Tuesday, September 29, 2015

mirabilis jalapa got moxy

I currently rent a little 2-bedroom house in Shreveport, Louisiana. Built in the forties, it features an old phone booth in the hallway, a foldout ironing board in the kitchen wall, and those pretty clear crystal-looking doorknobs. I really am fond of the place, but whenever people ask where I live, I always preface with “I don’t live in the greatest area…”

And I don’t. But my immediate neighbors are all good folks who keep tidy lawns and look out for each other. So when I moved in, I decided to make the place mine as much as I could and enjoy being a young working gal who comes own to a nice little home every day. I started with the backyard.

The backyard was overgrown, so I cut it to a luscious 3 inches and weed-eated the perimeter to rid it of the leggy weeds. It took a whole Saturday, but by the end of it, the yard was clean and manicured. And it’s stayed that way until about a month ago.

As life and work in general picked up in September, I let the yard fall behind (getting a new puppy might have had something to do with that…). I recently noticed that those weeds I spent so long cutting had grown back, but looked more like bushes. On closer examination, I realized that I had attempted to murder one of my all-time favorite plants. Luckily, it’s a determined plant with moxy and heart, God love it.

 4 o'clock at my mom's house
Four o’clocks (Mirabilis jalapa) are blooming bushes with pretty green heart-shaped leaves.  Their flowers open in the late afternoon (hence the name) and stay open all night. Come dawn, they close up again. Although this is pretty cool, it’s not the coolest thing about four o’clocks.

Their color, or rather, how they inherit their color, may be the neatest thing about this plant. They come in three different colors- yellow, pink, and white. But a single flower on a whole bush can show multiple colors- and in unique patterns.

Four o'clock color inheritance clearly does not follow the traditional dominant-recessive model that good ole’ Gregor laid out. For instance, the dominant recessive model would dictate that if a red cow (red being dominant) made babies with a blue cow, there would be a 75% chance of having red babies and 25% chance of having blue babies. But all the babies would be either red or blue. But what if some of the babies were purple? What if they were striped blue and red? That would be incomplete dominance.
Spunky 4 o'clock at my house

Four o’clocks exhibit incomplete dominance. A *completely yellow flower cross pollinated with a completely pink/red flower yields an orange-flowered plant. The more generations there are, the more complicated the genetics get – think Punnett squares that are 16 x 16. You start getting multi-colored flowers, and in different patterns. They are really very lovely.

The 4 o’clocks in my mom’s yard are both yellow and pink. The feisty ones in my current backyard are all pink. I’m thinking about going to my mom’s house and grabbing some of the multicolored ones and matchmaking them with the yellow ones at my house.

What do you think would happen?



  1. I would think you would have multicolored offspring, some with a yellow hue. Maybe?

    It would be all kinds of a mess. Lawd'a mercy.

  2. It's strange that manipulating plant genes by introducing mom's lovely plants to your own, like a low-cost dating service, is almost never considered unwise, but somewhat similar work on a larger scale, performed by large corporations, sends people to the picket line shaking their "Ban GM Food" signs.