Morning-glories and bindweeds
Glorious pink morning-glory (Ipomoea carnea) in morning light, Kerala, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Flowers of field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis) are usually white, or white with pink markings, and a rose-coloured variety is not uncommon. This one was photographed on the island of Bornholm, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Railroad creeper (Ipomoea cairica) is extremely common in Taiwan, where this picture was taken. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The morning-glory, or bindweed, family (Convolvulaceae) is a large family of c. 58 genera, comprising close to 2,000 species, most of which are herbaceous vines, but also some erect herbs, shrubs, and trees. The flowers of almost all species are funnel-shaped, with five fused petals, and many are quite showy. The leaves are simple and alternate, often heart-shaped, and without stipules (small growths on each side of the base of the leaf-stalk).
The stems of most of these plants are winding, hence the scientific name of the family, from the Latin convolvere, ‘to wind’.
In his delightful book All about Weeds, American botanist Edwin Spencer (1881-1964) writes, “The vines wind themselves around the growing cornstalks, soy beans, cotton plants, and even around weeds that should be able to cope with such weak little plants as the morning glories seem to be. But they are not weak. Like snakes, those slender vines crawl up over the plants they select for their trellises, and soon the big morning glory leaves are shading the leaves of the trellising plants, and very soon after that those glorious flowers will be smiling on all the world like a big woman obstructing the view of a small boy at the movies.”
The type genus of this family is Convolvulus, the bindweeds, comprising c. 190 species, which are distributed over most of the world, with the greatest diversity in the Middle East. Most species in this genus are twining herbs, although quite a few are woody shrubs.
The type species of the type genus is the field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis), named in 1753 by Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778), also called Carl von Linné. This species is native to Europe and Temperate Asia, but has been accidentally introduced to many other parts of the world, where it has become invasive in many places, see elsewhere on this website at Nature: Invasive species.
In America, popular names of field bindweed include Creeping Jenny and many others, alluding to its invasive nature. Edwin Spencer (see above) says: “Creeping Jenny is one of the meanest of weeds. That name aptly describes it. A whispering little hussy that creeps in and spoils everything. The weed needs no other name than this, but it has several others (…) hedge bells, corn-lily, withwind, bellbine, lap-love, sheep-bine, corn-bind, bear-bind, and green vine.”
Large growth of field bindweed at a road side, Zealand, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Flowers of field bindweed are usually white, often with pink markings here and there, as in these pictures from Bornholm, Denmark (top), and Skåne, Sweden. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The gorgeous dwarf bindweed (Convolvulus tricolor) is native to the western Mediterranean, found in Spain, Portugal, and north-western Africa, where it is common in sandy areas, on cultivated land, and along roads.
In this picture, dwarf bindweed grows on a field, together with love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena), near San Martin el Tesarillo, Andalusia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Convolvulus galaticus is found in eastern Turkey and northern Iraq. Galatia was a province of Ancient Rome, situated in what is today central Turkey.
Convolvulus galaticus, photographed near Uluköy, northeast of Dinar, Turkey. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Convolvulus hystrix is a low, tangled shrub with numerous branches, ending in sharp spines. This species is distributed from Egypt south to Somalia, and in the Arabian Peninsula, south to Yemen and Oman. The specific name stems from hustrix, the Greek name of porcupines, naturally referring to the sharp spines.
Convolvulus hystrix, photographed near Ras Muhammad, Sinai Peninsula, Egypt. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Cantabrican morning glory (Convolvulus cantabrica) is native to areas around Mediterranean, growing on calcareous soils in dry grasslands and rocky places, from sea level up to an altitude of 1,300 metres.
Cantabrican morning glory, Turgutlu, east of Manisa, south-western Turkey. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Chilean bindweed (Convolvulus chilensis) is a shrub, which is endemic to northern and central Chile, growing to an altitude of c. 1,800 metres.
Chilean bindweed, observed in Valle del Encanto, near the town of Ovalle. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Splendid bindweed (Convolvulus dorycnium) lives up to its name, producing an abundance of beautiful flowers. This shrub with stiff branches, growing to 1 m tall, is distributed in the southern part of Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, the Middle East, eastwards to Iran, and also in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia.
Splendid bindweed (Convolvulus dorycnium), photographed near Gournes, Crete. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Assyrian bindweed (Convolvulus assyricus) is a very low plant, forming compact cushions – an adaptation to the windy conditions in the open areas, in which it grows. This species is native to eastern Turkey and northern Iraq. The specific name refers to Assyria, a Semitic kingdom, which existed c. 2500-600 B.C., centered around what is today northern Iraq and Syria.
Assyrian bindweed is very common around the Ala Dağları Mountains, southern Turkey, where these pictures were taken. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
False bindweeds, genus Calystegia, are herbaceous vines, growing to 5 metres long, or more, twining around other plants. The generic name is derived from the Greek kalux (‘cup’) and stegos (‘covering’), thus ‘a covering cup’, referring to the flower shape.
Formerly, the c. 25 species of this genus were included in the genus Convolvulus, which they closely resemble, only differing in minute botanical characters. They are distributed in temperate and subtropical areas around the world, with almost half of the species being endemic to California.
Hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium) has a very wide distribution, found in the northern and southern temperate zones. Due to its vigorous growth, it is regarded as a pest in many places.
The name hedge bindweed, as well as the specific name sepium (‘in hedges’ in Latin), refers to the fact that this species often grows in hedges. Common names include old man’s nightcap and white witch’s hat, referring to the flower shape, while belle of the ball, bride’s gown, and wedlock refer to the white, gown-like flowers, the latter name also to the binding nature of this species.
In the old days, children in Britain would ‘pop’ the petals from the sepals while chanting, “Granny, granny – pop out of bed.”
The very similar greater bindweed (C. silvatica) is a native around the Mediterranean and in North America, but has escaped in many other places, especially Australia and New Zealand, where it is regarded as an invasive. It has larger flowers than hedge bindweed, and its bracts are shorter, overlapping at least half of their length, whereas they scarcely overlap in hedge bindweed.
Hedge bindweed, Funen, Denmark. The plant in the foreground is rough chervil (Chaerophyllum temulum). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This hedge bindweed is entwining the stem of a giant goldenrod (Solidago gigantea), Zealand, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Hedge bindweed, Boz Dağlari, east of Manisa, south-western Turkey. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This hedge bindweed, photographed shortly after a rain shower, is climbing up a fence near Hallein, Austria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
American hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium ssp. americana) has a white and pink corolla, much like the cultivated hairy bindweed (C. pulchra). This subspecies is distributed across southern Canada and the eastern half of the United States, replaced by other subspecies further west.
American hedge bindweed, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, Massachusetts. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Ipomoea is a huge genus, comprising more than 500 species, most of which are twining plants with large, beautiful flowers. The generic name, from the Greek ip (‘worm’) and hómoia (‘resembling’), was given by Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778), also called Carl von Linné, in allusion to the worm-like movements of the stem, twining around other plants, fences, etc.
As its name implies, flowers of the purple morning-glory (Ipomoea purpurea) are purple. However, they can also be white or various shades of blue, and cultivated varieties come in other colours, including red or multi-coloured. This plant is native to Mexico and Central America, but has become naturalized in many other parts of the world.
Purple morning-glory, growing in the Marsyangdi Valley, central Nepal. In the upper picture, a wild species of buckwheat, Fagopyrum dibotrys, and downy bur-marigold (Bidens pilosa) are also seen. – Read more about the latter species elsewhere on this website, see Nature: Invasive species. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Flower of purple morning-glory, photographed shortly after a rain shower, Flores, Lago Peten Itza, Guatemala. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The railroad creeper (Ipomoea cairica), also called coast morning-glory or mile-a-minute vine, is believed to be a native of Tropical Africa, but today it has a very wide distribution in tropical and subtropical areas around the world. This species is capable of very rapid growth, sometimes completely entwining trees and bushes, but it is also able to creep along the ground. It is regarded as an invasive species in many countries, including Australia, China, and Taiwan.
These pictures are from Taiwan, where railroad creeper is extremely common. In the upper picture, a plant is completely enveloping a growth of dwarf bamboo in the city of Taichung. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Ipomoea imperati is a slender plant with small, oblong leaves and small white flowers, creeping along sandy beaches in warmer areas around the globe.
Ipomoea imperati, Tortuguero National Park, Limón, Costa Rica. In the lower picture, raindrops cling to its flowers. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Flowers of the blue morning-glory (Ipomoea nil) are various shades of blue, with a white funnel. This species, which is also called ivy-leaved, or Japanese morning-glory, can be told from similar species by the base of the calyx being hairy (clearly seen in the two close-up photos below). It is thought to be a native of Mexico or Central America, but has been widely introduced elsewhere in warmer countries as an ornamental, or accidentally.
This blue morning-glory, encountered in the Marsyangdi Valley, central Nepal, is entwining a species of mugwort (Artemisia). (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A form of blue morning-glory with pale blue flowers, climbing up a fence in the city of Taichung, Taiwan. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Tievine (Ipomoea cordatotriloba) is a proliferate plant, native to south-eastern United States, Mexico, Central America, and parts of South America.
Tievine, enveloping a bush, near Monterrico, Guatemala. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The beach morning-glory (Ipomoea pes-caprae) is very common on sandy beaches in all tropical and some subtropical areas, easily spreading by its seeds, which are able to float for a long time, unaffected by salt water. The specific name is from the Latin pes (‘foot’) and capra (‘goat’), referring to the shape of its leaves, which, to Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778), also called Carl von Linné, resembled the footprint of a goat.
Beach morning-glory, Puri, Odisha (Orissa), eastern India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Beach morning-glory, Siao Liouchou Island, Taiwan. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Beach morning-glory, Tortuguero National Park, Limón, Costa Rica. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Pink morning-glory (Ipomoea carnea) is an erect shrubby herb, growing to 3 metres tall. Its specific name is from the Latin carnes (‘meat’), referring to its flesh-coloured flowers. Occasionally, though, it has whitish flowers. This species is a native of Mexico, Central America, and parts of South America, which is widely cultivated as an ornamental and has become naturalized in many areas. In many countries, it is regarded as an invasive.
Pink morning-glory is also grown in hedges and as green manure, and paper can be made from the stem. The leaves are sometimes eaten as a vegetable, although they are slightly purgative. This species is also utilized in traditional medicine as a sedative, and its latex is used for skin problems. The seeds are toxic to cattle. (Source: proseanet.org)
Large growth of pink morning-glory, observed at Hampi, Karnataka, South India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
As its name implies, pink morning-glory usually has pink flowers, although whitish flowers are occasionally seen, as in this picture from Kerala, South India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Obscure morning-glory (Ipomoea obscura), also called small white morning-glory, is native to the southern half of Africa, tropical Asia, northern Australia, and some Pacific Islands, including Fiji, and has been introduced elsewhere as an ornamental, or accidentally. This species can be identified by its small, heart-shaped leaves and the 2-3 cm wide, white flowers with a brownish base.
These pictures are from Taiwan, where obscure morning-glory is quite common. In the upper picture, a plant is creeping along an unused asphalt road, while the one in the lower picture is climbing along barbwire. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This ‘long-term’ parked car in the city of Taichung, Taiwan, has been overgrown by various plants, including obscure morning-glory, a climber of the pea family with chocolate-brown flowers, and downy bur-marigold (Bidens pilosa), an invasive species, which is abundant in Taiwan (the plant with white ray-florets). – Read more about the latter species elsewhere on this website, see Nature: Invasive species. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Kenyan morning-glory (Ipomoea jaegeri) is an erect shrub, growing to 75 centimetres tall, often forming dense clumps. It is native to East Africa, where it grows on savannas.
Kenyan morning-glory, observed in the Olduvai Gorge, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The cardinal creeper (Ipomoea quamoclit) is easily identified by its bright red flowers and almost pinnate leaves. This species, which is also called star glory, cypress vine, or hummingbird vine, is a native of Mexico, Central America, and parts of South America. It is widely cultivated elsewhere in warm countries, often escaping and becoming naturalized. The specific name is from a Nahuatl word, qua’mochitl, of unknown meaning.
Cardinal creeper, Pokhara, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Flowers of the scarlet morning-glory (Ipomoea hederifolia), also called scarlet creeper, resemble those of the cardinal creeper, but its leaves are heart-shaped. It is likewise a native of Mexico, Central America, and parts of South America, and has also escaped cultivation in many countries.
Scarlet morning-glory, photographed near the Dunhinda Falls, Badulla, Sri Lanka. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The place of origin of the water morning-glory (Ipomoea aquatica) is unknown. This plant is cultivated in many tropical and subtropical areas for its tender shoots and leaves, known by names like water spinach, river spinach, Chinese spinach, Chinese watercress, and swamp cabbage.
In some areas, water morning-glory has escaped cultivation, here in Keoladeo National Park, Rajasthan, India. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The blue dawn-flower, or Indian morning-glory (Ipomoea indica), is extremely variable. Its leaves are heart-shaped or tri-lobed, and its flower colour varies from purple to blue to pink. It is sometimes called blue morning-glory, which is confusing, as this name is usually applied to Ipomoea nil (see above). The place of origin of blue dawn-flower is unknown. Today, its distribution is pan-tropical, and it is also found in some subtropical areas. It is regarded as an unwanted invasive plant in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, California, Portugal, and elsewhere.
Purple form of blue dawn-flower, Bali, Indonesia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Blue form from Pokhara, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A pale blue form, observed in Yeliou Geopark, northern Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Pink form, photographed in western Taiwan, together with downy bur-marigold (Bidens pilosa). – Read more about this species elsewhere on this website, see Nature: Invasive species. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Clustered morning-glory (Ipomoea staphylina) has rather small flowers, up to 3 centimetres across. Its common name, as well as the specific name, from the Greek staphyle (‘a bunch’), refer to the dense arrangement of the flowers. This species is native to the Indian Subcontinent, eastwards to China. In India, its stems are sometimes used as a rope to tie around collected firewood.
Clustered morning-glory, photographed near Mysore, Karnataka, South India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The sweet potato plant (Ipomoea batatas) is a most important crop in many tropical and subtropical countries around the world. Its large, sweet-tasting tubers resemble true potatoes (Solanum tuberosum), but the two species are only distantly related, as the true potato belongs to the nightshade family (Solanaceae). Young sweet potato leaves and shoots are eaten as a vegetable in many places.
Flowering sweet potato plants, cultivated near Taichung, Taiwan. In the lower picture, downy bur-marigold (Bidens pilosa) is also seen. Read about this species elsewhere on this website, see Nature: Invasive species. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This woman at a market near Ngaunderé, Cameroun, is selling sweet potatoes and bananas. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Astripomoea are a genus of 12 shrubby morning-glories, distributed from Mali eastwards to Sudan and the Arabian Peninsula, and thence southwards to South Africa.
This Astripomoea was encountered on savannas in northern Tanzania, in Tarangire National Park (top) and near Mkomazi National Park. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Argyreia is a genus of woody shrubs or climbers, containing about 90 species, many having very showy flowers. These plants are distributed in Tropical Asia and on Madagascar, and has also become naturalized elsewhere, especially in Africa, but also a few places in Australia, and North and South America.
Argyreia populifolia is a climber with wonderful whitish or pink flowers with a maroon throat. It only occurs in southern India and Sri Lanka.
Argyreia populifolia, Anshi National Park, Karnataka, South India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Woodroses, genus Merremia, comprising c. 80 species, are distributed in tropical and subtropical areas of Africa, Asia, Australia, and Central and South America, with the largest concentration in Asia.
Ivy woodrose (Merremia hederacea), which has bright yellow flowers, is widely distributed, found in Africa, the Indian Subcontinent, southern China, Taiwan, Southeast Asia, Malaysia, Indonesia, New Guinea, the Philippines, northern Australia, and some Pacific Islands. It is used medicinally for treating tonsillitis.
Ivy woodrose, photographed in Taiwan, where this species is quite common. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The genus Evolvulus, called dwarf morning-glories, contains about a hundred species. These plants are found in tropical and subtropical areas of Africa, Asia, Australia, and North and South America, with the highest concentration in the Americas.
Slender dwarf morning-glory (Evolvulus alsinoides) is a creeping plant, distributed in most warmer areas of the world. The specific name means ‘resembling Alsine’, a former genus of sandworts in the pink family (Caryophyllaceae), today split into Minuartia and other genera.
Slender dwarf morning-glory is common along coasts of Taiwan, here encountered in Kenting National Park. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Genus Dinetus, comprising 8 species, were formerly included in the genus Porana. It is a purely Asian genus, distributed from Pakistan east across India and Nepal to China, and thence south through Southeast Asia to Indonesia and the Philippines.
The snow creeper (Dinetus racemosus) has about the same distribution as the genus. Its clusters of small white flowers are gorgeous, “resembling dazzling patches of snow in the jungle,” cited from an unknown source by Oleg Polunin and Adam Stainton in their book Flowers of the Himalaya (Oxford University Press, 1984).
Snow creeper, Sarangkot, Pokhara, Nepal. In the lower picture, it is climbing up a stem of an aibika (Abelmoschus manihot). (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Dinetus grandiflorus, by some sources called Tibetan moth vine, is found in the Himalaya, from Nepal east to Bhutan and extreme south-eastern Tibet, growing between 1,900 and 2,500 metres altitude.
Dinetus grandiflorus, Chipling, Helambu, central Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Fruits of most genera in the bindweed family are capsules, but a few species produce berries or nuts.
This picture shows capsules of a blue morning glory (Ipomoea nil), which is climbing over discarded pallets in the city of Taichung, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Dodders (Cuscuta) differ from other members of the morning-glory family in being parasites, which twine around other plants, often completely enveloping them. Read more about this fascinating genus elsewhere on this website, see Plants: Parasitic plants.
(Uploaded March 2018)
(Latest update January 2019)