Morning glory hallelujah!

Walt Whitman might have sung the praise of this flower since he noted that “a morning glory at my window satisfies me more than the metaphysics of books.”

Another famed poet, Henry David Thoreau, concurred. In his tribute he observed that this flower is “well named morning glory. Its broad, bell and trumpet-shaped flowers, faintly tinged with red, are like the dawn itself.”

Well said, poets; but not everyone agrees with your assessments. While few could argue the beauty of morning glory in a well-tended garden, others will curse its wild sister species.

Three types of morning glories call Martha’s Vineyard home, one native and two introduced. The former, wild morning glory, is found in wet environs and is not very common; while the latter, called bindweed and wild potato vine respectively, are both known to be botanic pests. But, as poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox said, “A weed is but an unloved flower.” So what’s the story, morning glory?

Wild morning glories are in the Convovulus family, and are not your garden variety glory. That is another species, more commonly found in the south, that graces gardens everywhere. Wild morning glory has large arrow-shaped leaves and blooms with usually pink or white funnel-shaped flowers from June through September.

A neat trick of the morning glory is that its flower opens and expands in sunshine and then closes during dull weather or as evening falls. Each flower lasts only for a single morning and dies in the afternoon. Every day a new flower blooms. Another interesting skill of this flower was observed by Anne Pratt in Flowers and their Associations. She noted that most twining plants follow the course of the sun (left to right), but bindweed marches to its own drummer. It twines counterclockwise or right to left, and will perish if it can’t go its preferred way. Its family name comes from the Latin word, convovere, which means “to entwine.”

Morning glories are strong plants. They have tap roots that can penetrate the soil up to 20 feet deep, and their seeds can live without germinating for up to 50 years. No wonder they are called a “deep-rooted nuisance.”

Even if you kill the plant on the outside, its roots can live underground for another three years and the plant can rise again. So, no mourning for this glory.

Poets seem so much better able to capture the essence of this plant than scientists can; so I’ll close with images conjured up by two more poets, to help tide you over until you next observe one of these remarkable plants:

Wondrous interlacement!

 Holding fast to threads by green and silky rings,

   With the dawn it spreads its white and purple wings;

     Generous in its bloom, and sheltering while it clings,

       Sturdy morning-glory.

     — Helen Hunt Jackson


The morning-glory’s blossoming

 Will soon be coming round

   We see their rows of heart-shaped leaves

     Upspringing from the ground.

     — Maria White Lowell, Morning-Glory


Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown.