Native Mojave Desert Plants Profile Project: Four O’Clock (Mirabilis multiflora)

Do you fully appreciate the natural beauty of the Mojave Desert? I only ask because I don’t think I really do. 

I’ve traveled around a little bit and seen some really pretty places, but the desert is so much more than pretty to my eyes. It’s more sort of magnificent if you know what I mean. The trouble is, I tend to focus on the larger-scale magnificence of it — like the dramatic silhouettes of the mountains and the shadows of the clouds on their slopes — and then I wind up skimming right past the smaller details.

What’s important to realize though is those details are what make the desert a living, breathing thing. I for one feel strongly that it’s about time we made it our business to get to know more about them.  And so, with that goal in mind, I am hereby launching the Native Mojave Desert Plants Profile Project, also known as NaMoDePlProPro, pronounced exactly as it appears.

So here we go. Let’s probe ’em, guys.

Meet Desert Four O’Clock (aka Wild four o’clock, Showy four o’clock, Colorado four o’clock, and too many other four o’clocks to mention)

(Mirabilis multiflora)

Desert four o’clock (Mirabilis multiflora)

This is one of those plants that just grabs you’re eye when you see it growing out in the desert. Mirabilis multiflora does best with some afternoon shade here but the bright pink flowers show up beautifully underneath a tree or in a well-lit entryway. Also, it’s not another New Gold Lantana, which is a fine plant but for the love of God not the only one that’ll grow in the Las Vegas valley.

 

 

Desert four o’ clock is basically a colorful little groundcover that blooms off and on spring through fall. It reaches about 2-3′ H x 2-3′ W and goes dormant during the winter. Just cut it back when it goes down and it’ll pop right back up the next spring.  Mirabilis has low water requirements once it’s established and wants well-drained soil. Look for the plant from mail order nurseries (I’ve never seen it for sale locally, though you might find it at the Springs Preserve plant sale in the spring and fall) or order seeds online. High Country Gardens and Annie’s Annuals are both good mail order nurseries that carry this plant.

 

Desert four o’clock (Mirabilis multiflora)

Some facts about Desert four o’clock:

  • It’s called that because the flowers open up in the afternoon (around four-ish) and close in the morning
  • Those flowers are supposedly fragrant but I can’t say I’ve noticed anything. Judge for yourself. Fragrant or no, they sure are cute.
  • Because they open at night, they attract night pollinators like the Great Ash Sphinx moth, a fairly ugly little gray thing in my humble opinion. Moth aficionados may find them to be quite spectacular but I really, really doubt it.
  • Mirabilis multiflora also attract bees and hummingbirds in the early morning and late afternoon.
  • Quail like it and they can mow through a plant pretty quickly, so if you have them around (I’m looking at you, Henderson and Summerlin), this may be a plant that you just have to admire from afar. Or cage up in a little plant jail or something. I wish you all the best.
  • Four o’clock seeds are described by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center as “shaped like miniature hand-grenades,” which I find funny because I have a low standard for what’s funny.

Now, go plant some Mirabilis multiflora, por favor y gracias.

 

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