Fallopia scandens

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Name: Fallopia scandens (L.) Holub

Family: Polygonaceae, the Buckwheat Family

Common Names: Climbing false buckwheat (1), false buckwheat (4)

Etymology: ‘Fallopia’ is named in honor of the 16th century Italian anatomist Gabriello Fallopio, ‘Scandens’ comes from the Latin scansus, “to climb”. The broadly used generic name, Polygonum, is a combination of the Greek Poly, “many”, and gonon, “knees (3,21).”

Botanical synonyms: This species and its relatives are often split, as we have here, from the genus Polygonum.  This is not a universal usage, although we believe the indications by the molecular work of Frye and Kron are indicative of changes to come, and we have treated it here as Fallopia.  Other synonyms: Anredera spicata, Bilderdykia scandens (L.) Greene, Polygonum scandens L. Polygonum dumetorum L. var. scandens (L.) A. Gray, Reynoutria scandens (L.) Shinners, Tiniaria scandens (L.) Small (1,2,17).

Quick Notable Features:f. scandens_buckwheat1
¬ Angled, twining stems turning red under prolonged exposure to sunlight
¬ Fruits with three papery wings
¬ Apically twines from right to left (most apical twiners in our area twine from left to right)

Plant Height: Stems grow to 5m in length (4). H.D. Thoreau observed it growing at least 3.5m in the early 1900s (18).

Subspecies/varieties recognized: The following subspecies and varieties are often known by the older generic name of Polygonum: Polygonum scandens L. var. cristatum (Engelm. & A. Gray) Gleason, Polygonum scandens L. var. dumetorum (L.) Gleason, Polygonum scandens L. var. scandens (1,2)

Most Likely Confused with: Dioscorea villosa, climbing members of Convolvulaceae (in our area: Calystegia hederacea; sepium; silvatica; and spithamaea, Convolvulus arvensis, Ipomoea hederacea; pandurata; purpurea; and Xmultifida), Smilax spp., and other climbing species of Fallopia (Polygonum: in our area, F. cilinodis, F. convolvulus, and F. dumetorum)

Habitat Preference: Prefers moist woods, slopes, and thickets, and is found frequently in alluvial soil (4,5,6). Associated species include Acer negundo and Ulmus americana (5).

Geographic Distribution in Michigan: F. scandens is found in 32 counties in the Lower Peninsula (1).f. scandens_buckwheat2

Known Elevational Distribution: 0-1800m (12).

Complete Geographic Distribution: Native to North America, Fallopia scandens is found within the U.S. from Maine south to Florida and east to Texas and Wyoming. In Canada, it is found from Nova Scotia east to Alberta (1, 21).

Vegetative Plant Description: A perennial, herbaceous climber or sprawler with fibrous roots. The slightly to sharply angled, sometimes scabrous stems are green, becoming reddish in prolonged sunlight. At each leaf node is an inconspicuous, pale green to brownish green ochrea that is up to 2mm long.  The slightly scabrous petioles are 5cm long, bearing alternate, simple, ovate leaves with cordate bases, acuminate tips, and entire margins. The leaves are to 8cm long and 6cm wide, often with scabrous midveins (4,5,6,7,8,10,11,12).Fallopia scandens G. Davidse CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

Climbing Mechanism: Twines with the apex of its stem in a sinistral fashion (from right to left) (4,6), see image.

Flower Description: The flowers are borne in unbranched racemes of several whitish green or light pink flowers, 7-28cm long, axillary to the ochrea on short, scabrous peduncles. These racemes can be leafless or bear 1-2 small leaves at their base. Each flower is borne on a pedicel 4-8mm long, with 3 + 2 sepals that are each 1.5-3mm long. The 8 stamens are adnate to the base of the perianth, white, up to 1mm. The triangular ovary is green (4,5,6,7,8,10,11,12). After maturity, the three outer sepals expand, becoming papery and giving the fruit its characteristic wing (4,6).

PolyscanPOLY leaf stem31

Flowering Time: The species flowers from July (or August) to November throughout its range (10, 21).

Pollinator: “The nectar of the flowers primarily attracts short-tongued bees, wasps, and flies” (11).

Fruit Type and Description: The fruit is a shiny black achene ~3mm long, and 3-angled, surrounded by the persistent calyx. The fruit, including the pedicel and calyx wings, can be up to 15mm long (4,5,6,7,8).

Seed Description: None found, largely because the achene does not open.

Dispersal Syndrome: The species is bird-dispersed (19). Furthermore, the papery calyx wings could aid in wind dispersal.

POLY Fall scan seeds

Distinguished by: Fallopia scandens can be distinguished from Dioscorea villosa by its veins: D. villosa has arcuate-parallel venation, with 7-11 veins converging in the leaf apex. Furthermore, the leaf nodes of D. villosa lack an ochrea, and its fruit is a large, three-winged capsule. Both D. villosa and F. scandens twine in the same orientation with their stem apices.
Species of Convolvulaceae typically differ in twining orientation from F. scandens, but not always. As a general rule, Convolvulaceae members have latex in their stems and/or leaves, and F. scandens does not. Convolvulaceae fruits tend to be capsules and the stems lack an ochrea.
Smilax species climb with tendrils borne on the petioles, and also have no ochrea at their leaf nodes. Additionally, Smilax species. typically have arcuate, rather than reticulate, venation.
P. scandens may be distinguished from other climbing Fallopia species by its smooth, glossy achene, which is hidden under its expanded perianth. Similar Fallopia species have less conspicuous calyx parts.

Other members of the family in Michigan (number of species): Fagopyrum (2), Fallopia (4) Polygonella (1), Polygonum (24), Rheum (1), Rumex (14) [1, 21].

Ethnobotanical Uses: We have found no reference to local human uses for this plant (5,12,13,14).

POLYFallopiascandensMAPPhylogenetic Information: A study by Kim et al. (9) on flavanoid compounds in F. scandens, F. cilinodus, F. convolvulus, F. dentatoalata, and F. dumetorum found them to be closely related, but distinct species.  However, F. scandens and F. dumetorum have since been united as a single species by many taxonomists (1,2,15). Kim noted that F. cristatum should be treated as F. scandens.  Flora of North America (21) notes that F. scandens, in general, “has a complex nomenclatural history.” Fallopia has been assigned to the Polygonoideae subfamily of the Polygonaceae, which is a member of the Caryophyllales, a member of the core eudicots within the angiosperms (15,16).

Interesting Quotation or Other Interesting Factoid not inserted above: Thoreau (18) referred to it as “a rampant climber.”

Literature and websites used:

  1. USDA, NRCS. 2008. The PLANTS Database, Version 3.1, National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA. http://plants.usda.gov/ January 21, 2009.
  2. ITIS: Integrated Taxonomic Information System http://www.itis.gov/index.html Retrieved January 21, 2009, from the Integrated Taxonomic Information System on-line database.
  3. Brown, R. W. 1956. Composition of Scientific Words. Washington, D.C., USA: Smithsonian Institution Press.
  4. Gleason, H.A. and A. Cronquist. 1991. Manual of Vascular Plants of the Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. Bronx, New York, USA: New York Botanical Garden Press.
  5. Illinois Plant Information Network (ILPIN) http://www.fs.fed.us/ne/delaware/ilpin/ilpin.html January 21, 2009.
  6. Photographs and descriptions of the flowering and non-flowering plants of Missouri, USA. http://www.missouriplants.com/index.html Compiled by Dan Tenaglia. January 21, 2009.
  7. Gleason, H.A. 1963. The New Britton and Brown Illustrated Flora of the Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. New York, New York, USA: Hafner Publishing Co., Inc.
  8. McGregor R.L. 1986. Flora of the Great Plains. Lawrence, Kansas, USA: The University Press of Kansas.
  9. Kim, M.H., J.H. Park, and C.W. Park. 2000. Flavonoid chemistry of Fallopia section Fallopia (Polygonaceae). Biochemical Systematics and Ecology 28(5): 433-441.
  10. Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center. Climbing False Buckwheat. Last updated August 3, 2006. http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/plants/floramw/species/polyscan.htm January 21, 2009.
  11. Hilty, J. Wildflowers of Illionois, 2004-2009. Last updated January 4, 2009. http://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/savanna/plants/cl_buckwheat.htm January 21, 2009.
  12. Song, H. 2006. Flora of Missouri. http://www.efloras.org/florataxon.aspx?flora_id=1&taxon_id=250060606 January 21, 2009.
  13. Moerman, D. 2006. Native American Ethnobotany. University of Michigan – Dearborn. http://herb.umd.umich.edu/ January 21, 2009.
  14. Plants For A Future, 1996-2009. http://www.pfaf.org January 21, 2009.
  15. ANGIOSPERM PHYLOGENY GROUP 2003. An update of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group classification for the orders and families of flowering plants: APG II.  Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 141(4): 399-436.
  16. Zomlefer, W.B. 1994. Guide to Flowering Plant Families. Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA: The University of North Carolina.
  17. The International Plants Name Index, 2004 – 2006. Last updated: December 2006. http://www.ipni.org/index.html January 21, 2009.
  18. Thoreau, H.D. 1906. The Writings of Henry David Thoreau, Volume 1. New York City, New York, USA: Houghton, Mifflin & Co.
  19. Forbush, E.H. 1907. Useful Birds and their Protection. Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA: Massachusetts State Board of Agriculture.
  20. Frye, A.S.L. and K.A. Kron. 2003. rbcL phylogeny and character evolution in Polygonaceae. Systematic Botany 28(2): 326-332.
  21. Freeman, C.C. and H.R. Hinds 2005. Fallopia in Flora North America, volume 5, available on line at http://www.efloras.org/florataxon.aspx?flora_id=1&taxon_id=10717, accessed January 27, 2009

Image Credits (all used with permission):
1, 2. The image of the leaf and the image of the raceme, are courtesy Dr. John Hilty and Illinois Wildflowers.
3. Image of inflorescence courtesy of Gerrit Davidse, CC BY-NC-SA 3.0, http://tropicos.org/Image/100137654
4,5. Stem twining and seed images © Robyn Burnham.
6. Species distribution map, derived from the Michigan Flora Online.

Primary Author: Becca Sonday with editing and additions by John Bradtke and Robyn J. Burnham

© Robyn J. Burnham, University of Michigan

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