Commonly known as “night-blooming jasmine”, this shrubby plant is widely cultivated in subtropical regions for the very intense perfume of its flowers. Among the Maya, it was regarded as the cradle of Kisin, the god of death, as all parts of the plant are toxic.
Cestrum indicates a kind of hammering tool in Latin, referring to the shape of its flowers. Nocturnum means "nocturnal, which flowers at night".
Description and flowering period
Cestrum nocturnum is a shrub reaching up to 4 meters in height. Its leaves are persistent, smooth and shaped like spearheads (lanceolate). The elongated tubular flowers with 5 star-shaped lobes are in tones of pale greens and creamy whites (yellow in some varieties). As the name implies, the shrub only flowers at night and releases an intense perfume. Fruits are white, round berries which are toxic.
It requires a light, sandy yet water retentive soil in a tropical or subtropical climate. It appreciates abundant watering.
- Sensory: It is widely cultivated in California for the perfume industry and essential oil production.
- Medicinal: The Maya people infuse leaves and flowers in hot bath water to prevent night sweats. In Mexico, leaf extracts are used to treat epilepsy as well as some mental illnesses.
- Traditional: Leaves and flowers are turned into an incense used during rituals in Tibet, flowers are also a traditional offering to Lord Shiva. Leaves were smoked or infused during divination rituals by the ancient Maya.
All parts of the plant are toxic to humans as well as animals. The effects range from hallucinations to tachycardia, irritability and paralysis, not unlike the effects of Belladonna. It is considered by the Maya people to be the cradle of Kisin, the Lord of death. It is considered an invasive species in some countries.
Translated by: François Saint-Hillier – MNHN