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Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Asagao (Morning glory)

A morning glory Clings to the well-bucket: I will ask next-door for water.

By Chiyo-ni (1703-75)

One of the loveliest summer flowers is the asagao (literally, "morning face"). There are about 500 species of Ipomoea in the Convolvulaceae family of plants, including the Satsuma-imo, or sweet potato (I. batatas). Typically, Ipomoea are climbing or trailing plants with blue, pink, purple or white flowers. Ancient herbal records show that the local species of morning glory (Ipomoea nil) arrived in Japan from China during the Nara Period (710-784). Traditionally, the seeds were used as a laxative, but over the centuries the plants have acquired more impressive blooms and more poetic uses. Opening early in the morning, and dying by midday, the flowers are perfect symbols of the transient beauty of life. The seeds are easy to germinate, and many Japanese schoolchildren raise a plant and record its growth as a summer project. The seeds are now considered poisonous to eat, but if you want to gather them for the garden, take them when the seedpods turn thin and dry. Morning glories can flower well into autumn: Indeed, in the world of haiku, the blooms do not evoke summer, but the ultra-poetic season of autumn.

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