An old friend: queen of the night

A lot of plants are called Queen of the night, including big, fragrant cacti and that tulip which, of course is really ‘Queen of Night’. But here is one that is fragrant at night but also hardy and can be grown outside.

I first met her when I was a Kew student and she was growing in the Duke’s Garden. It was a sheltered place and Jaborosa integrifolia, to give her her proper name, formed a low carpet of dark green leaves. They were rather coarse and had a strange quality that immediately alluded to being a member of the Solanaceae. Being very kind you could say they are bold but, in reality, they are just coarse. They grow to about 15cm long and, in a good clump, cover the soil quite effectively. But the joy of the plant is the flowers that pop up from the underground, creeping stems and just about show themselves through the leaves. They are beautiful, spidery stars with long tubes and they are sweetly scented at night when they are, if you are lucky, pollinated by sphinx moths.

In all those years I had never managed to get a plant so have not grown it. I tried Jaborosa sativa, which I still have, but that is more mandrake-like than this, and has dull, green, though profuse flowers.

So when I had the chance, I got a plant and it arrived last autumn with a single, large leaf which was damaged in the post and promptly fell off. So I was excited when new leaves appeared this spring. It is probably completely hardy but needs sun and good drainage so it has been planted on the side of a pretty steep bank of soil which I hoped would suit it. And it seems to be working. Yesterday the first bloom opened and there are more buds popping up.

In warmer climes I am sure it would be good ground cover in part shade and I think it would be great in urban courtyard gardens where it may be evergreen. I suspect that wind and cold will make it deciduous here – or make me keen to shear off the leaves by spring because of damage. It is native to Argentina and is such a strange little plant. The flowers are remarkably like a datura or nicotiana and it looks like someone has picked off some flowers and stuck them in a clump of weeds.

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One Comment on “An old friend: queen of the night”

  1. Annabel finnegan
    July 3, 2021 at 10:01 am #

    This post is a lovely fairytale 😉
    Long live the queen!

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