I grew up watching for the blooms of the corn that was growing in the garden plot down by the creek. From my perch in the swing on the front porch of my home high on the hillside, I looked for the pink, purple and blue flowers in the garden below. It happened every year. I ran to the kitchen where Granny Ninna was rolling out dough for biscuits, "The corn is blooming! The corn is blooming!"
"It isn't time for the corn to bloom, honey. We've got to wait a few more weeks yet," she said.
Those were the blooms of the morning glories, she told me, and they grew on the corn to keep the good bugs around and the bad bugs away. I much preferred thinking it was the corn that was blooming, but I liked the sound of the words: Morning Glories. What a pretty name for such a lovely bloom, much prettier than calling them corn blossoms.
It wasn't until I was older and wanted every plant I had known from my childhood planted in my own yard, that I started collecting morning glory seeds. Mom had said: "Don't plant them near your daylilies, they'll choke the bud right off." Ninna said, "Don't plant them near the Rose of Sharon, they'll grow up that bush and it won't never bloom." And Aunt Bett said, "You grow them morning glories, chile, they're good plants, and right pretty, too." So now I grow morning glories, and you know who I listened to.
Artists painted the morning glory, writers wrote of it, and many years ago the Japanese considered it the symbol of mortality. The rural English called the plant "The Life of Man" because it was thought to illustrate in one day the stages of human life: childhood in the bud form, maturity in the fully opened blossoms, and old age as the wilting begins in the afternoon. In his book "The Return of the Native", Thomas Hardy calls the morning glory 'withywind, the nature of which requires a twig or stouter fiber than its own to hang upon and bloom'. I can tell you for sure, the morning glory winds counter clockwise, I have unwound many of them. It also has to depend on the strength of another source to hold it up. And even in today's society, it is still listed as the floral symbol of September.
Morning glory is a common name for many plants in the family Convolvulaceae, but I am most familiar with the genus Ipomoea. The blooms look much like trumpets springing from the vine, and always remind me of the trumpet my boyfriend played in our high school band. The flower usually lasts for a single morning and dies in the afternoon, unless it is cloudy, then the blooms might last a little longer. They also fade in color as the day goes on. This morning I was watching a particularly large bloom of deep denim blue, and even as I write, it has faded to a very pale grayish blue color, as if giving up its color to the sun above it. They prefer the sun, but there are some, such as the I. muricata which bloom at night.
The morning glory was first used in China for its medicinal properties, and then only for intestinal disorders. It was introduced to the Japanese in the 9th century, and they were the first to cultivate it as an ornamental plant. It spread to Mexico, where Aztec priests were known to use some forms of the plants called morning glories for their hallucinogenic properties. It came to the U.S. so long ago it has become naturalized, and in the sixties its chemical properties were explored quite extensively among some of those who called themselves hippies. It is like a lot of other plants, unsafe if used improperly. The seeds of most species of morning glories are dangerous when ingested. Just as foxglove produces a much needed chemical used for those who have heart problems, ingesting it can be fatal to those who don't. Please do not even consider eating the seeds of plants that are not meant to be food, and the pretty morning glory is at the top of the list.
Having said that, let me assure you that most producers of commercially sold morning glory seeds do cover those seeds with a waterproof chemical, which will not dissolve when eaten. And too, one would have to eat well over a hundred seeds before producing the hallucinogenic effect. Even so, I hope you will be very aware of potential danger if you have the seeds in your home.
So how do we overcome the negative issues that are imminent within the tiny seed of the morning glory? Well, this is what I do. I have had seeds for many years, seeds from my family, and from my friends. I keep them sealed and protected from one season to another. And when I plant them, they are planted in pots, and they grow only in their designated places: up a trellis, around a dead limb poked into the pot with them, along the fence post, and sometimes they grow up the brick arches in front of my house. They only grow where I plant them. And they create a lovely shaded area growing up the lattice that forms the back of my potting bench on the end of my deck.
I was told a story long ago, about a lovely Princess who lived in a far away land. She loved to sit in her garden of flowers, but she could only enjoy them in the cool of the morning, because she was a frail Princess and could not survive the heat of the sun. She never saw the beauty of the flowers that bloomed in the hot afternoons. The delicate Princess was very sad, and as she returned to the palace knowing she would never see the afternoon blossoms, she began to cry. Her tears fell at her feet, and as they touched the ground, they turned into small seeds all along her path.
Once again the next day, the lovely Princess visited her gardens in the early morning, but oh how different her gardens were. Before her, twining all around the trees and climbing over the garden wall were beautiful flowers the likes of which she had never seen. They were in blues and pinks, purples and yellows, and they grew above her head and touched her hair as she walked below. Her heart was full of joy and ever since that day, the lovely flowers were called Morning Glories, because they sprang from the tears of the beautiful Princess.
I don't remember which one of the little old ladies in my life told me that story, it really doesn't matter now, what matters is that I remember it. And so my Morning Glories aren't allowed to choke my daylilies, and they don't grow anywhere near my Granny Ninna's Rose of Sharon. But just like Aunt Bett told me, they're good plants. We grew them up the cornstalks because they attracted pollinators. Ladybugs love them, as do butterflies, hummingbirds and bees. I have my heart set on finding a yellow one someday. I think it would be really lovely mixed in with all the shades of blue and purple. It's just like Aunt Bett said, 'They're right pretty, too."
All Morning Glory photos are from my own garden, the painting, Nymph with Morning Glory Flowers, was done by Jules Joseph Lefebvre, an artist in the mid to late 1800's. That particular photo is from Wikipedia. And for another breathtaking view of more Morning Glories, please take a look at JJacques' article here.
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on August 25, 2009. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)