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What is Brunfelsia?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 20 September 2016
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Brunfelsia is a genus of flowering plants and shrubs native to the tropics and the subtropical regions of South and Central America. At least one species, B. pauciflora, is grown in cultivation in gardens all over the world. Gardeners interested in growing Brunfelsia can find seedlings at gardening supply stores and nurseries, and they can also propagate from cuttings taken with permission from other gardeners. Cuttings root readily in greenhouse settings and can be an excellent way to quickly propagate a number of plants.

Members of this genus have broad, simple leaves and distinctive tubular flowers with broad petals. When the flowers first appear, they are a rich purple color, gradually fading to pale purple and then white over time. The dense clusters of flowers are typically highly aromatic and in a warm climate. A Brunfelsia will bloom throughout the summer months, providing both scent and visual interest.

These plants are native to woodland habitats and prefer partial to filtered shade. People growing them in hot, dry climates with long, bright days should seek out shadier areas, while people in cooler climates with less strong light can try growing Brunfelsia in full sun. Generally, these plants will grow in United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) zones eight through 11, and some people have success growing them in cooler climates by bringing them indoors in the cold months, although they will lose their leaves in the winter.

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Also known as morning-noon-and-night, yesterday-today-and-tomorrow, and Brazil raintree, this plant can reach a height of almost nine feet (three meters) when mature. Gardeners should trim the plant to keep it compact and prevent it from becoming leggy, a common problem for neglected plants. Brunfelsia can make an excellent specimen planting in the garden or it can be used as a foundation planting, background planting, or basis for a low hedge.

Gardeners should be cautious with Brunfelsia. All parts of these plants contain dangerous alkaloids that can be toxic when ingested. Dogs and children are often interested in the rich aroma and may attempt to eat the flowers and seeds, potentially becoming very ill. People may want to consider avoiding this plant or growing it in a secured area of the garden where young people and animals will not be able to reach it if they are tempted. If parts of the plant are ingested by people or animals, prompt medical treatment is needed and the person providing care should be told that the patient ingested Brunfelsia and that it is an alkaloid toxin.

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