Blossoms in the Night: The Enchanting Symbolism Behind Moonflowers

With its creamy white blossoms that bloom only at night, it’s easy to see why the moonflower (Ipomoea alba) is soo rich in meaning and symbolism. It has long been associated with romance, mystery, and dreams. These captivating flowers — a species of morning glory vine — make a unique addition to the garden, opening at dusk and closing again at sunrise. They’re a great way to send a message of enchantment and play a role in traditional medicines and spirituality.

Moonflower Meaning, Symbolism, Myths, Folklore, and Cultural Significance

The Meaning and Symbolism of Moonflowers

Moonflowers, or Ipomoea alba, hold meaning and symbolism across cultures and history. Let’s take a look at the significance of these lovely blossoms.

Moonflowers Meaning in The Victorian Langauge of Flowers

In the Victorian era, explicit expressions of emotion were frowned upon, especially among the upper class. Instead, many adopted a practice that stemmed from the 17th-century Ottoman empire: using flowers to send coded messages.

The practice of floriography — or the language of flowers — assigns meaning to different types and colors of blossoms. To the Victorians, a gift of moonflowers was a way to send a message of affection and dreamy enchantment, perhaps because the plants’ vining nature imparts a symbol of devotion. It may also be associated with the 11th wedding anniversary.

The flowers’ habit of blooming only at night adds an air of mystery. This lends significance to gifts of moonflowers and meaning that can be tied to the subconscious or the hidden self.

The blooms may also symbolize transformation. The flowers only open when the time (of day) is right, sending a message of personal transformation, introspection, emergence, and growth.

In addition, the moonflower has ties to feminity and a sense of the divine. This can lead to connections between the flowers and the cycles of night and day, the seasons, and the cyclical renewal of nature.

Moonflower Colors and Their Meaning & Symbolism

Moonflower Colors and Their Meaning & Symbolism

Moonflowers’ white color also sends messages associated with purity and youth. This is a common theme shared by many white blooms in Western culture, as white-hued flowers are often associated with innocence, renewal, and rebirth.

In some cultures, white flowers may be associated with death and funerals. However, the moonflower and other members of the morning glory family aren’t usually associated with mourning.

Moonflower Meaning in Japanese Flower Language

Moonflowers hold meaning in the Japanese language of flowers, or hanakotoba. This form of floriography grew popular a few decades after the Victorian language of flowers became all the rage in Europe.

In hanakatoba, a gift of morning glory means “willful promises.” The flowers and their leafy vines are often used as decorative motifs on clothing, fans, and other personal items.

Moonflower Meaning in Religion and Spirituality

In the moonflower’s native regions — the tropical and subtropical areas of the Americas — the plant held spiritual significance and meaning. Perhaps because they bloom beautifully in the dark, the flowers were often associated with the moon’s cycles in Mesoamerican cultures.

Indigenous peoples in South and Central America employed the flowers in spiritual rituals. Modern scientific research shows that the plants contain ergot alkaloids, which can act as hallucinogens and aid in spiritual journeys.

Cultural Connections to Moonflowers

Along with spiritual uses, moonflowers played a role in some traditional folk medicines of Mesoamerica. In parts of Mexico, the flowers were used to treat stomach ailments, rheumatism, and arthritis and to regulate reproductive health.

The Aztec people used juice from morning glory to plants to treat and strengthen rubber, creating bouncing balls that were used in sports and rituals. 

Historic evidence indicates that the Aztecs perfected this “vulcanizing” technique some 3,000 years before the initial development of rubber car tires.

In Asia, morning glory flowers have been cultivated for generations. The flowers are used in traditional Chinese medicine as a laxative.

Scientific research underscores the many uses of the Ipomea plants. For example, recent studies show that I. alba is a rich source of antibacterial substances that can be used to treat tooth decay. The plants also contain ergot alkaloids, which may be used to treat Parkinson’s disease, migraines, and other ailments.

Moonflowers are also crucial to pollinators. Studies show that the flowers attract hummingbirds, bees, moths (such as the hawk moth), and other beneficial pollinating species.

Moonflowers in Art and Literature

The lovely moonflower has served as a muse for poets and artists over the years. American post Walt Whitman even wrote that “A morning-glory at my window satisfies me more than the metaphysics of books.”

Japanese artist Shibata Zeshin created lovely lacquered paintings of moonflowers in the 19th century. So did artist Suzuki Kiitsu and others.

The American photographer Dorothy Norman photographed a moonflower in Massachusetts. And, of course, Georgia O’Keefe memorialized the moonflower in the early 20th century.

About Moonflowers

About Moonflowers

Moonflowers, or Ipomoea alba, belong to the Ipomoea genus, which contains about 600 species. The largest genus in the Convolvulaceae, or morning glory, family, Ipomoea grows in tropical and subtropical parts of the world.

The plant’s genus name comes from the Greek ips for “worm” and homoios for “resembling.” This may refer to the plants’ vining tendencies or to their root structure. Alba is Latin for white.

I. alba is native to the warm regions of the Americas. The plants’ range extends from Arizona and Florida in the north and southward through Mexico, Argentina, and the West Indies.

Moonflowers grow as tender perennials in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 10 to 12 and as annuals in cooler zones. They can grow rapidly to 15 feet tall and 6 feet wide.

The plants grow in a vining fashion and need support — such as a trellis or fence — as they grow. They have large, heart-shaped foliage and bloom with large white flowers in summer and fall. Flowers open when the sun goes down and emits a sweet fragrance.

If you want to enjoy moonflowers in your garden, you’re lucky; they’re relatively easy to grow. Here are the basics.

When planting by seed, nick the seeds and soak them in water for 24 hours before planting. Start indoors or sow outdoors after the danger of frost has passed. Choose a spot with full sun and moist but well-draining soil.

The plants are deer-resistant and toxic to dogs, cats, and horses. When ingested by humans, the seeds can cause hallucinations and vomiting, so keep them away from children and pets.

Moonflower Meaning and Symbolism – Wrapping Up

The beautiful white moonflower adds a sense of enchantment and mystery to the night garden. Their showy, fragrant blossoms and dramatic foliage make them a great addition to a moon garden. In the language of flowers, the moonflower carries rich symbolic meaning and sends a message of affection, romance, mystery, and devotion.

Contributing Editor | | Full Bio

Linsay is an American copywriter based in the Pacific Northwest with a background in academic writing and research. Linsay holds Master's degree in both Anthropology and Library and Information Sciences and has written for numerous national and international publications including USA Today, SFGATE, Hunker, and The Bump across an array of topics in the gardening, green living, and travel sectors. When she's not writing, you'll usually find Linsay reading, kayaking, sailing, snowboarding, or working in her garden.

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