Morning-glory Family

Hill Morning-glory © EKennedy and FMorse

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 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). University of Arizona Herbarium. The University of Arizona.

Hosler, D., S. Burkett, and M. Tarkanian. 1999. Prehistoric polymers: Rubber processing in ancient Mesoamerica. Science 284: 1988-1991.

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

Browse Some Edgewood Plants in this Family