by Kyle Sweet, CGCS
The Sanibel summer is here and the lush tropical vegetation has been getting plenty of early summer rains. During a walk around the island recently, I swore that things were growing so much that I could hear it. Well, I might have been able to hear it if not for the happy frogs, crickets and other insects that are happy to get the rains too!
One player in the tropical scene of vegetation is the Morning Glory. The common name Morning Glory is applied to over one thousand species of flowering plants in the plant family Convolvulaceae. There are many species of Morning Glory that belong to a number of genera
or (genus) of which the largest is Ipomoea. For this article, Ipomoea will be the genus of Morning Glory that we will cover.
As the name would suggest, most Morning Glory flowers open into bloom in the early morning hours and remain open all day in the sun-drenched setting that they prefer. Of course with plants there are always exceptions and one exception is the Moonflower, Ipomoea alba. This Ipomoea has large white flowers that bloom at night and is often interwoven with other Ipomoea species that flower during the day. They may be difficult to differentiate because they both have heart-shaped foliage when not in bloom. In this case, a blend of the tow will dry flowers day and night, literally a flower lovers’ dream.
In frost-free areas, such as our barrier islands, Morning Glory is a perennial and can be used to adorn fences and trellises. If allowed, it can also cover exterior walls of a building to help shade them from the harsh summer sun. In colder climates, Morning Glory is treated as a summer annual. The purpose of the planting is the same, jumps temporary and replanted in the early summer.
Morning Glory is a rapid grower, as I’m often reminded when I see it draped over native shrubs or covering the sunny side of native trees on the island. Due to its rapid growth, some species have actually been considered an invasive weed in the United States and other countries when growing in an unwanted area. By definition invasive means: An introduced organism that negatively alters its new environment, whether it be ecological, environmental or economic.
Although some species are considered invasive, several species of Morning Glory at cultivated and sold. Annual varieties are often propagated by seed and perennial varieties are propagated by cuttings. Research will be required to determine what variety and method of propagation would be best for you.
Beyond the beauty of the Morning Glory is the fact that many Ipomoea species are edible. One of my personal favorite foods of all time, the Sweet Potato, is also known as Ipomoea batatus. Of course we know that the root of this Ipomoea is edible but did you know that with the right preparation, the leaves are too? One species of Ipomoea that you may know that is prized for its edible leaves is Ipomoea aquatica, also known as Water Spinach. This water loving, aggressive grower is a major food crop and vegetable in the Orient and is grown under strict regulations due to its potential invasiveness in both Florida and Texas. The leaves of the Water Spinach boast 45% carbs and 24% protein and are rich in vitamins A,C and E. I’m up for giving it a try, especially if it’s accompanied by a Morning Glory flower and a nice big Sweet Potato!
You might see a Morning Glory flower in a little different light now, or actually in no light at all in the case of Ipomoea alba or Moonflower. Plants all around the world are recognized for their beauty and function and in the case of Morning Glory, there’s a lot going on there. Enjoy the Morning Glory next time you see it amongst the great variety of island plants. Don’t bite in until you know more about the plant and hopefully you know no it’s worth the search.
Flower: Regular, bisexual with 5 separate sepals and five united petals. Often the petals are slightly twisted and have a star pattern inside. There are 5 stamens attached at the base of the flower tube.
Foliage: Foliage varies between species. Generally 2-5” in length. Can be 3-lobed, ivy shaped or often are heart shaped.
For nearly forty years I have enjoyed the profuse morning glories all over Sanibel olong the roads and bike path. Suddenly they are gone the past couple of years greatly dimishing Sanibel’s beauty. Can it be that some well meaning environmentalist decided this is an invasive plant and had it eradicated? If so, what a shame. The vegetaion the vines were on didn’t seem to mind and in fact they enhanced the beauty of the whole area. Does anyone know what happened to them?