By Maria Price
One of the loveliest flowers I’ve grown is the moonflower, Ipomoea alba. It takes a long time to mature and bear flowers, but it is worth the wait.
It makes a vine with large heart-shaped leaves and is a member of the morning glory family. It blooms in the late afternoon or on a cloudy day and is open all night with gorgeous wide funnel-shaped flowers with a star imprinted on the petals. The big bonus is its sweet fragrance that is detectable several feet away. Moonflowers are pollinated by hummingbird moths or sphinx moths and bats like them, too.
Moonflower is a perennial in warmer climates, like its native range of Florida and Texas, but must be treated like an annual in Maryland. This vigorous vine can grow up to 20 feet tall in rich soil and the flowers can grow up to 6 inches across. It likes full sun but will tolerate some shade.
To grow from seed, soak them for 24 hours or nick the hard exterior. Plant them indoors in early spring in peat pots. They do not transplant easily, so place the entire pot into the ground after all danger of frost is passed. Plant them where they can climb, such as a lamppost or a cone-shaped trellis. Make sure to fertilize with a liquid fertilizer several times during the season.
Moonflowers are a must if you want to create a moon garden. A moon garden is usually planted with all-white flowers and maybe some pale yellow or blue flowers. It’s enchanting at night and gives a feeling of coolness on hot summer days. In the moonlight, the shapes of the flowers stand out as if they were ghostly lights.
Head outside on full moon nights to enjoy the luminous glow of its beautiful blooms. You might see a white-lined sphinx moth or hummingbird clearwing moth pollinating the flowers. Plant these beauties near a window or patio where you can sit and enjoy the fragrance and illumination of the moon.
A closely related morning glory variety is ‘Heavenly Blue’ which sports beautiful sky-blue flowers from summer to autumn and is also a vigorous vine, best grown on an arch or trellis. It has similar growing requirements to the moonflower but blooms in the morning and stays open all day.