A Sprawl Of Morning Glories

I’m fond of the collective nouns in the English language. The fact that they exist at all is simply yet another linguistic quirk. “a murder of crows”, “an exaltation of larks”, “a wedge of swans”… these terms aren’t really used all that much, but they have a certain poetic potency.

There are several collective nouns which are so embedded in our language that we use them reflexively. Nobody ever refers to an aggregation of cows as a “flock”. For no rational reason, that term is reserved for descriptions of groups of goats or sheep.

I’d like to propose a new collective noun, one which is unlikely to be used by anyone other than myself. “Why is that?”, you might ask. My noun refers to an obscure species of Morning Glory, Ipomoea longifolia, a peculiar species which is only found in Southwestern desert environments. A Sprawl of Morning Glories! I like the sound of the phrase.

This species doesn’t climb like most Morning Glories; there isn’t much to climb on in the desert. The plant sends out ground-hugging vines which make their way across rocks and gravel.

The flowers are beautiful, and I can’t help but wonder how such fleshy and large blooms can grow in such an arid environment. I surmise that the plants might have a fleshy tuberous root, like another member of the genus, the sweet potato. A fetching cluster of flowers which I captured one cool August morning:

Here’s a shot of a shoot making its way across a barren expanse of schist. The seeds of these plants mostly die of desiccation, or are eaten, but a favored few find a cleft in the rocks which has accumulated a pocket of humus, yucca and oak leaves slowly decaying in a crevice or crack which was somehow shielded by topography from the sluicing torrents of the monsoon rains. The wandering vines of this Morning Glory can be ten feet long.

Only once have I seen the vines of this plant actually climb, something temperate-zone Morning Glories do routinely. Here is a shot of a vine climbing up and over a dead yucca clump, a mass of dead vegetation which takes decades to decay:

Right now, during the peak of the monsoon season in the Mule Mountains, the normally barren canyon slopes are cloaked with showy blossoms of this Morning Glory, as well as the pink and fuzzy blossoms of a leguminous shrub which I think might be a species of Mimosa. A nice time of the year for a walk!




Filed under Arizona, Natural History, Photos, Words

13 responses to “A Sprawl Of Morning Glories

  1. Joan

    We All Are Bound for Glory

    It’s a shot of a shoot from a sprawl in a schist.
    Never saw Morning Glory environs like this.
    In Missouri they tend to like fences to climb
    But they seem to survive in the Southwest just fine.
    We also build trellises for this fine bloom.
    Down there with less water but far far more room
    It has changed from a plant that’s a vertical binder
    To something that’s really more like a sidewinder.
    Still, backyard or desert, wherever your trip
    When you find them you’ll see that bugs had the first nip.

  2. bev

    Super botany photos, Larry. Although you had described the growth habit, I never pictured it to be quite like this. Very neat!

    Enjoyed your poem, Joan – especially the reference to the sidewinder.

  3. Joan

    Thanks Bev. It was fun to have a cheery subject to write about. These are just fascinating pictures, Larry.. I wonder if the Petunia is some kind of Morning Glory off shoot. They look somewhat similar except for the shape of the leaves. After beating off the slugs and bugs my Petunias managed to make it through the drought due, I guess, to their fleshy stems and leaves. Then, I forgot one single day to water my potted outside Marigolds and they ended up crispy critters. I’m figuring it out ex post facto that they did not have the water retention powers of those Petunia greens.

  4. Thanks for the comments and poem, Joan and Bev!

    Petunias aren’t closely related to morning glories, as they are in the Solanaceae family along with tomatoes, peppers, and tobacco, whereas morning glories are in the Convolvulaceae, a related family. Convergent evolution could be invoked as an explanation for the similar shapes of the flowers, a shape which attracts insect and bird pollinators from afar.

  5. Joan

    Wow! According to this link, Morning Glories are not exactly welcome in Arizona. Glad you found them before someone with a lethal itinerary got to them first.

  6. The common name “morning glory” is used for a wide variety of species, both native and alien. Several alien species are common around here, but the native species I’ve described is well “off the radar”, growing as it does in economically useless desert landscapes. I’ll get worried if I happen to have the urge to grow cotton on federally-subsidized irrigated land. Not too likely…

  7. As morning glories are a favorite flower of mine (I plant them on a trellis every year, and they take off like gangbusters – easy to grow!), this was a fun one to read. Cool photos. Joan, I loved the poem. I once ordered a variety of morning glory from California, and when it came was surprised it was called a perenial. I guess in CA it is!

  8. Joan

    Leslie, I am inspired! I fully intend to plant Morning Glories next spring. I tried to grow them to seedling stage in those little peat pots but either my plant lamp was not strong enough or I put them out too early. They all expired. Next year maybe I’ll just throw some seeds down when it gets warm and see what happens. Best thing is they grow too high for our voracious rabbits to reach. . All my petunias which used to be in the garden are in large pots on bricks snuggled in between my evergreens so you can’t see that they are not growing from the ground. They have to be high up enough that the rabbits don’t eat them for lunch. I need a sky hook to plant anything anymore. Despite my garlic infused rabbit repellent the Rabbits gnawed my Marigolds to the ground and they don’t even like Marigolds. Maybe the garlic smell backfired. Must be Italian rabbits. (grin) This has not been a good summer.

  9. If you want to grow popular cultivars of the morning glory, such as Heavenly Blue, you have to realize that these plants are tropical, and don’t germinate well in cool periods. What has worked for me in the past is an overnight pre-soaking of the seeds inside, perhaps in late May. Plant them the following morning and they should do well.

  10. Joan

    Wow! Timing is everything! Thanks Larry. I was starting those puppies out way too early inside and the first cold snap wiped them out. I had no idea they were tropical. I will try your method next spring when Dollar Tree has mega seed packages on sale. Sometimes you can get 3 packs for a dollar. Yay!

  11. ljfitz62

    I just saw these recent comments. Larry and Joan, I always soak the seeds overnight before I plant them (sometimes 2 days and they’re fine, they start to sprout by then.) I just buy that little packet of Heavenly Blue every year and plant all the seeds. Still pretty easy! Love these flowers!

  12. Darrell

    Thanks for the stories on a beloved flower.

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