ipomoea lobata, fan dancer of an annual vine

Spanish flag, Ipomoea lobataI’M NOT ALONE in my love of this one. Hummingbirds, butterflies, and even the Royal Horticultural Society agree: The annual vine called Ipomoea lobata, formerly Mina lobata, and a.k.a. Spanish flag or exotic love vine, is the bee’s knees (and those pollinators agree, come to think of it). I have a new name to suggest that blends flags with the exotic erotic, though: What about calling this July-through-frost morning glory relative the fan-dance vine instead?

That’s what the flowers, which are technically borne in clusters called racemes, look like to me: a string of little fans, or pennants, dancing in the breeze. The tubular blooms start out red, but fade gradually so that each raceme includes some red, yellow and white individuals.

A few seedlings of Ipomoea lobata, spaced a foot or 18 inches apart, will lustily cover a garden arch with mostly three-lobed leaves, growing to 10 or even 15 feet in a season. They’ll manage well in full sun to part shade (but will definitely have the most visitors in the former setting).  I don’t fertilize energetic annual vines like this, because I want flowers, not just foliage.

how to sow spanish flag seeds

AS WITH OTHER morning glory relatives, best to soak the seed before sowing, at least a few hours, or even overnight.  The seed will nevertheless be very slow to germinate, up to three weeks or slightly longer, and requires consistent warmth (70 degrees recommended). This is one for propagating on the heated germination mat, though like any seeds, once germinated the pots or trays should be removed from the heat source, though still kept in a warm place.

Give each emerging seedling a support to grow on, and tie it gently, loosely to the bamboo (which is what I use) with twist-ties or garden twine.

Seedlings aren’t set out in the garden until all frost danger passes; I usually wait a week or so after final frost here. Spanish flag, native to Mexico, would probably behave like a short-lived perennial in Zone 8 or warmer; I have read that it self-sows, but suspect the volunteers would be too tardy in arising for my short Zone 5B season, and that the indoor headstart stretches my bloom time at least a bit.

Speaking of which: Don’t expect flowers until July-ish, even if you start indoors about 6 weeks before your final frost date.  Spanish flag takes about 12 or 14 weeks from seed to bloom. This is a high summer-through-frost star, but once it starts will go and go and go till serious cold says stop (which depending where you live might be four or even five months).

Some things, like long-lasting, unabashed fan dances, are just worth waiting for.

more about ipomoea lobata

SELECT SEEDS-ANTIQUE FLOWERS catalog, which specializes in oldtime favorites (and sells both seed and plants of Spanish flag), says that it was introduced to cultivation in 1841. At Annie’s Annuals, you can sometimes put plants on your wishlist (if it’s too early or late for them to be in stock).

Famed British plantsman Graham Rice on why the RHS gave Ipomoea lobata its AGM award—which stands for Award of Garden Merit.

another flashy, wildlife-friendly ipomoea to order

THOSE OF YOU who have been around awhile know that I (and my local hummingbirds) love the cardinal climber, Ipomoea x multifida. Order some seeds or plants for that one, too–which is a close cousin of Spanish flag. (Read its profile at this link; that’s its picture, below.)

ipomoea multifida cardinal climber

  1. Carolyn says:

    Cardinal climber grows wild in my area, but I don’t know if it’s native or naturalized. The Spanish Flag seed always sells out early so I haven’t tried it yet. I’m going to reserve some now, and maybe try and save my own seed from it for next year.

  2. Jane Scorer says:

    I love the title of your post – it makes it a ‘must read’! I have grown ‘Spanish Flag’ and it was actually hardy through a few of our milder winters here in the uk. I had expected to treat it as an Annual, but it kept right on going ! I am unaware of the ‘cardinal Climber’ but it is a lovely plant!

  3. Kathryn says:

    I’m so excited to read this! I took a picture of this plant at a public garden last year but it wasn’t labeled, and I’ve since been wondering what it was. You’ve not only identified it for me but provided some great information about it. Great post – thanks!

  4. Rhonda Lewis says:

    Hi Margaret
    My question is,several years ago I made the decision to grow morning glories on my garden structure.
    Needless to say, even though I have pulled up the seedlings at every possible opportunity,I can’t seem to rid myself of them.
    My garden structure covers a bed of periennials so I am reluctant to use a weed killer to get rid of the little monsters.
    I would like to cover my structure with hops.I love the look of them
    Do you have any suggestions on how to get rid the morning glories that keep popping up in the hundreds even 2 years later?

    1. Jill says:

      Hold back on the hops. I wanted a speedy cover for an arch that my husband built for my new garden. Hops did the job perfectly. It also choked out my perennials and spread through the grass outside of my garden. It took forever to get rid of the hops.

    2. Claudia Weisz says:

      I have been fighting the lime green hops vine for three years. The roots travel far, and they are thick and difficult to pull. Round-up seems to only make them sigh. They are vigorous growers, but need to be put in with root barriers like bamboo.

      1. margaret says:

        Your comment reminds me of how I planted it decades ago, Claudia, but it has since disappeared. Funny how one place something is a weed, and another place, a weakling!

  5. Kathy Sturr of the Violet Fern says:

    I grew Spanish Flag one year and it was just as pictured! But it bloomed so late that I didn’t try it again – the hummingbirds were already gone. I didn’t have any seed starting system at that time so I need to try again giving it a head start indoors. The blooms truly are spectacular. My rabbit herd slowed the progress of Cardinal Climber last year – an annual vine I always love to grow. Now I know to protect it. Oh, I can’t wait for Spring!

      1. margaret says:

        Hi, Mal. I am in Zone 5B, Hudson Valley (NY)/Berkshires (MA). If you mean Lorie, who mentioned self-sowing cypress vine, I think from previous comments she is in Nebraska, and many gardeners elsewhere say the same.

  6. Lorie says:

    Cypress vine is wonderful the first year, but if it self seeds you had better really really love it. You will be pulling volunteers and probably swearing a lot!!!

  7. Lorie says:

    Yes, Lorie is in frozen NE, where spring will never arrive!! My negative experience with cypress vine was not of my doing. Cypress vine was planted with hyacinth bean on teepee type poles in very fertile ground. It was a stunning combo. The problem arose when the people who pulled the plants at the end of the season did not use common sense and let the cypress seeds fly everywhere. Spring revealed that a little common sense goes a long way when putting the garden to sleep.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Lorie. Thanks for the update. Many traditional morning glories, too (not to mention other things) will self-sow — some (like the heirloom ‘Grandpa Ott’ morning glory — are notorious reseeders (even here in the cold zones).

  8. Jayne says:

    I love the mina lobata (it took me two years to remember the name, dont ask me to change it!) and it has been prolific in my garden some years, and others so late to bloom that it was hardly worth the effort. But once you fall in love with it, you have to keep trying for those glory seasons!

  9. Craig says:

    2 months in a container with 4 hours/day of direct CA sun, this has reached 10’+. Awesome plant, and the hummingbirds like it, too. Zone 9b. Oh, and nearby, my cardinal climbers are getting less than 3 hours of direct sun, but doing great! Those red flowers are precious, and the leaves are fascinating.

  10. Vivian K says:

    OK, definitely going to grow the Spanish Flag next year – how great – a hummingbird food source through frost!!! I kept looking at Campsis radicans for the hummer, but was not excited about how vigorous it is. This one I can handle.

  11. Kathy Sturr of the Violet Fern says:

    I grow both these vines. Spanish Flag (or what I like to call Exotic Love) vine bloomed very late for me – almost too late for the hummers, but it was so beautiful I ordered more seeds from Renee’s Garden and I’ll be growing it again. I think if I start it indoors I’ll have earlier blooms. Can’t resist. Always love Cardinal Climber. I actually ordered two plants this year that I can’t wait to try in the garden: Passion Flower and Corkscrew Vine! If Spring would just put its foot down and happen already, I could be a little more excited.

  12. Margo says:

    My cardinal climber was not a huge success last yr: too late, not enough blooms.
    I would love to try this Spanish Flag . Will it really bloom from July – frost ?
    Located near the Ocean in so. RI zone 6b ?
    Concerned about the post of tremendous reseeding …

    1. margaret says:

      The key is getting an old enough plant — not starting too late. And yes, mine always blooms from sometime in July (not early July) through frost. I have never had self-sowns; the plants don’t seem to set much seed if any here.

  13. Mary Arthur says:

    I had a plant the Hummingbirds loved that bloomed late in summer. I remember buying seed for a Cardinal Vine but when I looked it up that’s not what I had. A man at a Garden Store told me it was Spanish Flag That is more like it. I thought I accidentally pulled it out but now it may be coming up. I hope this is it. But if not I now know what to buy next year.

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