Morning-glory Family

Hill Morning-glory © CBowker

Convolvulaceae (kon-vol-vew-LAY-see-ee)

Iconic Features

  • Usually funnel-shaped flowers
  • Petals in bud usually pleated and twisted
  • Generally twining stems

Description (Jepson)

  • Eudicotyledons (eudicots) – a major lineage of flowering plants including most plants traditionally described as dicots and generally characterized by
    • 2 seed leaves (dicotyledon)
    • Netted (reticulate) leaf venation
    • Flower parts in fours and fives
    • Pollen grains with 3 pores (tricolpate)
    • Vascular bundles in stem arranged in a ring
    • Taproot system
  • Mostly herbaceous vines
    • Also shrubs, herbaceous perennials, and annuals
    • Tropical species include some trees
  • Stems
    • Most often twining or trailing
    • Stems of many species contain a milky sap (latex)
  • Leaves
    • Generally simple (not divided into leaflets), often arrowhead-shaped
    • Alternate (1 leaf at each junction with stem)
      • Dodders (Cuscuta species), which are parasitic, have leaves reduced to scales
    • Lack stipules (pair of leaf-like structures at the base of the leaf stalk)
  • Flowers
    • Inflorescence (flower arrangement) usually a solitary flower at the leaf axil (branching point) or sometimes a cyme (branched stem with flowers opening from the top down)
    • Usually showy, white, pale-yellow, or pink flowers
    • Funnel-, trumpet-, or saucer-shaped, with “star-like creases” (Elpel 2013) and shallow lobes
    • Bisexual and radially symmetric
    • Flower parts in fives
      • 5 fused petals, pleated and twisted in bud
      • 5 stamens, attached to the petals
    • Sepals often persistent in fruit
    • Ovary superior (above the attachment of other flower parts)
  • Fruit is a capsule (a dry, multi-chambered fruit that splits open at maturity) with a few large seeds


  • Over 1,600 species worldwide, found in warm temperate regions and, most-commonly, in the tropics
    • Includes bindweeds, morning-glories, dodders, and sweet potatoes
  • The starchy tubers of the sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) are a common root vegetable
    • Yams (Dioscorea species), with which sweet potatoes are often confused, are in their own monocot family, Dioscoreaceae
    • Potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) are in the Nightshade family (Solanaceae), which is in the same order, Solanales, as is the Morning-glory family
  • The seeds of some species contain toxic ergoline alkaloids (Steiner 2008) produced in association with a fungus
    • Ergot (clavicipitalean) fungi produce ergoline alkaloids only when in contact with the host plant
    • Fungi colonize the plants’ leaf surfaces and are transmitted, along with the alkaloids, on the seeds
    • The alkaloids provide drought tolerance and have psychoactive properties, which inhibit herbivory by insects and mammals
    • The host plant and fungi benefit each other (mutualistic relationship) as the fungus gets carbohydrates formed through photosynthesis by the plant
  • Ancient Mesoamericans engineered a pliable rubber by mixing the latex sap of the morning-glory species Ipomoea alba with latex from the Castilla elastica tree to create solid rubber balls used in ritual games (Hosler, et al. 1999)
  • Some species are used as purgatives (Austin 1997)
  • Several species of bindweeds are aggressive agricultural pests
    • Non-native bindweed Convolvulus arvensis, which occurs at Edgewood, is listed as a Noxious Weed by the California Department of Agriculture
  • Scientific name from the genus Convolvulus, from the Latin convolvere, “to wind around”
  • Represented by 6 species at Edgewood

See General References

Specific References

Austin, D.F. 1997. Convolvulaceae (Morning Glory Family). Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

Hosler, D., Burkett, S., and Tarkanian, M. 1999. Prehistoric Polymers: Rubber Processing in Ancient Mesoamerica. Science 18 Jun 1999: Vol. 284, Issue 5422, pp. 1988-1991.

Steiner, U., Hellwig, S., and Leistner, E. 2008. Specificity in the interaction between an epibiotic clavicipitalean fungus and its convolvulaceous host in a fungus/plant symbiotum. Plant Signaling & Behavior, 3(9), 704–706.

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