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On sum­mer nights, some plants come into their own. Day­time flowers are bold and brash, rely­ing on bright col­ours to attract pol­lin­at­ing insects; night-bloom­ing flowers are more subtle, white or cream-col­oured to glow in the dark. Often insig­ni­fic­ant in looks, they announce their pres­ence with blasts of power­ful perfume.


One such is brug­mansia, some­times mis­takenly called datura (that’s a related soft-stemmed plant, while brug­mansia is a woody shrub; both are pois­on­ous). I grew the double white Brug­mansia × can­dida flore plena by a ver­andah where, accord­ing to grow­er Rus­sell Fran­sham, it poured out “a river of per­fume from sun­set to sun­rise, as if a tap has been turned on”. Fran­sham grows brug­mansia of vari­ous col­ours at his Whangarei nurs­ery (see his cata­logue at They are frost-tender, so plant in a large pot in the Wel­ling­ton area, or against a build­ing — per­haps a warm, sheltered corner where you might sit on a mild sum­mer night.

Anoth­er lovely night-bloom­er is queen of the night, Ces­trum noc­turnum. Its flowers are tiny and green­ish, but the scent car­ries up to 100m. It’s an over­power­ing, love-or-hate smell, with older flowers devel­op­ing a rank, priv­ety tinge that one dis­en­chanted garden­er described as “a blend of arti­fi­cial cherry air freshen­er with under­tones of urin­al cake”. You won’t find this queen at a garden centre: she’s offi­cially an ‘unwanted organ­ism’ and it’s an offence to breed, propag­ate or sell her. She’s highly tox­ic when eaten, and becom­ing a pest weed in Auck­land. Still, if you’re strolling down a street one sum­mer night and get blas­ted by an untrace­able per­fume, it may be the queen of the night.

In the night garden

These plants advert­ise to bats and moths rather than bees and butterflies:

Night-scen­ted stock Mat­thi­ola bic­ornis. An annu­al flower with small, dainty purplish flowers pack­ing a huge night-time punch. Great for pots or sunny spots, espe­cially beneath bed­room win­dows. Sow now to flower next sum­mer. Seeds avail­able from

Night-bloom­ing Cereus Stun­ning cacti whose white flowers open at night.

Even­ing prim­rose Oenothera bien­nis. As its sci­entif­ic name sug­gests, this forms a rosette of leaves in the first year, then a tall flower spike in the second (it may then die, but usu­ally self-seeds freely). Lem­on-yel­low flowers open at dusk, though they’re not espe­cially fra­grant. The pop­u­lar oil is made from the seeds.

White Moon­flower Ipo­moea alba. Like a giant white morn­ing glory, this is a hardy annu­al climber for full sun. Seeds avail­able from

Hue Lagen­aria vul­gar­is These gourds brought by early Poly­ne­sian set­tlers need a long grow­ing sea­son. The white flowers, open­ing at night, are moth-pol­lin­ated — garden­ers should give them a help­ing hand for bet­ter crops. Plant from seed in August.



Queen of the night, Ces­trum noc­turnum, has flowers that may look insig­ni­fic­ant but they pack a punch to the nose.


Brug­mansia, or angel’s trum­pets, have a heav­enly scent at night.