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What’s Blooming in Paradise: Yesterday, today and tomorrow (Brunfelsia grandiflora)

By Staff | Mar 16, 2011

First impression

What is that mesmerizing, exotic scent? I see bouquets of white, lilac and violet flowers blanketing this gorgeous tree. These colorful combos are all I notice and they hide the small, matte, dark green leaves. The fragrance is overpowering and delicious. Wow — what an olfactory stopper! You can follow your nose to this aromatic display in bloom at the Botanical Gardens of the Sanibel Moorings.

Upon further investigation

Brunfelsia boasts 40-plus species of shrubs and trees from tropical Americas. Years ago, our grandmothers prized this plant and it was found in many cottage gardens. I remember my mother showing hers off every year it bloomed. I knew when hers was blooming the minute I opened my car door. She babied hers and would be out there in the dark with blankets, wearing her robe and slippers, when the temperatures dropped during the winters in Orlando. Many mature shrubs thrive in our tropical temperatures and are now small trees. The common name “Yesterday, today and tomorrow” refer to the three stages of color occurring in the flowers.

New flowers start their journey as dark violet and the next day change to light lavender; the second day they turn to the last stage color, white. The five petals are small and pansy-shaped at the end of a long slender trumpet tube or salverform. They are numerous and dense clusters (cymes) and are the stars of our garden when blooming. The fragrance is intoxicating and haunting during the day but will knock your socks off with a stronger intensity at night.

Our star can be planted alone or grouped together, mature height is 8-12 feet. Its leaves are dark green and lush, which make this a lovely evergreen plant when not in bloom. It is naturally multi-trunked, but can be pruned to one main trunk. Over the years, it could be pruned very creatively into a scented parasol. It’s easy to care for; I shape and prune mine after the blooming period. This sun-to-partial-shade lover needs good drainage and regular watering to do well. She is a moderate grower and is drought tolerant. Brunfelsia really looks great nestled in other plants and enjoys a break from the sun at some point of the day. I like to frame our star with a mass planting of all the same variety — kinda like a plant spotlight.

When introducing new plants in your garden, they should be planted at the same level or higher from the container — never deeper. Many plants will die months, even years, later if planted lower than they were in their original container. If your plant is wobbly, stake with bamboo and stretch garden tape. Check monthly for progress and re-taping. Stakes should never be a part of the plant’s life. Progressive, corrective pruning should insure removal of stakes after a short time from planting in your garden. Even with stakes, movement from the wind is necessary to strengthen plants and trees. As gardeners, we need to schedule staked plants to eventually support themselves on their own. At any stage of growth of your Brunfelsia you can expect pollinators and people to flock to its blooms!


Drought tolerant – Can be shaped to tree or shrub – Minimal insect damage – Low cost, propagated by cuttings of new growth – Blooming brings in the pollinators – Bring out your inner sculpture desires with artistic pruning – Evening strolls are ahhh! – Blooming is memorable.


Can get twiggy over time — Needs pruning – Neighbors will wonder where the expensive perfume is – Blooming brings in the pollinators – Non-native.


So don’t put off today or tomorrow what you should have seen yesterday. Follow your nose to our sweet-smelling garden. So many blossoms, so little time in a tropical eye-catching garden. Don’t wanna miss this bloomer!