Plant of the Week: Oenothera glazioviana “Tina James;” Evening Primrose, Tina James
Thomas Jefferson once said that one could do no greater service than introduce a new plant. Most of us will never achieve that distinction, but I’ve always been intrigued by the people who introduce plants and the people plants are named after. The Tina James Evening Primrose (Oenothera glazioviana “Tina James”) are blooming each evening at dusk and they beg the question: Who is Tina James?
There are 145 species of evening primroses described. All originated in the Americas, but since the first species were introduced to Europe in the early 17th century, they have naturalized worldwide. Europe is said to have 65 species growing there. They belong to the Onagraceae family with the fuchsia, perhaps the most familiar garden plant in this family.
Tina James evening primrose is a fast growing biennial. The first year it grows as a foot-wide evergreen rosette of broad, pointed leaves that may mound to 6 inches tall. In the spring of its second year it sends up branched but erect growing stems that reach 3-4 feet tall.
From June through early August, cigar shaped flower buds form at the apex of the plant and open sequentially through the blooming season. Each evening, the blossoms begin to unfurl with the final flourish of bloom, taking only about a minute to open. Four delicate butter-yellow petals open to 3 inches across atop a slender tube about 2 inches long.
In the center of each flower is a prominent 4-pronged grappling hook shaped pistil that extends beyond the cluster of dangling stamens. Individual blossoms persist just one night, closing by late morning the following day. Though said to be fragrant, I have never detected it.
Oenotheras are naturally promiscuous with this species believed to be a garden hybrid between O. elata and O. biennis that occurred in Europe during the 19th century. It has been known since at least 1860 and was introduced back to the United States during this period where it escaped back into the wilds.
The flower/weed – take your choice – was forgotten until Tina Nield, then living in Frizzellburg, MD, walked down the lane to buy some milk from her neighbors, the Arringtons. As dusk arrived, she was blown away when this non-descript weed in their pasture suddenly burst into bloom. They dug a plant for her and sent her home with both the milk and a plant that would later bear her name.
Over the next few years she grew the plant, eventually providing seeds to the Virginia based Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, which introduced seeds of “Tina James” in 1987. Tina James is a stage name Nield took when she performed as “Aunt Tina” on a Maryland based PBS show about organic gardening.
Tina James evening primrose is a fast, easy to grow biennial that requires full sun and any reasonable garden soil to thrive. It is a bit weedy looking in its down time but when in bloom, truly spectacular. At the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks we grow it as at the back of a 3-foot wide bed; close enough to appreciate the flowers as they open but fronted by some flowering annuals to give it a skirt of color when not in bloom. Ours is a self-reseeding plot that requires little special attention other than occasionally grouping first year seedlings together if they sprout too far from their designated area.
For more information about horticulture or to see other Plant of the Week columns, visit Extension’s Website, www.uaex.edu, or contact your county extension agent. The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the U of A Division of Agriculture.
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