Things that go woosh in the night

There are times when I just can’t sleep.  Maybe I’m not tired enough or maybe I am a little stiff from working in the garden.  Sometimes I wonder if it’s not just the way night falls in the tropics.  We were in

Montana once for the 4th of July when the fireworks started as soon as it was dark – around midnight.   Even back in Ohio, we had long slow twilights, and we used to walk the dog at 10. No flashlight needed to find the way.  But here in the tropics, night doesn’t creep up on you all slow and steady-like, night falls; it crashes down.  One minute you’re torleyheader062314pulling up weeds and the next minute – bang!  It’s dark.  

Alright, so that may be a little extreme, but that is how it feels to me.  Or maybe twilight starts at three in the afternoon and I just missed it somehow.  Whatever it is, after a few hours of darkness, I find myself disinterested in being awake but not sleepy enough to actually go to sleep.  A strange situation.

Still, this sudden night does give me a chance to meet some of my favorite pollinators – moths.  Moths are the reason that the angel trumpet flowers outside my window smell so wonderful in the evening and, as much as I dislike the damage that moth caterpillars can do to my plants, I do love the flowers the moths pollinate.

And they do love those trumpet shaped flowers.  One species of hawkmoth, and we have several types in Costa Rica, has a tongue that can be 10 cm long (4 inches), reach nectar deep in the flower.

The night air would be less rich without moths.  Jasmine is beautifully fragrant and often visited by moths.  And moths are not just night flyers. They can be seen in the morning and evening as well, which leads us to another plant pollinated by moths. It’s called the Four O’clock (Mirabilis jalapa).  Originally a native of Perú, this flower opens its petals at, well, 4 p.m. to catch the early flying moths.  Each flower lives only one night and, because they compete for pollinators, they produce a strong sweet fragrance.

And then there are the less fragrant flowers and shrubs that are garden favorites.  The brunfelsia pauciflora, or ‘yesterday, today, tomorrow’ and heliotrope are also moth pollinated.  The yucca and its pollinator have a very special symbiotic relationship.  The pollinating moth lays its eggs inside the yucca flower and the young caterpillars eat some of the seeds when they first hatch leaving the rest to produce new plants.

So, the next time you are a little wakeful, shine a light into the flower bed and see if you can catch one of our pollinators a work.  They may not have the color of our day flyers, but they enrich our gardens.

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