What is a Real Japanese Morning Glory and related aspects

ron_convolvulaceaeSeptember 14, 2008

I am posting the information in this thread due to the widespread misconceptions related to the topic of Japanese Morning Glories and to a lesser extent Morning Glories in general...

This post is not intended as something to read quickly early in the morning over a quick cup of coffee before you rush out of the door...it is constructed for due consideration by those who have expressed an interest to learn more about the topic as certain important details are often elusive and / or misunderstood...

Japanese Morning Glories and how to tell if a purported Japanese Morning Glory is the real McCoy or not...

The 1st question that must be presented and addressed is the title of this thread and that is

"What is a Real Japanese Morning Glory"

The Japanese have been selectively breeding many different species(!) in the Morning Glory Family of Convolvulaceae for many centuries...

The most common species associated with the term 'Japanese Morning Glory' is Ipomoea nil which originated in the tropics of the New World, most likely South America and this species seems to have reached Japan from China...it is not known exactly how Ipomoea nil first reached China...although it has been speculated that I.nil may have traveled the same routes as Ipomoea batatas did in reaching the South Pacific Islands during Pre-Columbian time periods...


Ipomoea nil the legitimate binomial for a distinct species.although the misleading illegitimate epithet of imperialis can still be seen in usage...there is no legitimate species of Ipomoea 'imperialis'...the imperialis term is a non-scientific term used to refer to a japanese morning glory most usually the large flowered Ipomoea nil,but has also been used as a very fuzzy term to describe 'japanese' morning glories of uncertain parentage...

So,what then is a Japanese Morning Glory ?

A Japanese Morning Glory could potentially be any of the various species and cultivars associated with Japan,but there really is no ultra-specific entity that is A Real Japanese Morning Glory.

I think it is more accurate to refer to the various species of Morning Glories (e.g., I.nil, Ipomoea purpurea) that originated in Japan as selections and perhaps culti-varieties as a Japanese Style of Morning Glory.

The topic of trying to keep a particular cultivar or line of Morning Glories to remain true to the important characteristics of the parent stock is closely linked to the 'idea' of a real japanese morning glory and ideally it is certainly better to implement hand pollination with strict controls so that any seeds produced are most definitely from the selected parents...

Strict hand pollination with various degrees of associated strict controls to prevent unwanted fertilizations is definitely often used in maintaining pre-existing lineage control and in the intentional creation of Morning Glories with new / novel characteristics...but,the largest distributors in Japan (i.e., Takii and Sakata) produce their crops in large open pollinated environments...and many (if not most) smaller growers in Japan also distribute seeds from open pollinated plants and reserve hand pollination with strict controls only for special plants...

The seed packages that are directly from Japan are open pollinated...and if the rate of naturally occurring mutations is added in (usually about % to 25%) which can vary with the particular line,then all factors considered,there is a very good chance of getting a plant with characteristics that differ considerably from the description or the package pictorials...even if the seeds are from the packages directly from Japan.

Japanese package pictorials are commonly exaggerated...just like they are anywhere else in the marketing world...

My experience with some of the Japanese style of Morning Glories is that the relatively few growers in the USA who are relatively serious about trying to provide a high quality product are at least as likely to provide a real Japanese style of Morning Glory as you are likely to get from a sealed package of seeds directly from Japan...and sometimes the quality control of the seeds from the USA growers is better than what could be expected from a commercial packet directly from Japan.

I have spoken directly to the 'staff botanists' of the large US distributors and they did not know very much at all about Morning Glories...e.g., did not know how to differentiate between completely different species or to make a serious determination as to what the company was actually offering...you cannot realistically expect that retailers who purchase in large quantities from wholesalers will know much more than their suppliers...

I have been able to get some product batches of large distributors that were mis-identified corrected,but with difficulty...and I rarely waste my time with pursuing this anymore...frankly,it's like talking to a brickwall...

Merchants who are active participants on the Forums where the details of various Morning Glories are openly discussed are realistically much more likely to know about Morning Glories than those Merchants who intentionally or unintentionally distance themselves from the Forums...seeds from these merchants are much more likely to match photos displayed than photos from merchants who are not MG enthusiasts.

Merchants who are not active participants in the Morning Glory discussions are not likely to realistically know much about Morning Glories as a non-monetary interest or to realistically know what it is that they are offering...consider the motivation as a serious part of the source and of any information...people generally simply repeat what they are told and pass the buck if there is a problem...and enthusiasts who purchase just for the fun of it,but also do not really know about Morning Glories compound the potential difficulties encountered...

The merchants that to the best of my ability to determine, who are knowledgeable about Morning Glories do not have 'ad extensions' that attack other merchants directly or indirectly...the ones who cast the first stones seem to consistently forget about the wise saying about people who live in glass houses...'stone throwing' is okay as long as the person is on the pitching side,but if they are getting some criticism back...then all of a sudden they don't care for the stone throwing and it's a terrible crime and so on and so forth...

Merchants who are not particularly knowledgeable about their product often get 'huffy' if they are called on what it is that they offer and / or purport to know...deriding enthusiasts who have a sincere interest to enjoy a more accurate or indepth knowledge of what it is that they enjoy growing...

The majority of Morning Glories are relatively open pollinated stable,but there is definitely an appreciable chance of cross fertilization...

The Japanese Style of Morning Glories are in some cases the result of certain unintentional crossings and mutations,but some of the best are the result of intentional crossings by knowledgeable enthusiasts...and the same situation applies to Morning Glories being grown out anywhere else,including the USA...

I strongly recommend to those persons interested enough in Morning Glories to:

Learn how to properly identify the 4 most common species before you try to become a cultivar 'afficionado'...

Learning how to tell the 4 most common species by using the very obvious and easy sepal Key and seedpod characteristics would contribute greatly to eliminating much of the confusion surrounding Morning Glories....a relatively tiny amount of accurate education would go a very long way on this matter...

The 4 most commonly grown Morning Glory species are:

Ipomoea nil,Ipomoea purpurea,Ipomoea tricolor and less commonly Ipomoea hederacea and each of these has significant differences in the sepals and seedpods...

Ipomoea nil has elongated sepals that do not curve at the tips and the seedpods remain erect pointed upwards



Ipomoea nil seedpods remain erect...


Ipomoea hederacea has sepals that are similar to Ipomoea nil but the sepal tips and/or upper sepal section will at some point curve backwards



Ipomoea hederacea seedpods remain erect


Ipomoea purpurea sepals usually relatively short and wide at base...


Ipomoea purpurea seedpods always reflex to point towards the ground very shortly after fertilization



Ipomoea tricolor sepals are short and remain flush up against the capsule...the plant has no hair anywhere on the plant...the seedpods remain erect on healthy tissue...



I hope that the information contained in this thread will help to educate that population of people who are particularly interested to enjoy growing various Morning Glories and to enjoy learning about them in the process...

Thank you for your interest...


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Thanks Ron, what a lot of work went into this post! I'm printing it and saving it in my clippings as well. I'm one of the people you refer to, having the interest but not yet a cultivar aficionado. I'm hoping to learn all about the most commonly grown types and will make a file based on your info.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2008 at 1:17PM
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littleonefb(zone 5, MA)

Thanks Ron, from me too. You are a wealth of information and it is always wonderful to have you post on the vine forum and provide information for us, answer questions and offer suggestions.

Thank you also for providing the information that commercial packets directly from Japan are no better than from the US. It really did surprise me to hear that but, being that it is a commercial supplier just like the US, we shouldn't be surprised.


    Bookmark   September 23, 2008 at 1:40AM
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rosepedal(Four seasons zone4/5)

Thank you Ron for your knowledge and expertise..... I am also clipping this thread. Barb

    Bookmark   September 25, 2008 at 12:37PM
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Finally someone who knows morning glorys!! i took some seeds from my neighbors morning glorys that come up every year. i also buy plants from my local nursery that are annual here in my MN climate. today i finally planted 4 morning glory plants that i bought but could not plant because of the weather. i had them outdoors when the temps were 50 degrees or higher during the day and then brought them in. i planted 2 heavenly blue plants and 2 mixed colored plants and by 6pm tonight the heavenly blue plants were practically dead with the leaves 100% limp. the mixed colored plants are doing just fine so i am wondering why this is? also, the leaves on the HB and the mixed ones are different. in addition, the morning glorys that keep coming up (from my neighbor) have different leaves also!! i too am clipping this post. thanks for any info you can provide me with!!

    Bookmark   May 15, 2010 at 12:41AM
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river_crossroads z8b Central Louisiana

Thanks, Ron! Could someone tell me how to save this to Clippings? I don't see how to do it. Much appreciated!

    Bookmark   May 16, 2010 at 3:41PM
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I responded to izzy58 by private message since I thought her questions were more related to transplanting and hardening off rather than the title of the thread or how it relates to species identification...

I'd like to keep the threads on topic whenever possible...

river_crossroads - if you scroll to the exact post that you want to clip and look over on the right where it says "Clippings" directly under Clippings it says "Clip this post" and if you click onto that it will allow you to clip the post...



    Bookmark   May 17, 2010 at 3:54AM
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This information is well worth bumping up

    Bookmark   December 26, 2012 at 1:35AM
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I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post. It is quite valuable information, especially the insights on product sold from Japan. Thanks, Ron (and Emma for bumping it up from the depths).

    Bookmark   December 27, 2012 at 12:40PM
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This is a very good post. Well worth keeping abreast.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2012 at 4:11PM
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