Cestrum nocturnum -- Night-blooming Jessamine
(not "Jasmine" but "Jessamine;" there's a difference...)
Beginning about five days (or, better...nights) after the 6.5” of rain we got from Tropical Storm Lee, Lydia and I were seated in our usual evening positions on the back porch. Suddenly we became overwhelmed by the penetrating perfume of Night-blooming Jessamine (Cestrum nocturnum). What with the droughty summer & all, I guess we had sort of forgotten about the two specimens planted on either side of the front/south side of our house. So dry it was, they hadn't even bothered with making flowers all season.
But on the evening of September 10 . . . BAM! Carried on a bare whiff of southerly breeze, the fragrance crept like soft fingers from Heaven some 65' to the back porch, simultaneously hitting both of us. Oh what a scent: An ancient perfume, immediately transporting us back to our childhoods, maybe all the way to our grandmothers' dressing tables. Truthfully, there's no good way that I can describe such a magical fragrance in words. . . it's just too fine for that . . . better to smell it, then you'll know exactly what I'm trying to write.
Interestingly, the genus Cestrum comes from the plant family Solanaceae – the Nightshade family – from which comes stuff like tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplants, wolf-berries, horse-nettles, and such; none of which produce bloom-scents that could even remotely be described as “perfumy” or even “penetrating.” You'll notice from the photo that unlike the blooms of tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants, night-blooming jessamine blooms are long and tubular and really hold some scent. Those of you who grow it will also notice that the closer you stick your nose to the bloom, the more pungent – almost acrid – the scent becomes. Its perfume is best-appreciated from a distance; at least 10-15' away at minimum, I'd say.
Night-blooming Jessamine Fruits
Cestrum is a New World tropical/sub-tropical genus containing about 150 species; only a few of which produce perfumy blooms. All Cestrums produce berries. Night-blooming jessamine produces fairly large, white, porcalein-like fruits that birds love. The birds then spread the seeds around, and so(w) spreads the plant. In pre-Katrina New Orleans, Cestrum nocturnum was so prevalent that most gardeners considered it a weed. Katrina's big brackish flood wiped out all of the night-blooming jessamines that it touched, however; and today, I'm sure many New Orleanians are pining away for it. In her fine book, The New Orleans Garden, Charlotte Seidenberg mentions that Cestrum nocturnum, native to the West Indies, has been grown in New Orleans since the 1700s.
This morning (19 Sept) I noticed fresh new blooms on our Sweet Olives. Hoo-Boy. The Jessamine/Sweet Olive mix just might do us in....but what a way to go, non?
For more on Sweet Olive, be sure to check out Gail Barton's recent post (http://yardflower.com/?p=3193) on her Yardflower.com blog.