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Seductive Jasmine

Plant Jasmine and experience the delight of a very fragrant spring and summer garden.

Plant Jasmine and experience the delight of a very fragrant spring and summer garden.

The sweet fragrance of the jasmine flower makes it a welcome plant in many gardens. The plant parts have several uses from making tea to perfume, cosmetics, medicines and food flavourings.

The name Jasmine is derived from the Persian yasmin which means ‘a gift from God’ — so named because of the intense fragrance of the blooms of Persian or common jasmine Jasminum officinale. There are over 300 Jasminum species that occur mainly in the tropical and warm temperate regions of the world — including South Africa — although a few are found in countries with cold winters. Jasmine is a very popular flower around the world, because of its unique fragrance.

The scent rising off the petals is indeed sweet … narcotic … intoxicating … all those clichés for intense good smells and more. But for the gardener, after the first enjoyable snorts, there is as much wonder at what it means, as how pleasant it is. This perfume floating through the night air is, effectively, the nocturnal language of plants.

Decoded, the perfume is the plant’s hormonal system in full song, there to attract the moths that are its pollinators. But increasingly, scientists think there is a far larger story. The ecological import of floral perfumes, where in plants it is expressed, how and when, is only beginning to be understood. Uncertainty is also the rule for how minute differences in basically the same compound can make a scent seductive or obnoxious, how it can steer this pollinator this way and that pollinator another.

The signature chemical of jasmine, called jasmonate, is a very important chemical in plants. It is not restricted to Jasmine but is also found in roses, citrus, many of the heavy lifters in the scented garden. What jasmonate does depends on where you find it in the plant, in what form and in what concentrations. In some cases it may attract pollinators and, in others, repel predators and even act as alarm signals to entire plant networks. Used in warehouses, it can even stop potatoes from sprouting.

Jasmine is found in more than 83% of all women’s scents and 33% of men’s. More than five million flowers must be gathered to produce one kilo of what is known as ‘pure jasmine absolute’. As a result, much of the jasmine used in perfume is a chemical approximation.

But I digress, back to growing Jasmine in your garden.

Unlike most genera in the Oleceae family, which have four corolla lobed petals, Jasmines often have five or six lobes. Jasmine is widely cultivated for its shining leaves and beautiful clusters of fragrant flowers.

Flowering in Jasmines takes place in summer or spring, usually six months after planting. The Jasmine flower releases its fragrance at night after the sun has set and especially when the moon is waxing towards fullness. Jasmine flower buds are more fragrant than the flowers.

Most species grow as scrambling climbers or sprawling shrubs and can also be massed as groundcover in large gardens. The leaves can either be evergreen or deciduous. Your pruning will determine the growth habit. Most will also grow well in containers.

GROWING JASMINE

The majority of jasmine species are not frost‑tolerant. The best planting time is late spring or summer, which allows the plant adequate time to establish before the winter.

Jasmine requires plenty of direct sunlight in order to grow well. Grow yours in a site that receives at least five hours of direct sunlight daily. If you grow it indoors, place the container in an east window. Inadequate sunlight encourages fungal infections, such as powdery mildew.

However, exposure to strong direct sunlight is also harmful. Take measures, especially during the summer, to protect the plant from intense midday sunlight. Otherwise, the leaves and blossoms are likely to wilt.

Give your plant adequate water throughout the early growing phase. Do not let the soil dry out between waterings. Inadequate water will hinder healthy growth and prevent proper development of roots. The plant requires about 4 inches of water weekly, best in two to three doses each week.

Be careful not to give excessive water, which will create soggy soils. Root rot may then develop, negatively impacting the plant’s health. Cut back on watering once the plant has established well.

During periods of reliable rainfall, you need not give much supplementary water. However, be sure to water well during the summer and other periods of hot, dry weather.

Do not overlook the need to fertilise regularly. The plant responds well to frequent application of fertilizer. However, avoid strong fertilisers, as these may overwhelm the plant or even kill it. Use a moderate fertiliser, rich in phosphorous. Apply twice a year, in the spring and fall. Fertiliser will encourage healthy growth and abundant blooming.

Avoid planting jasmine in limited spaces. Overcrowding impairs the growth of the plants. It restricts good air circulation and prevents roots and foliage from growing comfortably.

CHOOSING JASMINE FOR YOUR GARDEN

JASMINES FOR FROSTY GARDENS

Chinese Jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum)

This is probably the most widely known jasmine in South Africa because it tolerates temperatures of ‑7oC. In such a climate this 4 ‑ 5m climbing jasmine is deciduous. An abundance of reddish‑pink flower buds appear in late winter and early spring, followed by fragrant five‑petalled, star‑shaped white flowers about 2 cm in diameter. It tolerates more shade than other jasmines and is fairly waterwise.

Winter Jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum)

This 1 ‑ 2m shrub from China was often used as a hedge plant or windbreak in the older and larger gardens of the past. As it tolerates severe frost (‑ 18oC) and survives periods of drought, it is a valuable garden plant. In addition it provides colour in winter with its small bright yellow, unscented blooms. In cold regions it is deciduous.

Stephan’s Jasmine (Jasminum x stephanense)

This vigorous evergreen climber grows to 8m or more. In spring and summer it bears small, fragrant white to pale pink blooms. It tolerates temperatures of OoC, and occasional mild frosts which may cut it back, but it will restore itself quickly.

JASMINES FOR WARM, FROST-FREE GARDENS

Common White Jasmine (Jasminum officinale)

This waterwise jasmine from the Middle East is a deciduous to semi‑evergreen lanky shrub that generally grows to 4,5m high. It can easily reach up to 12m when grown up structures such as trees, trellises or arbours. Heavily‑scented white flowers about 2cm wide are borne in clusters from early spring to early autumn. The flowers are followed by poisonous black berries.

Azores Jasmine (Jasminum azoricum)

From the Island of Madeira, this 2 ‑ 3m shrubby evergreen climber is fairly tolerant of dry conditions. It bears fragrant 2,5 cm wide blooms in summer.

Red Jasmine (Jasminum beesianum)

This 4m tall deciduous climber from China needs to be trained up a support. Fragrant red and pink blooms are borne in spring and summer.

Arabian Jasmine (Jasminum sambac)

The common name is rather misleading since this jasmine is found in the Philippines, India, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. It is an evergreen climber reaching up to 3m tall. In subtropical gardens it flowers almost continuously all year round. The 3cm wide flowers are white with a hint of purple, and strongly scented.

INDIGENOUS SOUTH AFRICAN JASMINES

Southern Africa has a number of jasmine species. They occur in frost‑free parts of the country and will not grow in frosty gardens.

Starry Wild Jasmine or Bush Jasmine (Jasminum multipartitum)

This climber bears highly scented blooms from late winter to midsummer, which makes it a popular garden plant. The flowers are solitary but occur in profusion. They are white with deep pink beneath. Starry jasmine will climb readily if provided with a trellis or some other support. If not supported it will form a dense bush. It grows well in a container. The cultivar jasminum multipartitum ‘Evening Star’ has larger porcelain‑white flowers with a rich pink reverse.

Bushveld Jasmine (Jasminum breviflorum)

Found in the bushveld, this is a scrambling shrub that can be trained as a climber. In spring and summer it bears sweetly scented white flowers.

South African Jasmine (Jasminum angulare or Jasminum capense)

In summer this vigorous, evergreen climbing jasmine bears clusters of fragrant white, starry, tubular 3cm wide flowers. It can withstand temperatures down to 0oC.

Climbing Jasmine (Jasminum fluminense)

This is a large, vigorous evergreen climber with small, fragrant white blooms. It flowers from spring into summer.

Rock or Hairy Jasmine (Jasminum stenolobum)

This is an evergreen climber that can also be kept pruned to a shrub shape. The spring and summer blooms are highly fragrant. They are white with pink underneath the petals.This jasmine prefers well‑drained soil and tolerates dry conditions, but not frost.

A separate, comprehensive feature on South African Jasmines will be posted on this site shortly, so come back soon.

FALSE JASMINE

Star Jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) also known as Confederate Jasmine is not from the Jasminum genus.  The later part of the name indicates that it resembles a true Jasmine — the spring and summer flowers are star-shaped and highly scented. Since this rambling evergreen climber from China toerates moderate frost (-5oC) it is a commonly grown plant in frosty gardens.

A separate profile of Star Jasmine will be posted on this site shortly, so come back soon.