Queen of the Night

On the third of November, autumn finally came to central Florida. We’ve had a break in the great summer heat for a month or so, but not so great as to be able to dispense with air conditioning. Just enough so that the air conditioner is actually able to maintain the setting we choose, instead of fighting the heat and losing by several degrees all day long. I have actually begun to use the oven again, something that is unthinkable much of the summer.

When I lived in Maryland, my birthday in late October was pleasantly cool, and Halloween a week later was frequently cold enough that I could see my breath when I went out trick-or-treating. When I lived in Vermont, October 1 was generally peak leaf-peeping season, and Halloween was often very chilly indeed. Here in Florida, my birthday was warm and humid. And quite dull.

This morning the air was cool and dry, and I was able to open all the doors and windows and allow the house to breathe a bit. What joy! It stayed in the mid-70s all day, and as I write this (at 9:30, the night before Daylight Saving Time ends), it’s down to 64 degrees.

More wonderful yet, the Night-blooming Jasmine suddenly came into bloom, and the fragrance is intoxicating. I just went out and plucked off a few stems so that Mom could enjoy it (she’s on oxygen therapy, which dulls her sense of smell a bit, but up close and personal, these blooms are so amazingly fragrant that they’re a tad overwhelming for me).

Cestrum nocturnum, also known as Night-blooming Cestrum, Lady of the Night, Night-blooming Jessamine, and Raat ki Rani (“princess of the night”) in Urdu and Hindi. Its aroma is sweet, heady, powerful. The flowers are widely used throughout South Asia for use in perfumes, medicinal preparations, and religious ceremonies.

“Jasmine” is not a particular plant. It’s a term given to many different plants with blossoms that are white, yellow, or pink, have a sweet fragrance, and live in warm climates. One garden guide writer described the various species of jasmine plants (there are some 200 different varieties) that he had planted in his backyard:

Then, I saw a can in the home center labeled “Night-blooming Jasmine” and, realizing I’d begun a collection, I took this baby home. I planted it near the lanai so it could be a lovely scent out there with the others. Scent in the day, scent at night. Ahhh. Two years later, I was hacking it back two or three times a year, to keep it from coming into the house. It is a gangly bush. This one is Cestrum nocturnum. Its flowers are not ones to grab the eye, as it is night-blooming and keeps them closed. They are small, pale yellow-green, but when a bush of them releases its fragrance at night, stand back. They are small tubes, and at dusk, they draw the sphinx moths who know a good thing when they smell it. After dark, we partake of what the moth enjoyed earlier, a powerful fragrance that smells like nothing else. It can be noticed over several backyards. In fact, one night when it was large and un-macheted, I had to leave the lanai, as my eyes started to burn.

I suggest planting it farther away from the house, but I do recommend it. Guests are always impressed. Whack it back after it blooms. It will be baa–a–aack. Several times a year. A lotta bang for the buck.

While the Night-blooming Jasmine blooms several times a year, this is my favorite bloom of the year. I don’t know if it started blooming only this evening, or if it started a few nights ago but I couldn’t smell it with the house all sealed up. The cool, dry weather makes me comfortable, happy, energized.

The ancient Celts celebrated the beginning of November as the start of the Dark Half of the Year. For me, it’s the beginning of hope.

Categories: Nature | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “Queen of the Night

  1. Jennie

    I couldn’t agree with you more that the first of November marks the beginning of hope, particularly in this place. The threat of hurricanes is largely over. The frenzied, seemingly steroid-induced proliferation of all things green that begins in April and crescendos through September settles into a quieter rhythm now, and yards and gardens can be quietly tended and enjoyed rather than merely battled to a Thermopylaean standoff. The skies are intensely blue — it is clear that Snowbirds down for Thanksgiving and Christmas named Florida “The Sunshine State,” as the year-round residents, at least here on the Space Coast, would certainly have chosen something more evocative of the more dramatic aspects of the local weather, say, “the Hurricane State” or, even more likely, “the Afternoon and Evening Thunderstorm State,” since even in years where no hurricane breathes a whisper on us, the daily forecast for June through September doesn’t vary much except for the the start and stop times of the afternoon and evening rains. But November brings an end to that. It is a time when you can at last begin to breathe, to relax, to emerge from the torpor of the summer heat and humidity.

    In many more northerly climes, this time marks the beginning of confinement — by darkness, by cold and wet, and by seeming lifelessness, a metaphor for both the grave and the womb, with all its associations of death and eventual transformation and rebirth. This marks in those places a time of introspection, communion with the departed and the deeper realms of the unconscious, but here it marks the first sigh of relief, like the first breath of a newborn, the first emergence back out into the world. The summer here is spent in the water, our return to the womb, with the activities of life happening mostly in the dark and relative cool of evening and night, or the incubator-like artificial womb of climate-controlled buildings. It is in November that we emerge again into the world: the air, the land, and the light, recharged and renewed.

    I grew up here, and so these seasons are deeply embedded in my soul as THE seasons, even though I know well enough that the cycle here is not the norm most other places where people live. I have always felt that fall was an immensely hopeful time here, and not at all the wistful, bittersweet thing described by those for whom it marked the beginning of a descent into darkness. It is good to hear that my sense of the place has some resonance outside my own mind.

    Oh, yes . . . I almost forgot to tell you: one of the properties of jasmine is that it clears heat.


  2. Lovely, lovely, lovely!

    But how do you partake of its heat-clearing properties? Apparently all parts of the Cestrum nocturnum are poisonous.

  3. Jennie

    As you pointed out, not all jasmines are the same.

    Night-blooming jasmine is mostly used as an inhaled aroma, just as you are using it. Aromas and incenses are traditionally used to treat illnesses by intervening at the spiritual and mental levels, since scents have such a powerful effect on the mind, and they can cross to and from the spirit world.

    The true jasmines, Jasminum grandiflorum, Jasminium officionale, and especially Jasminum sambac, are the kinds that are generally taken internally, often in the form of jasmine tea.

  4. indigo bunting

    OMG, you are finally back. Loved this.

    And yesterday, after the time changed and the light was fading at 330 pm, I was very aware that we’re going into the dark time, the November 1—February 1 time, the darkest quarter of the year. It’s an interesting time to be around — sometimes good, sometimes notso.

  5. I noticed the scent of jasmine this evening as I walked. It carried much farther, was more potent and crisp in the cooler air.

    As for 3:30 dusk, at this point, I am afraid that is a memory fading. Fading all in but how it felt. The long nights meant much more time for the spirits to enjoy, to be alive, active, and present. I miss the long nights.

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