Human Flower Project

Nicodemus, the Evening Primrose

In parts of the U.S., evening primroses open the Bible.


Evening Primrose, a.k.a. “Nicodemus flower”

Photo: Ivette Loredo

Oenothera, evening primrose, is coming into bloom about now across much of the central U.S. As its name gives away, it’s one of those fascinating night-blooming plants, favored by moths and bats.  Attracting pollinators mainly by scent, these flowers can dispense with bright colors; evening primrose and most of its fellow “owls” bloom in shades of white and yellow, the better to glow.

People who work in offices all day long may take special pleasure in moon gardens of datura, four o’clocks, moonflowers, and evening primrose. After sundown, the fragrant blossoms are cooling as a martini, and better in the long run for an agitated mind.

Today we learned that in parts of the U.S. evening primrose is known as “Nicodemus flower.”  A Sunday school group in Knoxville, Tennessee, “gathered at the home of Maggie and Sid Rutherford to watch the blooming. The Nicodemus flower has special meaning… It was named for Nicodeums in the Bible. Nicodemus only met with Jesus at night.” We found one more reference to this Biblical human/flower custom, in an essay by fisherman George Rooks.

George writes that near Owensville, Ohio, evening primrose flowers abound on Fox Farm: “… starting to open at 8:20 p.m. This is a very exciting thing to see.” He learned from “a lady” in his community,  “The story of Nicodemus is told in the third chapter of St. John, verses 1-20, of how he went to see Jesus and didn’t want anybody to see him. Now I am sure you Bible scholars already knew this, but I learned something new.” George also generously supplies direction to Fox Farm.

imageThe Dead Christ Sustained by Nicodemus (detail)

by Giovanni Battista Benvenuti

Image: The Arts at Bucknell

For those who are not Bible scholars, here’s a refresher on John’s gospel. Indeed it does describe Nicodemus, a Pharisee, as coming to Jesus after sundown. And a later reference, in Chapter 7, refers to Nicodemus as “qui venit ad eum nocte” (who came to him at night).

We found this interesting Vermont site with 100+ plants in the Biblical garden, but Nicodemus is mentioned in conjunction with Aloe not Oenothera. Seems that the legend of the primrose Pharisee may not have traveled so far north as New England.

No matter where you are, when you last read the Bible, or what time it is, please enjoy the sequence of photos here as an evening primrose—Nicodemus flower—unfurls.



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