Ipomoea hederifolia L.
(Convolvulaceae — the morning glory family)
common names: Scarlet Morning Glory, Scarlet Creeper
This is a twining annual vine, native to the southern parts of the USA, and to Mexico, that grows where it can be supported by other plants. Its scarlet flowers make a brave show against the supporting plants. Given the right conditions and the right supporting vegetation, the vine can grow up to about 3 m.
Although the leaves are variable in shape, they are roughly triangular, often 3-lobed, and do resemble the shape of ivy leaves. The petiole varies in length from 2 – 9 cm, usually as long as, or longer than, the leaf it bears. The plant is glabrous, except for patches of short hairs in the leaf axils.
The inflorescence is many-flowered, although each flower stalk may bear a simple flower or may have several flowers. The corolla of the flowers is trumpet-shaped, scarlet with an orange throat, glabrous, with the tube slightly curved, 3–4 cm long. In favourable conditions, the vine can flower all through the autumn and winter; on Magnetic Island the main flowering season is April and May, if the ground has held sufficient moisture.
The fruit is a capsule, usually glabrous, less than 1 cm in diameter, and splits into 4 valves. The few seeds it contains are dark brown or black, sparsely pubescent with usually two lines of short, dark hairs.
Some species of Ipomoea are important food plants. Ipomoea batatas is the sweet potato, and Ipomoea aquatica is the water spinach. The former is one of the Polynesian ‘canoe plants’, which has been spread over the entire Pacific islands. The latter is used all over east Asia and the warmer regions of the Americas. The root called John the Conqueror in hoodoo and used in lucky or sexual charms (though apparently not as a component of love potions) usually seems to be from Ipomoea jalapa. The testicle-like dried tubers are carried as an amulet and rubbed by the user to gain good luck in gambling or flirting. The root is used medicinally in a number of countries, although a veil is probably best drawn over some of these medical applications, especially those which are purported to have hallucinogenic properties.
This vine can be an invasive pest in canefields, cotton crops, and potato fields. Unless it is treated before it reaches the climbing stage on the crops, it is very difficult to control.
Photographs © Donald Simpson, taken by the Picnic Bay to Nelly Bay road, 2009, 2010