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10 Country: Pippin's Mystery Flower

June 16, 2005

Tift County-- Two gardening enthusiasts have quite a mystery in their yard.

A special flower seems to know what time it is. "You're sure this is where you want it," asks Bob Pippin of his wife, Mary Ann, as he holds a pair of post hole diggers ready to dig a hole to plant a hydrangea.

"Yeah," says Marry Ann with a laugh. If a yard's beauty is only soil deep, then Bob and Mary Ann Pippin have their own Garden of Eden. "It feels like a beautiful place to be," says Mary Ann, just after pushing dirt into the new hole.

They have two-and-a-quarter acres of peacefulness, considered a small park in some cities, where they don't consider work, work. "This yard keeps us young," says Bob as he makes a dirt dam to hold the water near the new plant.

In their Garden of Eden, Bob gets to fulfill a strong need that started decades ago. "The greatest thing I missed, when I was out at sea, was the smell of green grass," says Bob. After 32 years of retirement, Bob Pippin hasn't smelled enough lawn grass, yet.

Of the dozens of beautiful plants in their paradise, they like one in particular, a demur flower with a strong sense of time. The Pippins look forward to nine o'clock every night during the summer because the flower does a special thing. When a mocking bird sings its last song for the day, the Pippins know a night time flower show will start soon.

"They are getting ready to open," says Bob as he looks at dozens of blooms ready to go. The Pippins don't know the official name of the flower, so they call it the nine-o'clock flower. They brought the seeds from Tennessee, and planted them three years ago.

No show first year. Then, in the summer of 2004, it started performing. "This one is getting ready," says Bob, pointing to a small yellow bloom that looks as if it will burst if something doesn't happen soon. "We're going to have all kinds of excitement in a minute," says Bob who has seen its show numerous times.

Mother Nature keeps the Pippins waiting, refusing to go by any time schedule except her own. "Maybe a minute before nine to a minute after," says Bob as he looks at his atomic wristwatch that shows the official time.

Quietly, without fanfare, their botanical show begins with each bloom taking less than a minute to open fully. Then, another one opens, with more ready to show their stuff. "Looks like ten more will open," says Bob as he quickly surveys the entire plant. Some blooms seem to wait on another one's solo performance before revealing themselves.

"It's a thrill every time. It never gets old," says Mary Ann. Nineteen will open this night, the most so far this summer. Bob and Mary Ann Pippin feel spiritually renewed after watching nature's show, a show that doesn't require reservations or special clothing, that plays nightly in their own yard.

A horticulture professor at ABAC explains the flower's ability to know what time it is. It senses the intensity of the sunlight, blooming when there is the least light, and then dropping blooms when it gets the most intense light of the day.

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