By Jane Weber
Several weedy Morning Glory Ipomoea vines proliferated in my untended garden over the summer. Each pretty flower blooms for only a day, but is followed by others in succession. The genus has about 300 species, mostly twining vines and shrubs from tropical and warm temperate climates.
A staple food, sweet potato Ipomoea batatas originated in Central America and was likely a “canoe plant” taken across the Caribbean and Pacific by voyagers. This perennial climbing vine has either white or orange-fleshed nutritious tubers. Funnel-shaped flowers of five fused segments have lavender to purple tubes, which are darker on the inside. Leaves are light green, with three lobes. Edges can be toothed in some cultivated varieties.
One delicate-looking vine twining over my crape myrtle trees has fernlike leaves with nine to 19 alternate linear leaflets that resemble those of cypress trees — hence its common name, Cypress Vine. Its unique scientific binomial is Ipomoea quamoclit. Originally from tropical South and Central America, it thrives in cold zones 8-12.
Cypress Vine flowers are deep crimson red with five distinct, star-shaped petal tips that fuse into a half-inch long tube. The tube is pale pink to white.
From the flower tube, five fine filaments tipped with white pollen anthers protrude around a longer style topped with a white stigma. Nectar feeders carry pollen from flower to flower to fertilize the female stigma. Seeds develop in the ovary below the style. As cypress vine is frost-tender, it is an annual in north central Florida. Seeds overwinter to germinate readily next spring.
Scarlet Morning Glory, Ipomoea coccinea, a tropical flowering vine, is naturalized throughout Florida and much of the lower 48 states. It has scarlet-orange tubular flowers from late summer through fall. In Florida, it intertwines with Cypress Vine along roadsides, fencelines and in untended naturalistic gardens like mine. Frost kills both plants in central Florida. Seeds overwinter and readily sprout from spring to fall.
Scarlet Morning Glory leaves are light green on top, paler underneath, with smooth edges. The variable leaf has three distinct pointed lobes like a maple leaf, sometimes with two more points at the sides of the bottom rounded lobes.
Flowers are open at dawn but often close up by afternoon. The five-tipped corolla, about a half-inch diameter, tapers into an inch-long tube. Nectar at the bottom attracts Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and butterflies.
A forth pan-tropical vine, zones 10-12, popular in Florida gardens is Beach Morning Glory — also called Railroad Vine, I. pes-caprae. It usually grows prostrate along the ground, reaching 30 feet from the original central root.
It often sends down roots at the leaf nodes. Alternate along the stems, leaves are large and leathery, light green, with two distinctive rounded lobes and smooth margins. Flowers grow on stems from the leaf axils. Each spectacular flower is bright pinkish-purple and can be more than three inches in diameter. The center tube is usually white, blushed pollen-yellow toward the bottom.
This Florida native species likes well-drained soil of beaches, sand dunes and sandhill gardens. Frost-tender, it will die after a hard freeze in north central Florida. Some roots may survive in protected microclimates to re-sprout in spring.
Cuttings can be rooted and grown indoors over winter for planting once danger of the last frost passes in March. A few self-sown seeds may overwinter and sprout in spring. Store dry seeds in a paper envelope for winter. Gently file them and soak overnight to aid hydration and germination in spring.
Ipomoea vines are a welcome addition to naturalistic gardens and feed some of the creatures that share Florida with us.
Jane Weber is a professional gardener and consultant. Semi-retired, she grows thousands of native plants. Visitors are welcome to her Dunnellon, Marion County, garden. For an appointment, call 352-249-6899 or contact JWeber12385@gmail.com.