Field Guide

Morning Glory

Morning Glories are a symbol of the Resurrection, since they close at night and open in the morning sun. There are more than a thousand species of the morning glory including the humble sweet potato. They play an important part in a number of mythologies, such as the Hawaiian myth of Kawela and Hiki, where the koali (morning glory) vine is used as a swing to transport them into the underworld.

In the cemetery, the morning glory (Ipomoea) is a symbol for the Resuurection, morning, youth, and the bonds of love. The morning glory blooms in the early morning but wilts in the afternoon, which plant physiologists say invites us to learn more about two of life's grand themes: reproduction and death. Its ephemeral nature asks us to reflect more deeply on the splendor and brevity of all life, including our own. This thought is reflected in Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself": "...a morning glory at my window satisfies me more than the metaphysics of books."

Adding to the otherworldly mystique, folks who are in charge of naming plant varieties have attached monikers like "Heavenly Blue", "Pearly Gates", and "Flying Saucers" to the creeping vines. In the 1960s, proponents of spiritualism through chemistry discovered that morning glory seeds contained lysergic acid (LSD), and there was a concurrent rise in sales of seed packets of morning glory seeds by urban dwellers. Unfortunately, commercially grown morning glory seeds also contain pesticides, and in addition to their strong hallucinatory effects, the seeds can cause liver and neurological damage.

Taken from Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography written and photographed by Douglas Keister, published by Gibbs Smith, Salt Lake City, 2004.

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