Beside the railroad tracks, there in the cinder ballast where fast wheels roar past many times a day, there stands a low, bushy plant with delicate pink flowers like miniature azaleas. But it is not akin to the elegant azaleas - this is the lowly umbrellawort which is related to the garden four o'clock or marvel of Peru. Umbrellawort's flower resembles the latter, but is smaller. It has a pleasant color of lavender-rose, is prettily plaited and fluted, hangs forth its widespread bell, and in the June sunshine the plant stands there making seeds and producing more flowers through much of the summer.
Mirabilis nyctagineus (Michx.) MacM.
May - June. Waste places, roadsides.
In spite of its habitat which so often is beside railroad tracks or in waste places, the umbrellawort is a smooth, clean plant. The heart-shaped leaves grow opposite each other on the jointed stem, which forks above almost every pair of leaves. The flower clusters are placed at the top of the stem, just above the last pair of leaves.
Umbrellawort is not in bloom all day long, not unless the day is cool and cloudy. Usually the flowers are open in the morning and have closed by afternoon, but next day as the summer sun comes up and a hot day begins all over again with the wild songs of indigo buntings on the wires, new umbrellaworts open wide.