Beach Morning Glory Blooms For a Few Quick Hours

As part of our beachcombing botany series, we’re looking at Beach Morning Glory.  True to its name, this gorgeous creamy flower blooms each day with the sunrise, closing up by mid-day.

New Blooms Every Day

The other morning when we were processing a turtle nest, we noticed the buds when we first started at about 6:45 were just beginning to open.  

By 7:15 they were completely open, and when I stopped back by the beach at noon they were all closed up.

I love the way the buds are conical at first, and then unfold like origami.  As the bud unfolds, it’s easy to see a sort of  five petal structure (radial symmetry) even though the petals are not divided.  In the middle is a conical yellow center.  Supposedly hummingbirds love it, but the only pollinators I’ve observed so far are bees.

Fun with Timelapse!

Because of the ephemeral nature of the flower, I thought it might be fun to see if we could get a timelapse of the flower opening.  We used three different cameras: the timelapse feature on an iphone 12 and an iphone 13, and a gopro.  Some of that footage is in the short movie: here is the rest of the trial.    We found that still mornings work best for this, but it’s been pretty breezy.

Fast Growth Habit

This plant grows quickly in our sandy soil: I planted a small shell at the end of the plant one morning and went back to check on it two days later.  The four day total was about 8 inches, for a rate of 2″ a day.  

Beach Morning Glory Plays a Role in Dune Stabilization

When we started looking at beach succession and the way dunes grow, we focused on the early colonizers like sea rocket and panicum which create small structures for sand to develop.  Once those hills form and the panicum has cultivated some mycorrhizal relationships that make it easier for secondary plants to colonize the dunes, plants like russian thistle, beach evening primrose, silverleaf croton, and dewberries move in. And beach morning glory sends its runners out all over the beach, almost like a net holding the structure together.  Nodes along the vine put out little roots that dig deep to anchor the plant.

Lobed Leaves help distinguish it from Railroad Vine

There’s another plant that stabilizes the dunes from the morning glory family called railroad vine (ipmoea pes caprae).  That plant has more symmetrical leaves and a purple flower.  Beach morning glory has lobed leaves while railroad vine’s leaves are more evenly shaped.

Railroad Vine
beach morning glory
railroad vine
railroad vine

If you are headed out to the beach, keep an eye out for this pretty plant. Don’t let your dog eat it, though: several sources including this one at North Carolina State University mention its toxicity for dogs and cats.

And if you’re interested in learning more about those mycorrhizal relationships, check out this article from the New York Times this week.