Another world was searched through oceans new

As late spring shifts into summer, the trailside wildflowers get more varied in colour. A couple of weeks ago it was still all whites, greens, and yellows. Then the dame’s rocket and wild geranium started blooming, and now it’s all about the anthocyanins. Including this over-the-top pink and yellow flower:

Wild four-o'-clock (Mirabilis nyctaginea)

It turns out to glory in the binomial Mirabilis nyctaginea, and in the hardly less evocative vernacular name of wild four-o’-clock. (Well, also, “heartleaf umbrellaweed”, but that sounds more like a hobbit to me.) Both ‘four-o’-clock’ and nyctaginea refer to its habit of opening its flowers only in the later afternoon. The Mirabilis is from belonging to the same genus as Mirabilis jalapa, the marvel of Peru.

Another world was searched through oceans new
To find the marvel of Peru;
And yet these rarities might be allowed
To Man, the sovereign and proud…
-Andrew Marvell, “The Mower, Against Gardens

And, indeed, it’s even sort of native! It is, at the least, North American, originating on the Great Plains, from where it spread east and west along the railway lines; as early as 1862, Darwin’s friend, the great American botanist Asa Gray placed it in “.. rocky places, from Wisconsin and Illinois southward and westward.” Since then it has made its way to the East Coast as well, bringing along its very own bug, the wild four-o’-clock bug Catorhintha mendica:
Wild four o'-clock bug (Catorhintha mendica)

That picture turned out well, but it doesn’t quite capture how otherworldy it looked, emerging from between the flowers of a cluster at twilight, appearing almost matte silver like a tiny cyborg in the shadows.


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