Ipomoea purpurea

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Name: Ipomoea purpurea (L.) Roth

Family: Convolvulaceae, the bindweed or morning glory family (7)

Common Names: Tall Morning-glory, Common Morning-glory (2)

Etymology: Ipomoea comes from the Greek words ips which means “worm”, and homois, which means “similar to.”  This refers to the species’ wormlike twining habit. Purpurea means “purple” which refers to the color of the flowers (6).

Ipomoea purpurea lf flrBotanical synonyms:
Convolvulus purpureus L.
Ipomoea hirsutula Jacq. f.
Ipomoea purpurea v. diversifolia (Lindl.) O’Donell
Pharbitis purpurea (L.) Voigt (6,8)

Quick Notable Features:
¬ Twines with its apex in a dextral direction (6)
¬ Blue or purple flowers with white within the funnelform corolla (6)
¬ 6 valvate, subglobose to ovoid capsules containing 3-6 seeds each (6,8)
¬ Wedge shaped seeds with a horseshoe-shaped scar (6,8)

Plant Height: Usually 2 – 5m (2,8), but the stems can grow to many meters in length (2).

Subspecies/varieties recognized: Ipomoea purpurea var. diversifolia (Lindl.) O’Donell (6). 

Most Likely Confused with: Species of the genus Hedera, Ipomoea coccinea, Ipomoea hederacea, and Ipomoea lacunosa (8,9). 

Habitat Preference: Ipomoea purpurea is common in agricultural, horticultural, nursery crops, and fallow fields. It is also found along roadsides, waste places, in landscapes, non-crop areas, and in thickets.  Tall Morning-glories are frost intolerant. They prefer well-drained, rich, moist, light or sandy loam soils, but are tolerant of most soil conditions (2,9).

Geographic Distribution in Michigan: I. purpurea is found mostly in the southern two tiers of Michigan counties. This species is found in Berrien, Cass, Calhoun, Emmett, Hillsdale, Kalamazoo, Kent, Lenawee, Monroe, Oakland, Kalamazoo, St. Clair, Washtenaw, and Wayne counties (9).

Known Elevational Distribution: In California, this species is found between 15 and 100m (3).

Complete Geographic Distribution: The species is native to Central America, but has adapted to tropical, subtropical, and warm temperate regions of the world (1, 2). Ipomoea purpurea is found in every state, except Idaho and Wyoming. It is also found in Puerto Rico.  In Canada, it is found in Ontario and Quebec (7).

impopurp flowerVegetative Plant Description: This annual plant has simple, alternate, pinnately veined leaves with entire margins. Leaves are ovate with cordate bases and acute or acuminate tips, ranging from 1-11 cm in length and 1-12 cm in width. The stems are branched or simple, loosely pubescent to tomentose with short appressed trichomes. They are sparsely hirsute to glabrate. The petioles range from 1-14 cm long (4,8).

Climbing Mechanism: The stems twine in a dextral fashion as shown by the picture to the right (5,6). 

Flower Description: Inflorescences with 1-5 flowers are borne in a cymose cluster. The calyx is 5-lobed, densely hirsute at the base, and more glabrous toward the tips. The sepals are sub-equal. The outer sepals are narrowly ovate to elliptic ranging from 0.8-1.5cm long and 2.5-4.5mm wide. The inner sepals are ovate, 0.8 to 1.5cm long and 2.5 to 3mm wide. The glabrous, funnelshaped corollas range from white to blue to purple, however white is always found within the corolla. The flowers vary from 2.5-5cm long and 2.4-5cm wide. The five epipetalous stamens range from 8-10mm long with anthers that are 1.5-2mm long. The 3-locular glabrous ovary is superior. The shape varies from ovoid to conic. The glabrous style ranges from 14-22mm long and there are 3 stigmas (6,8,9).

Flowering Time: In the northeastern United States, the plant flowers from July-September (2).

Pollinator: Ipomoea purpurea relies primarily on insect pollination, but is also capable of self-fertilization. About 30% of the flowers are self-pollinated. This 30% consists of lighter colored flowers. Cross-pollination occurs mostly by bumblebees and small butterflies (6).

Fruit Type and Description: The fruit is a subglobose to ovoid capsule that is approximately 1cm in diameter and up to 2.5cm long. It is 6-valvate and contains 3-6 seeds (6,8).

impopurp seedSeed Description: The seed surface is granular, dull brown to black in color, and densely covered with small, brown hairs. The seeds are from 4 to 5.7 mm long. They are wedge shaped, with a horseshoe-shaped scar (6,8). 

Dispersal Syndrome: Seed dispersal is by wind, rain, and gravity.  Seeds also can be spread by birds and by human activities via contaminated crop and flower seeds (8). 

Distinguished by: Ipomoea coccinea grows to a similar height and can grow tangled in amongst other Ipomoea species. Once in flower, I. coccinea and I. purpurea are easily distinguished by dark orange to red salverform corollas of I. coccinea, however both I. purpurea and I. hederacea have light blue to purple funnelform corollas. Ipomoea purpurea and Ipomoea hederacea are distinguishable by sepal characteristics: I. purpurea’s sepals are ovate-lanceolate with an acute to abruptly acuminate apex. The lobes are shorter to slightly longer than the body. In contrast, I. hederacea’s sepals are lanceolate, long-attenuate, and caudate with lobes that are much longer than the body. Species in the genus Hedera have two leaf types: palmately lobed juvenile leaves and unlobed cordate adult leaves. The green-yellow flowers produced in late autumn are borne in 3–5 cm diameter umbels unlike Ipomoea hederacea (purple, white, or rosy large funnelform corollas). It is very easy to distinguish Hedera from Ipomoea because Hedera grows using adventitious roots. Fruits of species from the genus Hedera are small black berries, while I. purpurea’s are capsules. Ipomoea lacunosa typically has a white corolla with pink to purple anthers. Flowers of I. lacunose are usually fewer per inflorescence than those of I. purpurea (7,9).

Other members of the family in Michigan (number species): Calystegia (10 species), Convolvulus (2 species), and Ipomoea (4 species) (9).

Ethnobotanical Uses: The flowers, seeds, roots, and stems of I. purpurea have been used as a laxative, hallucinogen, purgative, and for treatment of syphilis (1).

CONVIpomoeapurpureaMAPPhylogenetic Information: The Convolvulaceae belong to the order Solanales. Solanales form a monophyletic group with Lamiales and belong to Asterid I clade of APG.  Within Convolvulaceae 3 or 4 distinct subfamilies are recognized.  Ipomoea is placed in Convolvuloidae (5,10).

Interesting Quotation or Other Interesting Factoid not inserted above:
The presence of Ipomoea purpurea among crops results in stunted growth and reduced yield during the harvest (7).
Ipomoea purpurea was brought to the American colonies about 1700, and was spread by way of garden peddlers and small-town milliners throughout the countryside (6).
One Tall morning-glory plant can produce 26,000 seeds (6).
Tall morning-glory seeds are believed to contain hallucinogenic alkaloids that can be toxic depending on the dose ingested. The seeds have some history of use as a psychedelic.  They contain LSA whose effects are reported to be comparable to LSD (1,6,8).
“A morning-glory at my window satisfies me more than the metaphysics of books”, from Song of Myself, Walt Whitman 1855 (6).

Literature and websites used:

  1. Missouriplants.com: Photographs and descriptions of the flowering and non-flowering plants of Missouri, USA. http://www.missouriplants.com/index.html Compiled by Dan Tenaglia. Accessed: December 4, 2008. Last Updated: February 8, 2007.
  2. 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.
  3. Ipomoea purpurea (L.) Roth. The Calflora Database, Berkeley, CA. http://www.calflora.org/cgi-bin/species_query.cgi?where-calrecnum=4329 accessed October 28, 2008
  4. McGregor, R.L. 1986. Flora of the Great Plains. Lawrence, Kansas, USA: The University Press of Kansas.
  5. Stevens, P.F. Angiosperm Phylogeny Website. Version 7, May 2006.http://www.mobot.org/MOBOT/research/APweb
  6. Defelice, M.S. 2001. Tall Morning glory, Ipomoea purpurea (L.) Roth—Flower or Foe? Weed Technology 15 (3): 601-06. s
  7. USDA, NRCS. 2008. The PLANTS Database, Version 3.1, National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA. http://plants.usda.gov/  (October 28,2008)
  8. Halvorson, W.L. USGS Weeds in the West project: Status of Introduced Plants in Southern Arizona Parks. Tucson, Arizona. http://sdrsnet.srnr.arizona.edu/data/sdrs/ww/docs/ipom_spp.pdf
  9. Voss, E.G. 2004. Michigan Flora Part III: Dicots Concluded. Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA: Cranbrook Institute of Science.
  10. Zomlefer, W.B. 1994. Guide to Flowering Plant Families. Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA: The University of North Carolina.

Image Credits (all used with permission):
1) Image of flower courtesy of Robyn Burnham, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI.
2) Image of twining from Ted Bodner, Southern Weed Science Society, Bugwood.org
3) Image of seeds from Steve Hurst, USDA NRCS PLANTS Database, Bugwood.org from
4) Species distribution map, derived from the Michigan Flora Online.

 Primary Authors:  Ashley Erwin with editing and additions from ReBecca Sonday, John Bradtke, and Robyn J. Burnham

© Robyn J. Burnham, University of Michigan

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