Sunday, October 10, 2010
Like a Moth to a Flame
Walking under the moon at night a fragrance pulls at me until I identify its source. As I get closer I realize that it is the flower of the moon vine, Ipomoea alba, opening up and releasing an intoxicating fragrance. This plant is a night blooming morning glory native to the tropics and sub tropics from northern Argentina to Mexico and Florida. It is listed as a perennial in the tropics but in southwest Florida it dies back in the cold and re-emerges in the summer and fall.
Life begins for this plant as the testa on the seed softens and the embryo pushes out to set down roots. Then a shoot grows, twining around shrubs and trees, putting out cordate or heart shaped leaves, leading up to adjacent buds. One at a time the buds mature into long tubular flowers, resembling soft ice cream that spirals towards its apex. Each four inch bud can be visible just before dusk when it begins to unfold. The corolla appears to be an elegant origami unfolding and lasts only a few hours until dawn when it resembles crumpled paper. When opened, the shape and color of the fluted corolla reflects that of a full moon, measuring five to six inches across. Even in its unfolded state, the creases remain, serving as a tactile road map that the moth uses to locate the nectar at the bottom of the long tube with its probiscis. After pollination the ovary swells and then dries releasing white seeds the size of large peas. With more rain the process will begin again.
I can just imagine the thread of scent wafting through the air that reaches out to night pollinating insects including moths. My attraction also ignites a curiosity about the chemical properties of the nectar. Like the moth I can’t resist. Mmm…if only I had a probiscis. For now I am content to relish the fragrance and behold the blossom as I walk on the edge of the woods on a tropical moonlit night.