Sunday, September 16, 2012

Of Moonflowers and Morning Glories

Moonflower on the Verge of Unfolding

This photograph I took in October of 2009 inspired me to write the poem "Moonflower" which can be found on the website of the Poetry Society of South Carolina

The Moonflower Saga

2009 was the first year that I had success growing moonflowers. Two or three years earlier I had purchased a packet of seeds at a country hardware store and planted them where I wanted them to grow, beside the trellises that support my carport. Those few that germinated failed to thrive, but that didn't stop me from trying again and again. Did I know then to soak the seed in water overnight and/or to score them? I'm not sure. It must have been in 2008 that I plopped a couple of leftover seeds in a Tuscan planter that sits against the workshop wall at the back of the carport. Much to my surprise the seeds germinated and the resulting plants produced one or two blossoms each. 

Ipomoea alba
In 2009 I planted only moonflower seeds in the Tuscan planter and had (for me) great success. I added a trellis to the planter so that the vines had somewhere to climb. Night after night in July I enjoyed the treat of a single blossom. I photographed the buds before they opened. I photographed newly opened flowers in late afternoon or just before dusk. I rose after midnight and used my camera's flash to take more photographs. In the morning I photographed the blossoms at various stages as they crumpled and drew into themselves. 

Later that summer and autumn I sometimes had the treat of two blossoms in a single night. Returning home late one evening, I saw a hummingbird moth dart away as the beams of my headlights illuminated the moonflowers. I thought I had seen a hummingbird, but a friend, who lives an hour further south and has great success with moonflowers, explained to me that I'd actually seen a giant moth.


Why do I love moonflowers? It's the combination of the heavenly fragrance, the beauty of the large flowers, and the rare opportunity to watch them unfurl.

You see, my 2009 moonflowers opened suddenly. Often I missed the unfurling, but when I witnessed a flower spring open, it was like magic. 

Now I harvest the seeds each year to plant the next, but I also buy new packets of seeds to increase the likelihood of thriving plants. In spite of these precautions, in 2010 and 2011 there were many nights when flowers opened, but they didn't always open completely and I saw none unfold suddenly. The openings I witnessed were gradual. Last summer a few of the buds didn't open at all. Some insect pest sealed the buds shut.

Moonflower Seedpods
This year in my ongoing attempt to cultivate moonflowers in varying locations I finally had a small - very small - triumph. One of the seeds I planted under a huge live oak germinated and the vines climbed up the arms of a small tree and produced two flowers. 

Dried Moonflower Seedpods and Seeds
This summer I have had less success than usual growing moonflowers in the planter under the carport. The reason? Last year it seemed like a good idea to grow moonflowers and morning glories together. The only morning glory that sprouted remained puny. This year the morning glories claimed victory. Although I spotted several moonflower seedlings early on, most seem not to have survived being without water during the three weeks I was away in June. Morning glories took over and thrived. One moonflower vine has managed to stay alive and has produced three or four blossoms over the course of the summer - in fact, two this week.

The Morning After

Morning Glories

For years I had only moderate success in growing morning glories. At best the vines would grow a couple of feet and I'd see a handful of blooms. Then two years ago I purchased a packet that contained a variety of morning glory seeds. I love blue flowers of all kinds and so hoped the blue morning glories shown on the package would proliferate. A single plant with blue blossoms did grow, but what really took off is one with flowers that, in appearance, remind me of petunia blossoms. I harvested what seemed like a bazillion seeds, but with this variety being so invasive, I've planted them sparingly. In the area where the first ones grew, volunteers flourish. The only reason I don't uproot these is that twice I've seen a hummingbird feed from them in late morning. 

Invasive Morning Glories
All the pictures included in this post are photographs I've taken of my own plants. Occasionally I spot someone else's prolific blue morning glories climbing a wall or porch railing. One of those sightings on the Charleston peninsula was what inspired me to plant morning glory seeds in the first place.

Please Post Your Comments
Some of you have tremendous success with moonflowers, achieving thirty or forty blossoms per night during the growing season. Will you kindly share your growing secrets in the comment area below?


  1. Beautiful. Thanks for sharing. I shared on FB, Twitter, and Pinterest as per Hope's blog.

    1. Thanks, Rekaya! I just visited your Food Temptress blog - now I'm craving pancakes and chocolate dipped ice cream cones.