Huele de Noche: The Fragrant White Night Flowers

by Judy King 22. September 2010 18:41

jesus2 075 I planned of creating a special garden of all the scented white blooming plants from the time I realized plants like jasmine, gardenia, frangipani, and orange blossoms all thrive here at Lakeside. Several years ago I purchased a house, and when the construction workers finished making their messes and just before the rains began, I started designing gardens and buying plants to sink into the rich earth.

As I hauled car load after car load home from the nursery, I remembered a quip from a former associate.  "Landscaping is easy," he said with a grin. "Just stand in the middle of your yard and throw money!"

(Left:) Datura features giant bell-shaped blooms. These are double, two bells in each flower. You may know it better as Giant Loco Weed or Giant Jimson.

For years, my friend José had waxed eloquently about his favorite Mexican plant with white flowers and a romantic fragrance. he called it huele de noche (scent of the night). With a name like that, I was hooked.

Within days I had planted the wonderfully lacy, frothy, viney type of jasmine the guy at the nursery promised was  huele de noche. But when José and his wife Marta stopped by, he admired the scent of the plant, shook his head and said, "It's good, but it's not huele de noche."

editor3-flower  bushes 005 monday 005 

(Above:) At left is Queen of the Nile – it isn’t fragrant, but between that name and the giant balls of white flowers, it earned a place in my garden. In center is the common vine-style jasmine. You’ll find clouds of small leaves and deliciously scented tiny flowers billowing over Lakeside walls. (Right:) Gardenias – those fragile flowers of prom corsage fame bloom in area gardens.

I caught a whiff of a wonderful fragrance as I walked through a friend’s gate. I zeroed in on a shrub with glossy green leaves and clusters of tiny white flowers. Because my friend didn't know the name of the plant, I cut off a sprig to take to the nursery. The nursery’s owner examined the sprig and nodded her head definitively. Brushing dirt from her gloves, said, "It's a shrub type of jasmín (jasmine). My workers call iit huele noche."

"Great," I was smiling from ear to ear. That's just what I'm looking for." Ready to carry the plant to the car, I overheard one of the workers showing a plant to a pair of shoppers. He pointed out the tiny white rose-like blooms and described the slow growth of the plant, the Grand Duke Jasmine. Then I heard the lady shopper exclaim as she smelled the flowers, "Ah, it's huele de noche, just like in my grandmother's garden. Of course I bought one of those, too. 

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(Above at left, this shrub jasmine has miniature star-shaped flowers that bloom in clusters – they small wonderful on the night breeze. At right is the regal gran duque (Grand Duke) jasmine. Each of the blossoms on this slower growing plant looks like a tiny full-blown white rose. The scent is incredibly beautiful – the best of all, in my opinion.)

When José and Marta stopped by to sip a little tequila and admire the progress in the garden, they stooped to inhale the scent of the new plants. "Lovely, simply lovely," he said. "They have such wonderful fragrances, and they are good, but they're just not huele de noche."

Each time I purchased a fragrant white flowering plant I was more convinced I'd found the "real" huele de noche. Once I learned to translate the phrase more correctly as "scent of the night", I came to accept that each of these plants is the “real” one. After all, each certainly had a wonderful fragrance that was more pronounced after dark.

I planted three other sweet-smelling jasmine plants near the carport so I'd catch the scent as soon as I got out of the car. On a visit to a local nursery, the middle-aged owner showed me an upright shrub that she claimed was the ancestor to today's gardenias and is called sombra de la montaña (shade on the mountain). She smiled when she clasped her dirt-caked hands across her rounded belly and said with a nod, "my mother always called her huele de noche." I bought three sombras and planted then at the end of the sidewalk. 

The next two plants I found were both in the jasmine family, with star-shaped white flowers. Both had glossy green leaves that resembled those of the gardenia, and both had a delightful fragrance.

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(Above:) These two jasmine plants bear fragrant white star-shaped flowers. (Left:) These tiny flowers have just five petals. (Right:) On this plant the larger stars have nine longer, thinner, curving petals.

I planted three of each in triangle formations at the back of each side garden. An older gentleman at a nursery assured me that one of them was the real huele de noche, but he just couldn't quite remember which was which. Still, I'd enjoy having both, he knew that for sure. Then he added, "Be sure to leave plenty of space for them to grow. Huele de noche is a big plant."

I called my friends to come see the new garden additions. "Come and see!" I said. "Check out these star-flowering jasmines – one of them is really huele de noche."

I caught Marta throwing a funny little smile at her husband as he admired the new jasmine and the sombra de la montaña, but before he could make is now familiar proclamation Marta interrupted. "Heavens, José," quit torturing the poor woman and show her the gift you have for her garden.” 

José was smiling from ear to ear "Get ready to smell the scent of heaven." With a gesture broader than his smile, he indicated the thriving plants covered with lovely white flowers, he said, "See. Smell. Now that's good, that's really good, because it is huele de noche!"

 Honeysuckle 22

I began laughing and I laughed until tears ran down my cheeks. I laughed until I could barely stand. Poor José looked at Marta and she looked back at José. I realized that they thought there was something wrong with the plants and tried desperately to recover from the laughter that was still making it difficult to breathe or speak.

"Thank you, my friends, Oh my goodness thank you. I'm so thrilled to finally have the “real” huele de noche for my garden, but it's … so...funny...." I paused, overcome with another burst of laughter.

A few minutes later we placed the plants at the kitchen door. As I regained my composure, I poured coffee and then taking the sugar from the cupboard and the milk from the refrigerator, I explained that I'd seen this fragrant plant before.

"When you first mentioned huele de noche, I knew I had to have it in my garden. Just the name, 'the fragrance of the night'—well, it just sounded so tropical, so Latin, so exotic, so romantic. "So, I began searching, and I've searched for over two years. I've found and bought wonderful exotic, tropical plants, but none of them was the right one... the true one. I wondered how huele de noche could be more special and exotic than the plants I'd found.

"Now, here it is. The plant of with the romantic scent for which I've been searching and it's,"...I giggled..."plain, old-fashioned honeysuckle, a plant I've known my whole life."

bushes 003"Is that bad?" Marta looked concerned.

"No," I took her hand, and said, "No, no, it's not bad. In fact it's just wonderful. I picked flowers from this vine when I was eight years old and visited Aunt Margaret the summer after she got married. The vines flourished on the dinner bell pole just outside the kitchen door.

"At Aunt Betty's house, it was climbing up the mailbox post. Great-Aunt Lulu grew it by the clothes line. Honeysuckle covered the fence in front of Mrs. Norman's house. She was my piano teacher.

"It was just everywhere I liked to go when I was growing up. I loved the smell and I couldn't understand when Grandma said it was too common and  kept trying to kill it out of her garden." I grinned as I remembered the vine stubbornly twining onto the lattice work of Grandma's front porch.

"It's a wonderful plant, and a wonderfully special scent. Now I'll also remember the two of you when I smell it."

When I moved from that house with the exotic, sweet smelling plants, I propagated pieces of several of the jasmines and planted them into pots to take with me. As I write, I can smell the scent of the star jasmine drifting through the window on the night air. In a few minutes, when I go outside on my way to the bedroom, I'll pick one flower from José and Marta's huele de noche to lay on my bedside table. Its scent always brings me memories from childhood, and reminds me of the love of good friends in both Mexico and the middle of the United States.

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Homes & Gardens, Rentals & Lodging


Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at www.mexico-insights.com, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

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About Judy King

Judy King

Hi There — Welcome to my little corner of the world. I'm Judy King and I live in the centuries-old village of Ajijic on the north shore of Lake Chapala, Mexico's largest natural lake.

I've lived here full time since 1990, and... [ more ]

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