Calystegia sepium

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calystegia_sepium_ohioName: Calystegia sepium (L.) R. Br.

Family: Convolvulaceae, the Bindweed or Morning Glory Family.

Common Names: Hedge false bindweed, hedge bindweed, hedgebell, bear bind, devil’s guts, devil’s vine, old man’s cap, great bindweed, hedge-lily, hedge morningglory, lily-bind, Rutland beauty, bracted bindweed (1, 15)

Etymology: Calystegia is derived from Greek for “a covering cup,” two words: kalux, “cup” and stegos, “a covering.”  Sepium means “of hedges” or “of fences” (4, 18).

Botanical synonyms: see “Subspecies” heading for the synonyms of sections of this broadly defined species.

calystegia_sepium_ohio2Quick Notable Features (15):
¬ hastate leaves coming to a sharp point
¬ pink or white funnel-shaped flowers
¬ large bracts enclosing the base of each flower
¬ creeping rhizomes that can grow over 3 m long

Plant Height: In addition to the rhizome produced by prostrate shoots, the flower-producing stems usually twine to about 3 m, but can go up to 4 m (2, 20).

Subspecies/varieties recognized (1):  The species is very widespread and this may be the reason for the many recognized subspecies.

C. sepium (L.) R. Br. ssp. appalachiana Brummitt
C. sepium (L.) R. Br. ssp. erratica Brummitt
C. sepium (L.) R. Br. ssp. limnophila (Greene) Brummitt
C. sepium (L.) R. Br. ssp. sepium [syn.:  Convolvulus nashii House, Convolvulus sepium L., Convolvulus sepium L. var. communis R. Tryon]
C. sepium (L.) R. Br. ssp. angulata Brummitt [syn: Calystegia sepium (L.) R. Br. var. angulata (Brummitt) N. Holmgren, Calystegia sepium (L.) R. Br. var. repens (L.) Gray, Convolvulus repens L., Convolvulus sepium L. var. repens (L.) Gray]
C. sepium (L.) R. Br. ssp. americana (Sims) Brummitt [syn: C. inflata Sweet, C. sepium (L.) R. Br. var. americana (Sims) Matsuda, Convolvulus americanus (Sims) Greene, Convolvulus sepium L. var. americanus Sims]
C. sepium (L.) R. Br. ssp. binghamiae (Greene) Brummitt [syn: Convolvulus binghamiae Greene, Convolvulus sepium L. var. dumetorum Pospichal] 

Most Likely Confused with: Calystegia silvatica, C. spithamaea, Convolvulus arvensis, and Polygonum convolvulus 

Habitat Preference: Commonly found in thickets, along shores, marshes, meadows, ditches, and in generally disturbed sites with little or no shade in the temperate regions of North America, Europe, New Zealand, and Asia. It can survive in most soils, but prefers rich, lowland areas and does not do well in dense shade (2, 4, 15, 16).

Geographic Distribution in Michigan: Each subspecies of Calystegia sepium is found in Michigan except Calystegia sepium (L.) R. Br. ssp. binghamiae (Greene) Brummitt (only found in California) and Calystegia sepium (L.) R. Br. ssp. limnophila (Greene) Brummitt. Those subspecies which are found in Michigan cover half the state in a scattered pattern. The 8 Upper Peninsula counties in which they are found border Lake Michigan, while the 42 Lower Peninsula counties are in the south or border the Great Lakes (1).

Known Elevational Distribution: In Utah, Calystegia sepium has been found up to 1,310 m elevation (11).

Complete Geographic Distribution: All subspecies of Calystegia sepium are native to the United States except Calystegia sepium (L.) R. Br. ssp. sepium. Some authors suggest it is native also to Europe (3) or New Zealand (17, 21). At least one of the subspecies is found in each of the contiguous United States and the District of Columbia (1, 7).

Vegetative Plant Description: This perennial vine has a freely branching stem that twines, creeps or occasionally trails, usually forming “tangled masses on other plants” (4). The alternately arranged, long-petioled leaves (~1.25-2.5 cm) are cordate- or deltoid-ovate to narrowly sagittate-lanceolate and 5-10 cm long (7). The entire margined leaves are pinnately-veined and glabrous to pubescent. The pubescence comprises short hairs on both surfaces (1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 12). Some also consider the plant a “pseudo-annual” since “it produces rhizomes and seeds that survive the winter.” It does not produce underground stolons (16).

Climbing Mechanism: According to Darwin, Convolvulus sepium, a synonym for Calystegia sepium, moves “against the sun.” This is taken to mean that it apically twines in a sinistral direction. However, most images found on the web and personal observation of University of Michigan herbarium specimens seems to indicate that Calystegia sepium twines dextrally. Darwin did note that the plant, on average, made two revolutions every 1 hour and 42 minutes, with the semi-circle moving away from the sun taking 14 minutes longer than the semi-circle moving toward the sun (15, 16, 19).

Flower Description: The inflorescence comprises solitary, perfect flowers. These flowers are borne on 5-15 cm long, square or angled pedicels that arise from leaf axils. Just below the calyx, and usually covering it, are two 1.5-3.5 cm ovate or oblong, sepaloid bracts that are usually cordate at the base (often called an epicalyx) (7). Within the bracts are five, free, often unequal sepals and five white to pink, sometimes rose-purple petals fused into a pleated funnel. The regular corolla is 4-7 cm long and wide. The five stamens are usually epipetalous. The superior ovary is unilocular and topped by a single style with an oblong, cylindrical or bilobed stigma (2, 5, 7, 12, 15, 16, 20).

Flowering Time: In the central and northeastern United States this species flowers from mid-May to September.  The same applies in adjacent parts of Canada (7). It has been noted that in Illinois, ssp. americana and ssp. angulata flower from June to August, while ssp. erratica starts flowering a month earlier (12).

Pollinator:  “Hedge bindweed flowers are produced sequentially on the twining stems, each open for a day. This forces pollinators (bumble and honey bees, and syrphid flies) to visit other stems… since in Europe (and presumably North America) clones are self-infertile. However, in Japan, where the plant is near its geographic limit, clones are self-compatible. In spite of a short life, the flowers have a rich insect community, perhaps attracted by temperatures 2.7 °C above ambient.”

Raised temperatures provide shelter for pollen- and nectar-feeding insects, as well as other insects seeking shelter on cold or overcast days. It was also shown that most pollen in flowers in Japan is gone by noon (16).

Fruit Type and Description: The fruit is an egg-shaped capsule (12, 15).

Seed Description: Each fruit contains 2-4, blackish brown, 5 mm long seeds. The seeds are 3-angled with two sides flat and one side rounded, like a segment of an orange (15, 16).

Dispersal Syndrome: This species is reported to commonly spread vegetatively via its rhizomatous stem after winter has passed. It has been reported to be gravity dispersed (10, 12, 16).

Distinguished by: The base of the leaf blade in C. sepium is a clear V- or U-shape with leaf tissue extending close to the petiole, while the leaf sinus in C. silvatica is quadrate, with the basal veins along the margin of the leaf base (3, 22).  Calystegia sepium is distinguished from C. spithamaea by its twining habit, growth up to 3 m, and the hastate or sagitate leaves. C. spithamaea grows only to 50cm, has triangular leaves (and apparently does not twine). The easiest way to distinguish Convolvulus arvensis from Calystegia sepium is by the small bracts well below the inflorescence compared to the large bracts that obscure the calyx in Calystegia sepium. Another tell-tale sign is that most parts of Calystegia sepium are markedly larger than those in C. arvensis, as is seen in the image of the flowers. For example, in Calystegia sepium, the corollas are 4-7 cm long and the leaf blades are 5-12 cm long, while in Convolvulus arvensis, the corollas are 1.5-2.5 cm long and the leaf blades are 2.5-5 cm long.
The foliage of C. sepium is very similar to Polygonum convolvulus, however the inflorescences are markedly different. In C. sepium the flowers are large, white, showy and prominent, while those of P. convolvulus are small, green, apetalous and barely noticeable. The flowers may lead some to misidentify C. sepium as part of the genus Ipomoea, and although the leaves of that genus vary greatly, they are not hastate or sagittate (13, 14).

Other members of the family in Michigan (number of species): Calystegia – 3, Convolvulus – 1, Ipomoea – 5, and Cuscuta – 8.

Ethnobotanical Uses: The stalks and shoots, as well as the young shoots, are edible when washed and steamed and have a pleasant sweet taste, due to being rich in starch and sugars.  Although very nutritious, the species should not be eaten in large quantities due to its purgative effects. The purgative effects can also be used for medicinal purposes as a diuretic. It is also believed that use of the root will increase the flow of bile (17).

CONVCalystegiasepiumMAPPhylogenetic Information: Within the family Convolvulaceae, the genus Calystegia is placed in the tribe Convoluleae according to recent molecular studies. Also included in this tribe are the species of Convolvulus, in which Calystegia previously was included, and the genus Polymeria, endemic to Australia. Within the family, this tribe is closest to the tribe Jacquemontieae (only consisting of the genus Jacquemontia), and both tribes are close to the tribe Aniseieae (including Aniseia, Iseia, Odonellia, and Tetralocularia). The family Convolvulaceae is part of the Solanales, which is one of the four clades of the Euasterids I, which is in turn part of the Core Asterids. Finally, they are tricolpate Eudicot Angiosperms (8, 9).

Interesting Factoid:

  • The species is endangered in New Jersey, yet considered a noxious weed in Texas and Arkansas (1).
  • “It has been suggested that unwinding the main stem and rewinding it in the opposite direction will kill the plant” (15).
  • The seeds are toxic in large quantities, and the roots appear to be toxic to pigs, yet the pigs still eat them (15).

Literature and websites used:

  1. USDA, NRCS. 2006. The PLANTS Database (, 8 November 2006). National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.
  2. Gleason, H.A. & A. Cronquist. 1991. Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. New York: The New York Botanical Garden Press.
  3. Voss, E.G. 1985. Michigan Flora Part III. Ann Arbor, MI: Cranbrook Institute.
  4. Bailey, L.H. 1963. How Plants Get Their Names. New York, NY: Dover Publications, Inc.
  5. Radford, A.E., H.E. Ahles, & C.R. Bell 1968. Manual of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas. Chapel Hill, N.C.: The University of North Carolina Press.
  6. Cooperrider, T.S. 1995. The Dicotyledoneae of Ohio: Part 2. Linaceae through Campanulaceae. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press.
  7. Fernald, M. L. 1950. Gray’s Manual of Botany, 8th ed. New York: American Book Company.
  8. Judd, W.S., C. S. Campbell, E.A. Kellog & P.F. Stevens 1999. Plant Systematics: A Phylogenetic Approach. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, Inc.
  9. Stefanovic, S., D.F. Austin & R.G. Olmstead 2003. Classification of Convolvulaceae: A Phylogenetic Approach in Systematic Botany. American Society of Plant Taxonomists 2(4): 791-806.
  10. Ushimaru, A. & K. Kikuzawa 1999. Variation of breeding system, floral rewards, and reproductive success in clonal Calystegia species (Convolvulaceae). American Journal of Botany 86: 436-446.
  11. Ramsey, D. R. Digital Atlas of the Vascular Plants of Utah: Echinocystis Lobata Utah State University Department of Geography and Earth Resources. <>
  12. Iverson, L.R., D. Ketzner, & J. Karnes 1999. Illinois Plant Information Network. Database at Illinois Natural History Survey and USDA Forest Service.
  13. Corrigan, E.E. 2004. Calystegia spithamaea (L.) Pursh. ssp. spithamaea (Low Bindweed) Conservation and Research Plan for New England. Framingham, MA: New England Wildflower Society.
  14. Atland, J. 2000. Weed Identification Guide. Oregon State University
  15. Cardina, J. 2007. Ohio Perennial and Biennial Weed Guide. The Ohio State University.
  16. Harris, P. 2006. Field and Hedge bindweeds Convolvulus arvensis L. and Calystegia sepium (L.) R. Br. Classical Biological Control of Weeds.
  17. Plants For A Future: Edible medicinal, and useful plants for a healthier world. <> Accessed March 2006.
  18. Charters, M.L. 2007. California Plant Names: Latin and Greek Meanings and Derivations A Dictionary of Botanical Etymology.
  19. Darwin, C. 1876. The movements and habits of climbing plants. New York: D. Appleton and Company.
  20. Hickman, J.C. (ed.) 1993. The Jepson Manual – higher plants of California. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
  21. Ogden, J. 1978. Variation in Calystegia R. Br. (Convolvulaceae) in New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Botany 16:123-140.
  22. Voss, E.G. & A.A. Reznicek 2012. Field Manual of Michigan Flora.  The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, MI.

Image Credits (all used with permission):

1,2,3,) The first three images are copyright Ohio State Weed Lab Archive, The Ohio State University, and
4) Image of white flower showing calyx copyright Steve Baskauf, 2002-2005
5) Species distribution map, derived from the Michigan Flora Online.

Primary Author: Marko Melymuka and John Bradtke, with additions by Robyn J. Burnham

For additional information on these web pages please contact Robyn J. Burnham via email: rburnham“at”

© Robyn J. Burnham, University of Michigan