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The Beautiful and the Damned: HEAVENLY BLUE MORNING GLORIES (and others), Part 2


For many of us, it’s not the seeds of morning glory that are most important, or their twining vines.

For most of us, it’s the flowers. The flowers that bloom exuberantly, extravagantly, even in poor soil, with very little care. Flowers that cover trellises and mailboxes and broken fences. That beautiful touch of color that picks us up when we go out first thing in the morning (it even works for those of us who get up in later morning).

Even people who don’t know about flowers generally know what a morning glory is. Morning glories are the poor person’s beautifier. They cover less-than-perfect structures with beautiful flowers in late summer and fall. They feature as symbols of hope and renewal in literature, or sometimes a kind of open innocence.

We had a rare early-fall rain, so I got to see for myself that morning glories really do stay open all day when it’s cloudy or rainy. These closed at about dusk. You’ll also notice that there are some white sports in here, which look like the variety called Pearly Gates.

I don’t know if my seed just had a few Pearly Gates rogues in there, or if this is a replica of the sport that brought us Pearly Gates. But while I prefer Heavenly Blue the best, it’s nice to have these white ones sprinkled in for variety. And the dying purple blooms make it fully multicolored.

Morning glories start flowering late. In my case, really late: there were a few sprinkled blooms beforehand, but they didn’t really get going until September. Part of the reason, my neighbor illumined me, was because the deer were coming up to the fence and eating all the morning-glory vine they could reach. So the vines couldn’t flower until they got high enough to be out of the range of deer mouths. Note to self: morning glories are not deer-proof.

I did buy an entire ounce of seed, since I have many time come up morning-glory-less from one planting. Having read the usual propaganda that morning glories are easy from seed, I had an attack of gardener’s schadenfreude when  a friend of mine told me she nicked them, she soaked them in hot water, everything, but still no morning glories.

Mine took three plantings,

I also do the soaking in hot water, but it still took me three plantings of seeds before I got one that took. (If you really want to get elaborate about this, you can put the seeds into damp paper towels or cloth after soaking,  roll them up, and put them in another cloth, or an open plastic bag. This gets you a very high germination rate, but you do have to either rip paper towel or very carefully disengage new sprouts from cloth if these go further than you meant while you weren’t looking.)

We did have earwigs pretty badly early in the season. I’m not sure what the other problem was, besides sulking seeds. They don’t like cold soil at all (my memory is that they are originally from South America, but at the moment I can’t find anything to back that up. Anyone know?).

In any case, I’m glad I got a lot of seeds to try with, because the final results have really perked up the last six weeks. We did have a sort of almost-frost a week or two ago, and they died back some, but seem to be recovering. If they ripen, I will also have a lot of seed to try next year.

As Emboden points out, if anybody seriously wants a supply of seeds, all you have to do is plant the packet and wait a few months. Morning glories bloom heavily, and every flower brings a  pointy two-seeded pod. So it was pretty hopeless what the seed companies did many years ago, in an attempt to safeguard people like me and my friends: they coated the seed with foul orange poison.

The seed companies knew, because they’d read the same pamphlets we had, about how morning glory seeds have some of the same chemicals in them as LSD.  Devilish drugs and intoxication: that sounded very attractive to us as teenagers. We were looking for some way to connect ourselves to what seemed like an alien adult world; those good upright stalwart principles just weren’t working for us, newly-awakened to a world of war and cruelty. We needed to find the meaning of it all, but there was no coming-of-age ritual to help us. Turning to drugs was one way we tried to understand our world–and it often helped.

I’m not trying to downplay the harm that can be done by drugs–but I think the fact that some drugs can do harm doesn’t mean we should stop using them. And I think a lot of that harm stems from our culture’s puritanical notion that no one should really take them.

Unless they’re prescribed, of course, in which case we can feed them to our children for breakfast. And ourselves. We get very little education about pharmaceutical drugs, too, in fact: we’re just supposed to have faith in the doctors who prescribe them, never mind the side effects, which often mean we wind up taking more drugs, which also have side effects…many people die this way.

We don’t often get educated in how to use drugs in this culture, intoxicating or not. In fact, we rarely even discuss the subject. We either use them or we do not. Any ideas about intelligent use are passed on through subterranean folk culture (the best person to consult about avoiding hangovers is a person who has had plenty of hangovers). We rarely get educated in how to be sensitive to our own bodies, so we know if the drugs are doing us well or not.

Traditional cultures in Mexico, Central, and South America show their newly-adult children how to use local drugs in ways that benefit them.  Then the young adults decide if, when, and how often the use of any plant is called for. This even happens occasionally in North America. A friend of mine told me how, when she was sixteen, her parents started taking her around to cocktail parties, so she could learn how to drink and socialize. So much more sensible than the introductions to alcohol I saw, which generally include an inelegant and undignified purging ritual.

My discussion of morning glory has led to me spouting a lot of my opinions on what may seem to be diverse topics. But maybe that’s because of the way morning glory is itself. It’s a strong, multifaceted plant: it provokes strong reactions. Whether you think it’s beautiful, horrible, sacred, or terrible, it’s hard not to have some opinion about morning glories.

William Emboden, Narcotic Plants, Collier Books/Macmillan, 1979, pg. 95-97

James Underwood Crockett, Annuals,  Time-Life Books,  1971

{ 3 comments… add one }

  • Nancy Bond October 24, 2008, 6:34 pm

    That first photo — morning glory against morning glory. Beautiful. I think they are just the prettiest of plants…one of the true blues in the garden.

  • Di October 25, 2008, 7:36 am

    I agree with your thoughts on the natural properties of plants being poorly understood – even feared through ignorance. People seem to generally lack that kind of respect. We are not a wholistic society. Your morning glories are beautiful and that blue is unsurpassable. Please come for a visit.

  • Carol Hughes October 17, 2012, 5:01 am

    I used to have success in growing Heavenly Blues MG but for the last 5 years, they often turn into small purple MGs. This occurs even when I’m especially careful of planting in fresh soil free from last year’s seeds. Are the seed companies careless and contaminating Heavenly Blues and have they reverted to purple ones?

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