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June Flora Spotlight:
Sundrops, Oenothera


Oenothera comes from the Greek "Onos", wine and "ther", wild animal. For the Ancients, it designated a plant whose roots, soaked in wine, and would have enabled them to tame wild beasts. With many varieties to choose from, these plants will bloom almost 24 hours a day.

Oenothera fruticosa, commonly called sundrops or southern sundrop, is an erect, day-flowering member of the evening primrose family. This native typically grows 15-30 tall and produces terminal clusters of bright yellow four-petaled flowers on stems clad with lanceolate green leaves. Flowers are followed by distinctive club-shaped seed capsules. Each flower is short-lived, but flowers bloom in succession over a fairly long period of two months. The beauty of this variety is its evergreen reddish color in winter.

The flowers of Oenothera biennis  remain open from evening to early morning, thus its common name evening primrose. On cloudy days flowers will remain open longer.

Oenothera tetragona has two inch bright yellow 4-petaled flowers clustered at the ends of stems which also open during the day. The rich dark green leaves turn bronze for the winter.

Sundrops are easily grown in average, medium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun. They prefer heat and dryish soils. They will tolerate poor soils, light shade and some drought. Although sundrops tolerate poor soils, they do better when the soil is supplemented with organic material. Sundrops will grow in partial shade, but flowers best in the more sunny spots. Once a popular pass-along in old fashioned gardens, sundrops are enjoying a renaissance with the growing popularity of native plants and wildflowers.

Moths pollinate the flowers, particularly Sphinx moths. Other occasional visitors include the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, honeybees and bumblebees. The insects seek nectar, although some of the bees collect pollen.

It is reported that the Cherokees ate the leaves after rinsing and boiling in hot grease. Seeds from Oenothera biennis have been shown to contain the essential fatty acid gamma-linolenic, believed to be useful in lowering blood pressure, and treating a variety of ailments.

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