Nature Bulletin No. 384-A May 30, 1970
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation
The Morning Glories have a name that fits them perfectly. Before
sunrise, on a summer day, they open the large trumpet-shaped flowers
which they bear in such profusion. Other flowers do this, particularly
some of the early spring wildflowers, but the morning glories are
peculiar: by afternoon, even on a sunny day, each flower has closed and
becomes a slender tube. There is one exception, the Moonflower, which
is closed during the day but opens its huge white sweet-scented
blossoms at dusk and attracts the night-flying moths.
The Morning Glory Family numbers about 1200 species widely
distributed in the tropical and temperate climates. Many of them are
remarkable for their twining climbing rapid growth: others merely trail
over the ground: a few tropical species are shrubs or trees. Our true
morning glories, although they have escaped to grow wild in many
places, were imported from Central America and are all annuals,
reproducing by seeds.
The Common Morning Glory is a very popular old-fashioned flower
because its slender weak stems will climb to a height of as much as 10
feet in a very short time, and are covered not only with large heart-
shaped leaves but also with flowers that bloom from June until October.
Consequently, it was and is much used on trellises to provide shade for
porches, or arbors in gardens, or to cover walls. Several cultivated
varieties have been developed, so that the flowers may be white, pink,
red, purple, or variegated.
The Ivy-leafed Morning Glory is very similar but has 3-lobed leaves.
There is a less common species which has smaller flowers, always
white; another bears small clusters of scarlet flowers, each about 1-1/2
inches long with a yellow throat: and the Cypress Vine which has bright
scarlet flowers and a long leaf divided into narrow parallel lobes.
The Wild Potato Vine, native in the eastern half of the United States
and found in dry or gravelly waste places, is another member of this
family. It was an important food for the Indians, who called it "Man-of-
the-earth" or "Man-under-ground"' because it has a huge starchy root,
often as thick and long as a man's leg and weighing from 10 to 30
pounds, which grows deep beneath the surface. The vines trail over the
ground, or climb into shrubs and small trees sometimes attaining a
length of 15 feet. The large leaves are heart-shaped or fiddle-shaped.
The showy trumpet-shaped flowers are white, with a pinkish or purplish
throat, and often 3 inches in diameter. The sweet potato, one of our
important foods, is the fleshy root of a tropical "morning glory".
The Bindweeds are the villains of this family -- hated as much or more
than any other weed. They are perennials, reproducing by long creeping
roots as well as by seeds, and differ in other ways which only a botanist
can recognize. In the far-western states there is a bindweed with pale
yellow flowers striped with deeper yellow and tinged with pink. In
eastern United States we have two common species and both are serious
pests because they twine around and smother crop plants in fields and
gardens. Further, they are extremely difficult to get rid of. One, the
Field Bindweed or Creeping Jenny, was unfortunately introduced from
Europe and has a mass of roots which may extend as much as 15 feet
and to a considerable depth. The other, the Hedge Bindweed or Wild
Morning Glory, is native here and a taller plant. Both have arrow-
shaped leaves and white flowers often tinged or striped with pink.
Sprout a plump sweet potato in a jar of water and see what happens.
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Update: June 2012