Transgender in flower names

My dama de noche (Cestrum nocturnum) is blooming. At last!!! As the words “noche” and “nocturnum” imply, this plant comes into its own at night. It is then, when the air is laden with dew, that the perfume with which these tiny flowers are packed is released and spreads for quite a distance. The Western Garden Book (published by Sunset Books, California) –- my go-to manual since I began to garden over three decades ago — calls it Night Jessamine and describes it as “powerfully fragrant at night. Too powerful for some people.” It is endemic to the West Indies, but it’s quite a popular garden plant here in Villalonga. Perhaps even more popular here than in Manila. I found my plant, among many others, at the Vivero Espacio Verde in Real de Gandia.

It is one of those plants whose flowers are so small, they’re almost inconspicuous. With their lime-green colour that ages to cream, it’s difficult to distinguish them among the leaves. And thus perhaps the better to attract pollinating insects at night, the Night Jessamine’s strategy is to throw off its almost overpowering scent. I don’t find it so however. After all, it is not a flower meant to be sniffed at close range. It’s not even meant to be snipped and admired in a vase. I don’t know if it will tolerate being cut and placed in water – that I haven’t tried. Its place is in the garden, where it can flower unobtrusively; preferably where its scent can waft into the house with a breeze through an open window or door.

Dama de noche g_4304.JPG

I’ve been keeping my eye on it since I planted it among the herbs a few weeks ago. It needs quite a lot of water, as it wilts very readily in the noonday heat. I noticed its buds a few days ago and have been excitedly looking out for open flowers ever since. This morning I found them just beginning to open. There’s just a faint scent now. We shall see if it fills the veranda with its lovely scent tonight.

I realized, from the photo above, that I’ve never actually looked, truly looked, at this flower. It’s only now, looking at it head on, that I perceive its star-like shape and the five stamens within. If it does get pollinated, there’ll be white berries to look forward to. And from the seeds within, I can plant some more, all about the garden. I remember seeing those berries in my parents’ garden in San Jose, California, some years back.

Amazingly, the local name of Night Jessamine is Galan de Noche, galan meaning “gallant.“ Interesting, isn’t it? Even the gardener (the reluctant gardener — more on him in a later post) was surprised when I told him I’d only ever known this plant as a lady (dama). Whichever gender one bestows on it, it is one of my favourites —  its scent transports me back, quite nostalgically back, to my youth.



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