Colorado Native Plant Feature - Desert 4 o'clock
Common name: Desert 4 o’clock, Showy 4 o’clock, Colorado 4 o’clock
Botanical name: Mirabilis multiflora
Mature height: 18-30”
Mature width: 48” – 72” (irrigation results in plant widths at the upper range)
Plant type: Herbaceous perennial
Availability: Available from nurseries, limited availability, typically not available until late spring / early or even mid-summer, as it is a warm season perennial
Bloom season: Mid June – first frost
Bloom color: Magenta, with up to hundreds of blooms per mature plant
Hardiness zones: 5a to 10b
Soil type: Prefers sandy and/or rocky soil, will grow in clay with proper amendments. Prefers neutral soils, but tolerates mildly alkaline or mildly acidic soils. Tolerates a fair range of soil PH ranges. Will grow in clay if infrequently irrigated until established—best if it is neglected after establishment.
Water usage: Very low (no supplemental irrigation needed after establishment)
Sun exposure: Full sun to part shade
Native range: Southwestern US, from Texas to California, extending into its upper range of northern Colorado, Utah, and Nevada
Wildlife value: Moderate. Valuable as a nectar and food source for Sphinx Moths and Hawk Moth caterpillars, as well as other nocturnal insects. Bees and hummingbirds will frequent in late afternoon when the flowers open. A food source for some game birds, such as quail, and native birds such as Goldfinches.
Landscape value: High value in xeric and native plantings. Its large taproot makes it extremely water thrifty, and its attractiveness and ability to establish quickly as a large scale groundcover make it beneficial in many situations. Will typically flower the first year from seed. Takes 2-3 years to reach mature size. Will sprawl with extra water, soggy conditions result in mortality, and infrequently irrigated plants flower well and tend to be slightly more upright. Long lived, it is great for creeping over walls and other uses such as erosion control.
Description: A greatly underutilized and under-appreciated plant, Desert 4 o’clock is one of the most xeric native Colorado perennials grown in nurseries. While it can have limited availability, crops are typically much more available in late summer once temperatures rise. This plant will fill in quickly with large, spoon shaped light green leaves that almost have a succulent appearance. The plants will become covered in copious magenta/pink blooms, which open in late afternoon (or earlier in cloudy weather) and stay open until the next morning. They can also be fragrant. An enormous taproot makes it very adaptable to drought conditions. It could be likened to a yucca plant in terms of root depth, but with a showier nature. Not to be confused with the tropical species of the same genus, this plant is a desert standout and commonly occurs in the Pinyon Juniper woodlands and low shrublands. Its looks are deceptive—it appears lush and full in most conditions, and coupled with countless flowers, it is very aesthetically pleasing but is extremely xeric. When available, this plant is a must have for any native, habitat or xeric planting, provided it is given adequate space. A very welcome addition to a very low water plant palette for a Colorado Native planting.