#23 Convolvulus

Convolvulus/ Morning Glory

Morning Glories (EKS)

“Convolvulus” is the term Woolf consistently uses to refer to what is commonly called morning glory. However there are actually two different genera bearing this name.  Wild morning glory aka bindweed or creeping jenny, Convolvulus arvensis, is an invasive pest; usually white in color.  it is a perennial, and grows from rhizomes which one site claims grow all the way to China.[1] The other more controllable version common in flower gardens belongs to the genus C ipomoea. While they can grow prolifically, they tend to be annuals, so return only by seeding; notable climbers, they come in a much wider range of colors (Ward 268).  As Ward points out, in literary usage the names are often interchanged, and in Shakespeare’s case sometimes confused with woodbine or honeysuckle (269-70).

Convolvulus arvensis (Wikipedia Commons)

In Woolf’s case, some of her early references seem actually to be about bindweed, a fairly rare instance of botanical accuracy. Certainly her first three allusions to the flower variety, in letters of the mid-1920’s, are to the wild white-flowering weed.  In August of 1923, she wrote to Gerard Brenan about taking one of her solitary walks on the downs “when suddenly I find I am breaking through myriads of white convolvulus, twined about the grass, and then I think there are more flowers here than in Spain. . . . I will write to Gerald when I get home” (L3 65).  Perhaps the flowers’ profligacy was also in her mind two years later, in September of 1925, when she shared a joke with her sister Vanessa about Duncan Grant: “give my love to old convolvulus bed [Duncan]-- what a perfect description of his voluptuous creamy grace that was to be sure” (l3 216).  The joke is referenced again in January of 1927, when Woolf sent love to “the old Convolvulus” who was convalescing in France (L3 318).  All of these appearances suggest the tangled mounds of bindweed and suggestively connect them to particular men.

It is not nearly as clear what kind of flower Woolf is conjuring in the 1929 short story, “The Lady in the Looking Glass,” where convolvulus appears no less than five times, by far the most dense clustering in any of her writing.  Here the flower is paired repeatedly with traveller’s joy (see CLEMATIS) and is described as “light and fantastic and leafy and trailing,”; its “elegant sprays” are “tremulous” and “twine round ugly walls and burst here and there into white and violet blossoms” (CSF 222). While some varieties of bindweed do bear slightly purplish flowers, the true deep violets are generally Ipomoea, and bindweed tends to mass rather than trailing leafily up a wall.  The purple color also is not characteristic of traveller’s joy clematis, which is always white.

The only other mention of convolvulus in Woolf’s fiction is in Flush, and here she seems to refer to the cultivated variety. Immured in her upstairs bedroom Elizabeth Barrett sits in the curtained semi-darkness of an invalid, “the light in summer further dimmed by ivy, the scarlet runners, convolvuses and nasturtiums which grew in the window box” (19).  I doubt the invasive, mounding bindweed is planted in this window box, whose vivid combination of green, red, orange, and perhaps purple suggests the excitement of the world outside her shaded prison.  

In 1940, there is a last mention of the flower in a diary entry about Quentin Bell who has been out working in the fields; he is “all corn coloured & red poppied with his blue eyes for convolvulus” (D5 307), a description of a tan, red-cheeked, blue-eyed farmer that recalls both masculine associations and the multi-colored window box.  Interestingly, “Convolvulus” is also the name of a variety of hawk-moth, mentioned in Jacob’s Room as “spinning over the flowers. Orange and purple, nasturtium and cherry pie” (56), another garden of bright, contrasting color.

Whatever the taxonomy, Woolf’s impression of convolvulus remains the same: a twisted, curly, tangled mass of flowers, appropriate to its meaning in the Victorian language of flowers: “Bonds” (Greenaway 13).

[1] https://www.gardensalive.com/product/morning-glories-are-fine-bindweed-is-not

No comments:

Post a Comment

About 98 Flowers

Welcome to the Virginia Woolf Herbarium.  For many years I have been researching and writing about Virginia Woolf and parks, gardens, and fl...