock flower seeds.

Pick a Spot

Sometimes, when it comes to planting a new garden specimen, the most difficult part is picking the perfect spot! When it comes to the fragrant blossoms of the four oclock plant, they will only be successful if they can exist in light soil that is well drained. They also need at least 6 hours of sunlight per day.

Sow Seed

You can choose to either direct sow your four oclock flower seed indoors or outdoors, just remember that seed germination occurs best when temperatures have reached 64 degrees Fahrenheit.

Place seeds 12 inches apart from one another and just a 1/4 inch deep into the soil. Make sure soil is a little bit moist during this phase. If planting from their tuber roots, you can follow similar spacing.

Plant Maintenance

The remainder of four oclock flower gardening is very simple. Seedlings require only moderately moist soil, and germination should occur in a short 10-15 days.

Once they are well established, watering should only consist of about 1 inch of water per week. The natural precipitation of your area should suffice unless there is a long period of no rain. If you’ve planted from tubers, remember to dig them up in the fall and store them in a dry, cool place for the winter.

What are the Growing Conditions of Four Oclock Flowers?

Looking down at a four oclock flower bush with bicolor flowers contained in a wooden picket fence

Soil Type

Though a plant as majestic in appearance may seem like it would have very specific growth and soil requirements, this is very much not the case with the four o clock flower.

It can tolerate a great many soil types, though it tends to perform best in soil that is light in texture, rich in humus, and is very well drained. It also prefers to have a neutral acidity level.

Sun Exposure

Mirabilis species are a sun loving species, though their behavior in the sun may make you think otherwise. Their foliage tends to wither in the heat of the day, though this isn’t a sign of under-watering or leaf scorch.

You’ll find that as soon as the sun goes down that the foliage will return vigorously back to its normal state. The full sun exposure is necessary for prosperous blossoms, and the generous leaves help enable this prosperity. They will also perform nicely in partial shade.

Water Level

M jalapa are a wonderfully drought tolerant plant (thanks to their hardy tuber roots), and they can be found growing wild in impressively dry sites. It is best to let the soil dry out completely between waterings to help properly mimic their natural growing conditions.

Very striking bicolor four oclock flower of pink and yellow against dark green foliage

Temperature

One of the more sensitive aspects of the four oclock flower is its tolerance to temperature. It is not tolerant to frost or freezing whatsoever.

Annual species will deteriorate and die very quickly after the first frost. Perennial species will have their above ground features wither away once the cold weather approaches as well, but their more hardy roots will return with vigor once the spring arrives again.

When it comes to seed germination, one of the only requirements for them is temperature as well. The most rapid seed germination occurs around 64 degrees Fahrenheit.

Fertilizer

Four oclock flowers respond very well to fertilizer. Use a well balanced fertilizer and apply it once a month during its entire growing season – through the spring and summer.

Pruning

The four oclock flower plant tends to exhibit a rather neat growing habit, and the only pruning that needs to happen is deadheading!

Removing the spent flower blossoms will help encourage new flowers to appear. Besides, the spent flower blossoms start to look a little raggedy after a little while anyway.

Intolerances

Despite its pristine beauty, the four oclock flower plant is wonderfully low maintenance. The main things to remember are that they do not like to be cold, they don’t like too much water, and they don’t like shade!

How are Four Oclock Flowers Used?

Differently colored four oclock flower plants growing in a hanging planter

Ornamental Quality

As we’ve already explained in great detail, four oclock flowers are most valued because of their ornamental quality. Their strikingly colored, fragrant flowers provide ample bursts of color throughout the spring and summer, and their attractive bushy growth habit brings a splash of greenery to backyards and balconies.

Culinary Purposes

Spent four oclock flower blossoms are also used for natural pigment dyeing. The magenta flowers create an amazing crimson dye which has traditionally been used to color jellies and cakes.

Medicinal Benefits

The leaves of the four oclock flower plant have traditionally used for their medicinal quality as well. When cooked properly, the leaves have been used to help reduce inflammation as a topical solution to minor cuts, burns, and scrapes.

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