FACT SHEET: Desert Four O'Clock

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Common Name: Desert Four O'Clock
Other Common Names: Colorado Four O'Clock
Scientific Name: Mirabilis multiflora
Family: Four O'Clock Family (Nyctaginaceae)
Distribution: southern California, Nevada and Utah south to northern Mexico
Habitat: creosote bush, blackbrush and pinyon-juniper communities

Habit: sprawling perennial herb from massive tuber
Height: 0.5-1'
Spread: 2-5'
Foliage Color: deep green
Leaves: large, succulent, spade-shaped, opposite
Flower Color: magenta
Flower Form: flowers about 1" across, urn-shaped, several in cuplike bracts
Flowering Season: mid to late summer

Cultural Requirements: Prefers full sun and well-drained soils. Fully cold- hardy. Drought hardy (i.e., needs no supplemental water after establishment on the Wasatch Front), but somewhat tolerant of overwatering.

Culture: Desert four o'clock seeds are dormant, require 8-12 weeks of moist chilling to become germinable, and will germinate in chilling. The germinated seeds should be planted in elongate containers to accomodate the long storage tubers that soon begin to form. Container-grown plants tend to look weak but usually take right off once planted out. The large seeds should be planted about a half-inch deep in fall seedings for spring emergence.

Uses and Notes of Interest: One of the most spectacular flowers of pinyon- juniper woodland, this native four o'clock is at least as showy as its domestic cousins from the tropics, and it has all the advantages of a hardy perennial as well. The dark green foliage of this sprawling plant makes a fine backdrop for the large magenta flowers that occur in amazing profusion all summer long. This plant will flower the first year from seed, growing quickly into a large, blossom-studded clump. It dies back to the ground in winter, but in early summer the following year shoots emerge from an underground storage tuber that grows bigger each year. The one-seeded fruits are borne at the base of each flower and are held inside the "cup" after the flowers wither. They are marble shaped, black with tan stripes, about the size of a pea. They may be collected by dumping out the "cups" into a paper bag.