Ipomoea purpurea (common morning glory): tips and legends
Morning glories are decorative blooming vines that twine around fences, porch rails, and even other shrubs. Their prolific blooms announce the warmer weather of the summer months. It comes from subtropical South America and thus endures some cold; I have grown it outdoors with only the shelter of a wall and a little mulch to protect it safely in the winter.
As its name suggests, the morning glory blossoms unfurl in the morning hours to greet the sun and then close later in the day as the sun gets hot; by evening, when temperatures are cooler, the blooms are tightly closed. They are popularly known as the "blue dawn flower". Humans have always had a love/hate relationship with these wildflowers, which have been called the courtesans of the plant world- both beautiful and bad.
It is an exceedingly rapid climber, the twining stem often describes a complete circle in two hours, turning against the sun, or just contrary to the hands of a watch. It will smother huge trees and cover huge ravines. It is not like ivy that will rip things away and dig into surfaces. It is a very gentile plant that grows amazingly fast, is beautiful and for some strange reason has kept the ants away from my kitchen directly near it for the first year ever.
Late in the season, when an abundance of seed has been set, the flower can well afford to keep open longer hours, also in rainy weather, but early in the summer, at least, it must attend to business only while the sun shines and its benefactors are flying- because this plant is attractive to bees, butterflies and/or birds and because opening in the morning, this allows them to be pollinated by hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, other daytime insects and birds.
The splendour of this flower shines forth in exaltation and celebration of the dawning of a new day: as the sun begins its journey in the east, the flower, too, opens up its petals and embrace the beginning of a new day: it appear so in the morning and perishes before noon and it is of a deep crimson color and contrast finely with the rich green of the leaves. It is a flower for every one, and never looks better than when climbing to the eaves of a low cottage, or draping some tumble-down fence. The flowers are borne in small clusters on high stems, and while you would say they are the purest of blue, they in fact have much red in them, and this gives the color a somewhat electric quality such as you see in some gentians.
The botanical name ipomoea is from the Greek ips, meaning "worm", and homoios,"resembling" so the meaning is "wormlike", while the family name for all the morning glories, convolvulaceae, comes from the latin convolvo meaning "to intertwine". Several folks names for the family members express the exasperation this plant aroused among rural people, who called them old man's nightcap, devil's guts and hellweed.
If it is planted in the open ground, it will not be of any advantage to sow the seed before May, as it will not grow until the ground is warm. Previous to sowing, the seed should have warm water poured over it, which should remain until the water is nearly cold. If sown in a warm place, the plants will appear above the ground in few days. The plants are difficult to transplant, therefore the seeds should be sown where the plants are to remain. The seeds should be sown in a hot-bed, in small pots, toward the end of April and the beginning of May, a number of seeds in each pot, so as to be sure of two or three plants in each. In a month, if carefully attended, the roots will have filled the pot; it will be then necessary to shift the plants into larger ones, very carefully, so that the roots may not be disturbed. In the first days of summer, the plants will begin to flower, but take care: protect them always in case of later cold or storms, but expose them during the day to the full influence of the sun and air. It requires no other care except to give it a place to twine...when once introduced in your garden or flowery balcony it will sow itself and come up every year, with its always welcomed, shining flowers. The general care for morning glories is to be sure to grow them in well-drained soil (for clay soils, add a good amount of sand to the mix). They also like very much to grow in full sun. They can be easily be grown in larger pots and still put on a good bloom as long as they get a lot of light and have trellising available; or let it sprawl on the ground for a fast cover in a single season; it is especially good for reducing surface erosion on newly graded slopes while woody plants and other perennials fill in. Where winters are mild, this plant can completely shroud a small metal shed or outbuilding and transform it into a romantic vision popular among Victorian and cottage gardeners. In the wild and in cultivation, morning glories grow profusely with attractive funnel-shaped flowers on twining and trailing hairy stems, in a wondrous deep blue color enriched by shades of red and purple: certainly, a plant worthy to be grown for its great beauty and adaptability.
This plant is considered poisonous and, as such, is just for ornamental purposes; however it has been used in the past as a powerful laxative and its seeds are hallucinogens.
It has been a favorite element in Japanese poetry, where it is used to suggest a variety of meanings; one cheery poem entitled "Morning Glories" goes: "In the dewy freshness of the morning, they smile respectful greetings to the Goddess of the Sun." More often, the flower symbolizes the fragile beauty and transitory nature of life. But there is another side to the morning glory: as a vine, it is tenacious and hardy, it sprouts rapidly and is highly adaptable. This flower then may suggest the fleeting, tragic quality of life or brilliant success followed by unhappy decline, but it may also represent the tenacity of the human spirit.
I read this myth about how the morning glory became a vine: "At first it was only a small plant with great curiosity about what was happening around it, and when it heard baby birds chirping in a nest built in a nearby shrub, it was eager to see them. Creeping and stretching, it crawled along until it got near the shrub. Then it stretched and reached until it got hold of a branch. Encouraged, it began to wind itself around the branch and climbed upward until at last it reached the edge of the nest and peeping inside was pleased to get to see the three little birds almost ready to fly. Since that day the plant has been able to run along the ground and to climb."
It was said that if a man swung a bit of the vine three times around his head and then trew it backwards, he could find out if his sweetheart loved him. After three days, when he returned to the spot, if he found that the plant had attached itself to another plant or bush and was growing, the person named when it was thrown returned his love, but if the vine had died, that person did not love him. In the language of flowers, it means: "Pleased with beautiful things, it is itself beautiful" but also promises to be "reassured by your affection." It means also "Loves you, affection" and it is associated with the eleventh wedding anniversary.
The morning glory is the floral simbol for September, and the Japanese, as remembered previously, consider this flower the symbol of mortality. In rural England the plant was called the "life of man" because it was thought to illustrate in a day the stages of human life: childhood in bud form in the early morning, maturity in the fully opened blossom at midday, and old age and death as the flower wilts in the evening.