How to grow and care for the fragrant Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

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Mature Specimen - Brunfelsia pauciflora 'Eximia'Mature Specimen - Brunfelsia pauciflora 'Eximia'

Gardeners from all over the world love to grow this magnificent shrub for its abundance of headily fragrant flowers which smother the bushes in spring, with a smaller flush in late summer, or anytime during the year if it likes its location. Read more below about growing this plant in garden beds and pots.

The flowers open deep mauve, then change to lavender and finally fade to white, and it is these three shades of flowers which are displayed simultaneously on the plants that led to one of its common names “Yesterday, today and tomorrow”. The plant is also known by a few other names. In Afrikaans it is called “Verbleikblom”, and other English names include: “Kiss Me Quick”, “Morning-Noon-and-Night” and the “Brazil Rain Tree”.

Brunfelsia belongs to the nightshades or (Solanaceae) family of plants, which includes edibles like tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants and chilli peppers, and it also contains many others like the belladonna or deadly nightshade, which are deadly poisonous. The 50 or so species have been grouped into three sections: Brunfelsia (about 22 species), Franciscea (about 18 species) and Guianenses (about 6 species). These species differ significantly in both distribution and characteristics, although molecular data has revealed that only two sections are natural (monophyletic), namely the Caribbean section Brunfelsia and a common section for all South American species.

Simply put, a monophyletic taxon is one that includes a group of organisms descended from a single ancestor, and this is true for Brunfelsia, which is believed to have originated in South America, particularly in Brazil. A molecular phylogeny and chronogram reveal that Brunfelsia dates back to the Miocene. The Miocene is the first geological epoch of the Neogene Period and extends from about 23.03 to 5.333 million years ago; a long period when the earth went from the Oligocene through the Miocene and into the Pliocene, and the climate slowly cooled towards a series of ice ages.   

During the evolution of this tropical beauty it reached the Antilles early, and currently has half its species in the Antilles, and half in South America. The Greater Antilles, encompasses the islands of Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic), and Puerto Rico; the Lesser Antilles, include the Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, Montserrat, Guadeloupe.

In Brazil it occurs mainly on the Atlantic facing slopes of the Serra do Mar, a 1,500km long system of mountain ranges and escarpments in south-eastern Brazil, where the plant can be found growing wild from sea level to altitudes of 1,500m. It can also be found in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Peru.

Brunselsia are found mostly in pluvial rainforests where they grow on shady river banks and ravines, as well as in forests in damp, well- draining soils, and where the annual rainfall is as high as 1,600mm. Pluvial rainforests are evergreen with dense undergrowth, and are found in the wet and hot regions of the world like the Amazon rainforest.  Amazonian evergreen forests account for about 10% of the world's terrestrial net primary productivity (NPP) and 10% of the carbon stores in ecosystems.

Net primary productivity (NPP) is defined as the net flux of carbon from the atmosphere into green plants per unit time. NPP refers to a rate process, i.e., the amount of vegetable matter produced (net primary production) per day, week, or year.     

 In marine environments, the two principal categories of producers are pelagic phytoplankton, which float freely in the ocean, and benthic algae, which live at or near the ocean’s floor. In terrestrial environments, primary productivity is generated by trees and other land plants (including planted crops). Most primary producers require nitrogen and phosphorus—which are available as dissolved nutrients in the soil, lakes, and rivers and in the oceans as nitrate, nitrite, ammonia, and phosphorus. The abundances of these molecules and the intensity and quality of light exert a major influence on rates of production.    

Garden hybrids of this ancient plant will never go out of fashion simply because they are irresistible when in full bloom, and for this reason Brunfelsia  has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit, and cultivars bred for ornamental use include:  

(Brunfelsia pauciflora 'Eximia') is a medium-sized, rounded bush which will reach a height of 3 to 4m and a spread of 2.5 to 3m after 5 to 10 years. During early spring it produces an abundance of large flowers in shades of violet-blue, lilac and white. It may produce smaller flushes of blooms in summer.

(Brunfelsia pauciflora 'Floribunda') is very similar to ‘Eximia’ but smaller, and this medium-sized, rounded bush will reach a height of 3m and a spread of 2.5m after 5 to 10 years. During early spring it produces an abundance of large flowers, in shades of violet-blue, lilac and white. It may produce smaller flushes of blooms in summer.

(Brunfelsia undulata) is a very frost sensitive species with narrow and slender oval leaves. The flowers are snow-white with scalloped edges and in warm climates the new flowers appear all the time, and have a wonderful sweet scent.  This lovely shrub is becoming harder to find, but it is definitely worth trying to source, and if you do find some, grab as many as you can for yourself and other gardening friends.

Brunfelsia flowersBrunfelsia flowersIn the Garden:

Take advantage of all the lovely attributes of yesterday,  today and tomorrow, and position them  where their heady fragrance will drift into the house or patio, by planting them in a flowerbed near your bedroom or lounge window, or in a pot on your veranda or entrance.

There slow growth makes them perfect for gardens of all sizes, and it goes without saying that this plant is essential in all romantic and scented gardens, and perfect for cottage gardens. It is also wonderful planted at the edges of woodland gardens, and it’s neat, rounded shape looks good when planted in a semi-shaded mixed shrub border, even when the plant is not in bloom.

Yesterday, today and tomorrow complements other acid loving and spring flowering plants like azaleas and camellias, as well as many summer flowering plants like gardenias, hydrangeas and fuchsias. They also make good informal screens or hedges, and grow very well in pots. Members can click on highlighted text to read more about the plants mentioned.

Cultivation:

Brunfelsia grows best in warmly temperate to subtropical zones that receive good summer rainfall, thriving in the humid subtropical regions of the country, and at the coast, as long as they are protected from strong winds and are watered well. They are not suited to very dry regions, and if grown in the winter rainfall regions the shrubs will require regular watering in summer.

Although they are listed as tender to frost, it is amazing how hardy they can be if they are sited in a sheltered part of the garden.  Even in more exposed positions, established plants will tolerate moderate, and even spells of quite severe frost, which will damage the top growth. This can be pruned back after flowering in spring and the plant will quickly recover in summer.

Although brunfelsias will tolerate full sun, they flourish in a semi-shaded position in the garden, where they also produce lusher growth. They are generally semi-deciduous, dropping all their leaves in spring just before the flowers appear, but immediately pushing forth their gorgeous, fresh green leaves. In colder regions the plant will drop leaves in winter as well.

They require good rich soil which holds moisture well but also has good drainage, preferring slightly acid soil just below neutral 7. Potted plants will need a good potting soil, and although most potting soils tend to be slightly acidic, you can add some peat moss or dried pine needles, which are acidic. 

The right pH is essential to avoid chlorosis, which is a yellowing of the leaves, and is especially evident in alkaline soils. To avoid this add a generous amount of acid compost to the planting hole, together with a good dusting of bone meal to encourage strong root growth. Chlorosis can also be corrected by feeding with iron chelate or Epsom salts, as well as mulching seasonally with acid compost.

If your soil is good it may not be necessary to feed specimens growing in garden beds, but if you wish, you can feed every 6 to 8 week through summer, using a fertiliser for flowering plants, or a speciality fertiliser for acid loving plants. Potted plants will need regular feeding throughout summer. Feeding is not required in the cooler months for both garden and potted specimens.

Water well until the shrubs are established, and thereafter water regularly and deeply during dry spells.  Potted specimens will also need to be checked regularly for water. Allow the soil to almost dry out between watering but never allow it to dry out completely. Reduce water during the winter months for both garden and potted specimens.

Because brunsfelsia  are slow growers pruning is not essential. However, to encourage bushiness and give the mounded shrub a neater appearance, when the plant has finished blooming you can remove all the spent flowers and give the plant a light overall trim. When grown in containers, pruning is the key to keeping the plant at a manageable size. When blooming is over, cut back all the stems by about one third to half.

Potted specimens require regular repotting, so in spring, inspect the root system to see if it fills the pot, and if it does, re-plant it in a larger pot with fresh potting mix.

Propagation:

Propagation is usually done during spring from new softwood tip cuttings.

Take cuttings up to 12cm long and dip them in a rooting hormone powder before planting them into pots containing a soil mixture of equal amounts of peat moss and perlite – sand can also be included if you like. Water and place the pots in bright filtered light but no direct sun. Keep the soil moist but not soggy until the roots form and new growth emerges. Once the little cuttings sprout they can be potted into larger pots to grow on, and they can be fed with a liquid fertiliser until they are strong enough to be planted into the garden.

Problems, Pests & Diseases:

Brunfelsia is virtually pest and disease-free, making it wonderful for gardeners who do not want to spray.

Chlorosis is a yellowing of the leaves which is especially evident in alkaline soils; it can be corrected by feeding with iron chelate or Epsom salts, and a food for acid loving plants, as well as mulching seasonally with acid compost. Trace element deficiencies can also be corrected with a micro-element fertiliser like Trelmix.

Another way of ensuring healthy deep-green foliage is to sprinkle a handful of nitrogen-rich fertilizer granules around the root zones and to water it in well. Don’t overdo this treatment at the expense of potassium-rich fertiliser though, otherwise you will have gorgeous foliage but the production of flowers will be diminished.

Aphids can weaken the plant by sucking its sap. Unless there is a heavy infestation, they can be removed by gently washing them off with water.

If you see fine webbing underneath the leaves look for red spider mite which thrives in dry conditions. Mealy bugs and whitefly can also sometimes become a problem, especially on potted plants grown under a roof or the overhang of the house. To get rid of these pests try using natural neem oil spray.

Warning:

Yesterday-today-and-tomorrow is known to contain poisonous alkaloids and is poisonous if ingested, and the berries are especially toxic. It is toxic to humans, dogs, cats, horses and cattle.

Poison symptoms include:  Tremors, seizures (for several days), diarrhoea, vomiting, hyper salivation, lethargy, incoordination, coughing.

Poison Toxic Principle: Brunfelsamidine

Brunfelsia  does not cause contact Dermatitis, but due to its strongly scented flowers this is not the ideal plant for hay-fever sufferers.