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What is Convolvulaceae?

By Rebecca Cartwright
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Convolvulaceae is the name of a family of flowering plants in the order Solanales. The family is commonly known as the morning glory family or bindweed family, and its most familiar members are twining vines with trumpet-shaped flowers. Species in the Convolvulaceae family are common in both temperate and tropical parts of the world.

The classification of members of the Convolvulaceae family is not completely agreed upon, so the number of species and genera said to belong to the family varies. There appear to be between 50 and 85 genera and from 1,500 to 2,800 species. Though the family is particularly common in the Amazon basin and the tropical regions of Asia, it is also well represented in the temperate zones of both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. More than 195 species in 18 genera occur in North America.

Some species in the family are woody vines, shrubs or trees, but most are herbaceous climbing or trailing vines. Leaves can be simple, complex or lobed and are arranged alternately on the stems. Most species have milky sap that can be irritating to human skin.

Flowers are a distinguishing characteristic of the Convolvulaceae family. They are trumpet-shaped, many with five faint lobes, and occur mainly in white and shades of pink. The flower buds are twisted and straighten as they open. Most flowers are open for only hours or, at most, a day. Fruits and seeds are both relatively inconspicuous.

There are several species, including morning glories themselves, in horticultural use as flowering plants. Some of these have spread from gardens and become pests where they were introduced outside their native range. Both in gardens and in the wild, many of these flowers are nectar sources for insects and a few also attract hummingbirds.

One species, Ipomoea batatas, the sweet potato, is an important food source in many tropical areas. The most important part of the sweet potato plant is the starchy tuber, but the leaves can also be eaten as a green vegetable. Sweet potatoes and their dried stems are sometimes used as food for stock animals.

Some Convolvulaceae species thrive on disturbed ground and are significant weeds in many areas. The most important of these is Convolvulus arvensis, or field bindweed. The name bindweed is also used for several other species, including some outside of the Convolvulaceae family. Two Convolvulaceae species, Ipomoea violacea and Turbina corymbosa, produce hallucinogenic substances.

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