Originally published 2/26/2011
The Moonflower Vine is my absolute favorite plant. It is a gorgeous vine comprised of heart-shaped leaves that, at maturity, serve as a lovely background to a nightly display of huge (6-inch), beautiful, white blooms. In addition, the scent of the Moonflower Vine permeates the night air with the most heavenly of fragrances!
The Moonflower Vine is a relative of the Morning Glory Vine. If you look closely and compare the two vines, you’ll find their flowers are very similar in shape, although the Moonflower generally has larger blooms and is strictly white in color. The most notable difference between the two relatives is the Moonflower Vine blooms at night, while the Morning Glory, as its name states, blooms in the mornings! Incidentally, you will find most night blooming plants produce flowers that are white in color – a trait that lures nocturnal pollinating insects. The pictures at the top of this post are that of a Sphinx Moth I captured on camera one evening at dusk as it pollinated my vine. Sphinx Moths can grow as large as hummingbirds and are quite interesting to observe. They have an iridescent glow to them when light, such as a car headlight, shines upon them at night. They also are not shy about flittering all around you! When visiting in the summertime, my younger nieces and nephews would patiently wait by the Moonflower Vine at dusk for the arrival of “The Moffs”, as they called them! To read a little more about Sphinx Moths, see http://www.birds-n-garden.com/hummingbird_moths.html.
I have successfully grown the Moonflower Vine from seed every year for the past 20 years. It consistently grows and blooms wonderfully here in North Texas, and mostly likely will do so in any area that enjoys a warm climate of at least 4 months in duration. The Moonflower Vine is considered a tropical annual in areas north of US Planting Zone 10 and does best in a mostly sunny location. While it will tolerate full sun, I have found my plantings do best if they receive about a 3-4 hour reprieve from the summer sun at some point during the day. I plant my vine in a full sun setting, but on the eastern-facing side of my fence so that as the sun sets in the west, the vine receives a shade break in the late afternoon. As the vine grows over the fence (and it certainly will) the other portion of the vine will receive its fair share of rest from the sun’s heat as well.
While the Moonflower Vine is fairly drought tolerant once it is established, in the heat of the Texas summer it will need an added drink of water every now and then to perk up its leaves! For best results, the Moonflower Vine should be sown directly in the ground in an area where you can attach a trellis or stake a large (5-6 foot) garden obelisk, both which will help the vine get a good climbing start. Once it sprouts and begins to twine, the vine will naturally wrap and drape in a very attractive manner – you need to do nothing more! Probably the most difficult aspect of growing Moonflower Vine is germinating the seeds – and it truly isn’t difficult once you understand the plant’s needs.
First of all, the seeds will not germinate outdoors until the soil is consistently warm. Thus, after you’ve decided upon a location to plant your vine and have constructed your trellis or other support, do not sow the seeds until temperatures are consistently in the 70’s – usually around late April/early May in North Texas.
Secondly, the coat of the Moonflower Vine seed is very hard and will need a little kick-start to get it going. In order to assist the seeds in germinating, you should graze them with a fingernail file until you have slightly penetrated the seed coat (takes about 5 seconds). This is called scarification and when it occurs naturally (through wind, rain, floods, and sometimes, fire); it is part of a biological protection in plants. You see, until the conditions are favorable for a plant to survive, some seeds will not germinate – oftentimes for years!
After manually scarifying them, place the nicked seeds in a cup of water for a day or two. Once the seeds have “plumped” up, they will be ready for planting! Plant the seeds at about one inch in depth, again, directly in the ground, as while some folks have had fair success with sowing Moonflower in large pots, the vine usually grows quite weak and has fewer blooms when confined to a planter. Don’t be alarmed if you plop a few seeds close together in the soil, you can always thin the seedlings later. Also, don’t be discouraged if it takes a couple of weeks before you see any green popping through the dirt. As I mentioned earlier, Moonflower seedlings will not emerge until the temperature is just right, but when they do, they will really take off.
Another way the Moonflower Vine tests our patience is it will not produce its first flower for a couple of months, usually around early July in North Texas – but believe me – the wait is well worth it! By August, the vine is usually bursting with bright white at night. This weekend, I plan to complete my harvest of seed from last year’s vines. (See pic below.)
If any of my subscribers have an interest, I’ll be happy to send you a few seeds – and if I run out, I’ll gladly “spring” (there goes another pun!) for a package or two from the nursery to be sure everyone is covered.
Of course, if my blog subscriptions go viral because of this freebie then I may have to go to Plan C – but that may not necessarily be a bad thing! In the meantime, just shoot me your mailing address in the comment section below and I’ll happily share one of my favorite things with you!
Until next time,
P.S. I checked with the USPS and I can only send seeds to folks within the 48 contiguous United States. Also, please don’t worry; I will not publish your mailing address.