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David Trinklein
University of Missouri
Plant Science & Technology
(573) 882-9631

Morning Glory: Misunderstood and Under Appreciated

David Trinklein
University of Missouri
(573) 882-9631

June 9, 2023

minute read

pink flowers

(Credit: Pixabay)

"Guilt by association," is an often-used phase to describe a situation where something is "guilty" because of its association or resemblance to something considered to be bad. For example, for centuries people thought tomato to be poisonous primarily because it is a member of a plant family that contains some very poisonous species. Likewise, morning glory is considered by many to be a weedy plant, since it shares a common name with some plant species that are very difficult to control. As a result, gardeners are reluctant to plant it which is unfortunate, since properly located it can be a very attractive, useful plant.

If a bare fence, empty trellis, or unpleasant view in your landscape seems to need attention, morning glory (or one of its close relatives) might be a solution to the problem. June is not too late to plant morning glory seeds that should develop into a living summer screen. Seeds germinate quickly in warm soils and, with adequate moisture and fertility, plants can cover a trellis sufficiently in about six weeks. This still allows plenty of time for enjoyment before frost.

purple flower attached to fence

Because of its rapid growth rate, morning glory can quickly cover a fence or trellis. (Credit: Pixabay)

Morning glory is the common name applied to more than 1000 species of flowering plants belonging to the Convolvulaceae plant family. Ipomoea, the largest and most well-known genus in the family, contains some very attractive species such as Ipomoea purpurea. The latter is just one of several species in the genus that carries the common name of morning glory. The genus name comes from the Greek words ips meaning "worm" and homoios which means "resembling," and probably makes reference to the twining (worm-like) growth habit of members of this genus.

It should be noted that several troublesome weeds collectively referred to as bindweeds (Convolvulus arvensis and Calystegia sepium) share the common name of "morning glory," but are very different plants. Bindweed (a perennial) bears leaves are lanceolate-shaped and smaller than the leaves morning glory. In contrast, morning glory is an annual flowering plant whose leaves are large and heart shaped.

viney plant attached to brick wall with heart-shaped leaves

Morning glory can be distinguished from weedy "look-alikes" by its large, heart-shaped leaves. (Credit: Wikimedia)

Morning glory plants are vigorous, twining vines. Therefore, in order to climb, the fence or trellis on which they are allowed to grow must be made from materials thin enough for the vines to wrap themselves around. If they are planted next to a board fence or wall, wire or string must be stretched vertically to help the plant move upward. Additionally, morning glories need plenty of bright light. In shady locations they tend to become weak, grow slowly, and do not provide a full, attractive cover.

Individuals shopping for morning glory seeds will notice the number of varieties from which to select is limited. In the world of ornamental flowering plant seed sales, morning glory occupies a very small market share. Therefore, it is rare when a new variety is developed and released. Although newer varieties exist, a few of those which have stood the test of time and can be recommended include:

    light blue flower with yellow center

    'Heavenly Blue' morning glory. (Credit: Pixabay)

  • 'Heavenly Blue'—Striking, celestial blue flowers up four inches appear throughout summer on this free-flowering, very popular morning glory. A strong grower, it can achieve a height of up to ten feet in one growing season. Many consider it to be the standard of excellence against which all other morning glory varieties are judged.
  • 'Early Call Series'—Available as individual colors or a series mix, this morning glory has a shorter maturity time than most others. Vigorous climbers, most members of the series produce large, vibrant flowers surrounded by dark green foliage. 'Early Call Rose' is one of the most popular red-flowering morning glory varieties available today.
  • 'Scarlett O'Hara'—For morning glory that produces larger, deeper red flowers, 'Scarlett O'Hara is hard to beat. It produces large, crimson-red three-to-four-inch flowers that bloom every morning beginning in midsummer. A vigorous grower, mature vines reach a height of from eight to ten feet and produce attractive foliage.
    purple flower with pink center

    'Grandpa Ott' morning glory. (Credit: Pixabay)

  • 'Grandpa Ott'—As the name might suggest, 'Grandpa Ott' is a long-time favorite. It bears deep purple flowers with a red center that reach two to three inches in size. An heirloom morning glory, it is a vigorous grower to about 15 feet and literally is covered with flowers all summer long.
  • 'Zeeland Hybrid Mix'—Exceptionally fast-growing and quick to flower, this is one of the few hybrid morning glory varieties available. The mix includes pink, purple, white, and variegated flowers on vines that often reach 15 feet in height. It represents a good choice for northern gardens or where planting is delayed.
    blue and white petaled flower

    'Flying Saucers' morning glory. (Credit: Pixabay)

  • 'Flying Saucers'—For those who like the more unusual, a variety called 'Flying Saucers' produces flowers that are blue and white striped. Its growth habit is similar to that of 'Heavenly Blue' and tends to be a variety a bit difficult to find.

Some people object to morning glories because their blossoms fade by noon on a warm, sunny day. However, the mass of morning color and the sky blue and clear white hues are hard to match in other annual flowers and make morning glory a unique choice for the landscape.

For those who like to enjoy flowers in the evening rather than in the morning, there also still is time to plant moonflower (Ipomoea alba) seeds. Moonflower (or moon vine as it sometimes is called) is a relative of the morning glory that produces spectacular fragrant, white flowers that open at dusk. They are unique in the world of flowering annuals in that blooms expand from bud to fully open flower up to five inches across in just sixty seconds.

white petaled flower

Moonflower is a type of morning glory that opens in the evening because it is pollinated by night-flying insects. (Credit: Benjamin Graves)

Moonflower is a vigorous grower that needs hot weather, plenty of moisture, and a long growing season for best flower production. Although June is a bit late to plant moonflower seeds, germination of the latter can be hastened by "nicking" the seeds and placing them in water for several hours before planting. Once seeds germinate, plants tend to grow rapidly and form a good screen.

Do not expect moonflower to produce blossoms too soon. Vines must be fairly large before flower buds and consequently flowers are produced. Since moonflower favors very warm weather, the cool nights of fall tend to prevent flower buds from opening.

Most plants in the morning glory genus (Ipomoea) prefer full sun, rich soil, ample moisture, and good drainage. Once past the seedling stage, the plants tolerate dry soil but appreciate irrigation during hot, dry conditions. Not all morning glories vine. Non-climbing species that morning glory-like flowers. also exist. Evolvulus glomeratus, or Dwarf Morning Glory, is one such example. It produces an abundance of small, intensely blue flowers in the midst of fuzzy, silvery-green foliage on plants that reach 12 to 24 inches in height.

For those concerned about morning glories becoming a nuisance, the varieties listed in this article do not reseed readily in the garden. However, there are some small-flowered types that may produce seeds abundantly and reseed heavily, making them a potential weed problem in future years.

As their common name implies, morning glories unfurl their trumpet-shaped flowers early in the morning. Ephemeral by nature, the flowers normally begin to fade a few hours before sunset and last only one day. Their profuse production of flowers, however, gives rise to a show of color all summer long once blooming begins.

a pink flower next to a purple flower

Their ephemeral nature is one reason morning glory flowers are special. (Credit: Pixabay)

Morning glory trivia

  • Sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) is a close relative of morning glory.
  • Certain species of morning glory bear flowers up to eight inches in diameter.
  • Morning glory is a favorite flower in Japan where it has been cultivated since the 8th century.
  • The seeds of Ipomoea nil were used in ancient China as a laxative.
  • In a process similar to that patented by Charles Goodyear in 1844, Ancient Mesoamericans used morning glory sap along with that of other plants to produce rubber balls.
  • Centuries ago, Aztec priests in what is now Mexico used morning glory as a medicine and in their religious rituals.
  • There have been 16 songs and seven movies (or TV shows) with morning glory in their title.

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REVISED: June 8, 2023