Scarlet Morning Glory — September 2010

Scarlet morning glory on saltbush

Scarlet morning glory leaves

Scarlet morning glory flower

Vines of the scarlet morning glory can be found climbing on a variety of plants in the Preserve in the fall, showing off their brilliant red blossoms like strands of randomly draped Christmas lights. The first photo shows a vine with several flowers growing on a four-wing saltbush plant. Scarlet morning glory is also known as the Trans-Pecos morning glory, starglory, red morning glory, and scarlet creeper. Its scientific name, Ipomoea cristulata, refers to characteristics of the plant other than its bright red flowers. Ipomoea comes from two Greek words, ips, meaning worm, and homos, meaning equal, alike, or agreeing. So the genus name, shared by most morning glory species, indicates the plant’s twining, or crawling growth habit. The species epithet, cristulata, comes from the Latin word crista, meaning crest, so the diminutive form, cristulata indicates having a small crest, a feature that is evident on both the sepals and the fruits of this species.

Ipomoea cristulata is an annual that grows in the wetter microhabitats of dry upland regions. Its seeds typically germinate in sandy washes after the summer monsoon rains. I have noticed that in drier summers, scarlet morning glory simply does not appear. The twining stems sometimes take on a reddish tint as they grow up a suitable host plant. Dark green leaves arise on 1-4” long petioles emerging from the stem in an alternate pattern. The leaves have smooth edges and will have one of two shapes: either broad and heart-shaped, or deeply cut into 3 or 5 distinctive lobes as shown in the second photo.

The bright red flowers of scarlet morning glory appear between July and October borne on stalks arising in the leaf axils. Each flower has five sepals at the base that bear finger-like projections. The five petals are fused to form an inch-long thin tube that flares out at the end like a trumpet. Five pollen-bearing stamens protrude from the end of the floral tube. In the center of the flower, a single pistil, after pollination, will develop into a small rounded fruit with a pointed cap containing 1-4 dark seeds.

Scarlet morning glory is a member of the morning glory family, Convolvulaceae, a group of plants characterized by tubular, funnel-shaped flowers that are typically twisted in the bud and “untwist” as the flower opens. Seven genera of this family occur in New Mexico, with 12 species of the genus Ipomoea native in our state. Unlike the sweet potato plant (also a member of the genus Ipomoea, but not native to New Mexico), Ipomoea cristulata has no practical uses that I could find. Scarlet morning glory does differ from most other morning glories in that its flowers stay open all day; a definite plus because their bright red color attracts hummingbirds as well as human admiration and wonder.

© 2010 Jerry Melaragno

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