Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Night Fragrance of Exotic Tuberose

Night heightens the senses and deepens emotions.  Longings and impressions are not so arresting in the light of day.  On summer nights, when windows are opened and hearts yearn, the night fragrance of tuberose ignites passions around the world.

The botanical name is Polianthes tuberosa (pronounced polly-AN-these toober-OHS-ah).  Polianthes means "gray flower".  Tuberosa refers to the tuberous root structure.

Polianthes is in the Agavaceae family, and is believed to be native to Mexico.  You'll recognize the family resemblance in foliage and flower.  Plant size is about 24 inches.  Flower color is almost white.  Bloom season is from mid-summer to fall, depending upon the region where it is grown.

Agaves are the sources of other intoxications such as pulque, mezcal and tequila.  Aztecs called polianthes, Omixochitl (pronounced oh me' zu che' tl), meaning "bone flower", referring to the bloom color.

In Iran it is known as Gole Maryam or Jane Maryan and woven into the music of love longing.


In Hindi, it is Rajnigandha.  Though the rajnigandha story is a bit different, the desire of the heart is ever present.

Indonesians know it as bunga sedap malam.  Chinese call it WanXiangYu.  No matter the language, the translation is the same: Night Fragrance.

According to legends spread abroad, young girls from Europe to Asia were warned that smelling the perfumed air might induce romantic moods.  Rather than taking care, I expect that ladies slept next to open windows dreaming of love.


Tuberose blossoms are often mingled in wedding bouquets.  Parts of the flowers are popular ingredients in perfume.

That Polianthes is probably native to Mexico but deeply embedded in the psyche of people around the world begs the question, How did it come to pass?

Persia (Iran) and India have been allies, often of the same blood, perhaps as far back as 2000 BC.  There is strong evidence that Muslim traders traveled to Indonesia as early as the 8th century AD.  So it doesn't require a stretch to speculate trade with Mayans or Aztecs even before the Spanish Conquistadors.  Since the Iberian peninsula was home to Christians and mudejar following the Reconquest of Spain, there should be no doubt that tuberoses were carried around the world after the 15th century.  It has been a small orb after all.

Tuberoses are perfect for containers, bulb gardens, perennial borders, fragrance gardens and cutting gardens.  They thrive in USDA climate zones 8 through 10. Gardeners in colder climates may grow them in containers, protecting them over winter.  Plant outdoors in full sun to partial shade.  Rich garden soil that is well-drained and with pH ranging from 5.6 to 7.8 is fine.  For container growing, use a good grade of well-drained, peat-based potting soil.

Before planting, take a sample of your garden soil to your local Cooperative Extension Service office.  The service usually provides collection bags.  For the most basic recommendations, you may be charged a nominal fee.  For more information such as micro-nutrient and organic content you may be charged more.  Their recommendations are well worth it.

Planting usually begins in spring, though fall planting is possible in warmest climates.  Unless you are naturalizing them in the lawn, prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 6 inches deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 8 inches deep.
 
Your soil sample report will include fertilizer recommendations based upon the results of the test.  A fine all-around practice for Spring-flowering bulbs is to mix 5 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer and 2 cups of bone meal per ten square feet area of bulb garden.  Repeat the application when shoots appear, but be careful that fertilizer does not come into direct contact with plant tissue.

The tubers should be planted no deeper than 3 inches.  Depth is measured to the bottom of the hole.  Recommended plant spacing is 6 inches to 12 inches.

Plant tuberose in your garden this spring, then open your windows for gentle breezes to perfume your home.

Return to Polianthes at goGardenNow.com.

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