Morning glories seem to get an equal amount of love and hate! Read on to discover the story of this lovely vine.
It’s important for gardeners to know the difference between the noxious perennial bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis) and the beautiful and ancient annual morning glory (Ipomoea spp), which makes a lovely addition to an old-fashioned garden if you want to add vertical interest or cover an unslightly fence.
Morning glory is a twining vine that has delicate trumpets in a variety of shades, including purple, pink, red, white and sky blue, often with white throats marked with a star. You can also find morning glories with marbled or streaked petals, like the ‘Flying Saucer’ cultivar.
Morning glory gets its common name from the fact that the original cultivars’ flowers only opened at dawn and lasted for a few short hours before dying. Today’s morning glory flowers generally last a full day, or slightly less if the weather is particularly hot. In my hot dry summer area, the flowers usually last through the a.m.
The Story of Morning Glory
Morning glory arrived in Britain in 1621. Even then, people were hesitant to add it to their cottage gardens, knowing its cousin bindweed’s behaviour well. In the 1830s Japanese hybridizers developed bright double-flowered varieties which became so popular they were favoured by emperors, and a single seed could cost as much at $18. I haven’t found a source for this double heirloom variety, but Select Seeds carries a double cultivar called ‘Sunrise Serenade’ that may be a rediscovered type from 1936. I really prefer the simple single trumpets, the double type looks like wet facial tissue to me. What do you think—single or double morning glories?
Morning glory never attained real popularity until the Victorian era, and could often be found camouflaging outhouses. It reached the apex of its popularity in the 1940s and 1950s. In the 1960s it was discovered the seeds were hallucinogenic, and the plant fell out of favour, allowing many old cultivars to disappear forever. Today many heritage seed growers are working to find and bring these lost types back to garden cultivation.
How to Grow Morning Glory
Start morning glories from seed—here in the north I start seeds indoors in early April. Nick each tough seed coat (I like to use a small nail clipper) to increase the chance of germination, then soak the seeds in water overnight. Plant in trays or small pots under a grow light. Or you can simply plant the soaked seeds outdoors once danger of frost has passed.
Plant the seedlings outdoors in full sun when the air and soil have warmed. Don’t fertilize them or they may grow more leaves and fewer flowers.
Morning glories need a strong fence, lattice or trellis to climb, and they’re great for covering unslightly fences like chain link. I have some ten-foot tall pieces of curly wrought iron I salvaged on the roadside years ago. They make a handsome structure for the morning glories to ascend, and give a pleasing old-fashioned look to the garden.
The vines will bloom until frost so although flowering generally doesn’t start until midsummer for me, depending on the weather you’ll still get a long season of enjoyment from them. They will self-sow enthusiastically, so if you’re concerned about this, periodically check the vines and remove the round seed capsules before they turn brown and papery, or pinch off dead flowers. It’s relatively easy the next year to rake up any seedlings that show up where you don’t want them.
Find out more about morning glories in this Olde Farmer’s Almanac article
How to Save Seeds
Save seeds from plants that you particularly like the bloom colour or growth properties of. Let the round papery brown seed capsules form after the flowers die. In late summer and autumn simply pinch them gently off the vines and place them in a jar. Leave the jar open on a shelf in a dry spot until the pods are completely dry. Then gently crush each capsule in your fingers over a bowl, releasing the black and white urn-shaped seeds. Place in a labelled envelope for planting next spring.
WARNING: Morning glory seeds are toxic if ingested.
Choice Heirloom Morning Glory Cultivars
‘Grandpa Ott’s’ (Ipomoea purpurea) — 1800s or older. This is the seed that started the Seed Saver’s Exchange in Decorah, Iowa. Diane and Kent Whealy grew theirs from the original seed grown by Diane’s grandfather in Bavaria. They realized they needed to continue to save the seed or it would be lost. It has handsome royal purple flowers with a cerise star in its white throat. Easy to find.
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds; OSC Seeds; Renee’s Garden Seeds; Heritage Harvest Seed
‘Heavenly Blue’ or ‘Clark’s Heavenly Blue’ (Ipomoea tricolor) — This is the original morning glory from 1621. Large intensely sky blue flowers sport a white throat and darker blue star in the centre. See the image at the top of this page.
West Coast Seeds; McKenzie Seeds; OSC Seeds
The Language of Flowers
Symbolism of morning glory: Bonds and attachments