Ipomoea cairica: Coastal morning glory

Family: Convolvulaceae
Common name: Coastal morning glory, Railway creeper, Mile-a-minute vine, Coast morning glory, Cairo morning glory, Messina creeper, Five-fingered morning glory, Five-leaf morning glory, Ipomoea palmata

Another beautiful morning glory that grows proliferously in the wild; Coastal morning glory plants are also grown in gardens as ornamental plants. The light purple flowers look very beautiful indeed, and the plant is capable of blooming throughout the year.

The stem is long and slender, slightly woody at the base and capable of climbing on walls, trellis, terraces or surrounding vegetation. The plants can grow to a length of 10 meters and a height of 250 to 2200 meters. Roots of Coastal morning glory plants are tuberous.

The name Cairica means ‘from Cairo’ where the first specimens were collected. But the origin of the plant is still unknown.

The beautifully palmate leaves give the plant its name Five-fingered morning glory. The leaves are oval in shape with 5-7 distinct lobes which are pointy at the tip and towards the base. Coastal morning glory leaves are about 10 cms long with a 4-6 centimeter long petiole connecting the leaves to the stem.

The beautiful lavender colored flowers are the distinguishing feature of the plant, about 4-6 cms long and funnel shaped. Petals are fused together and flower has a dark purple throat. Stamens are style are visible inside the funnel, but do not protrude above the petals.

The flowers then form globular fruit capsules which are initially green and then turn brown. These fruit capsule contains 4 brown seeds covered with long, silky hair, and are are capable of staying in the soil for a long while, till ideal conditions arise for them to germinate. The seeds are dispersed by wind and water, taking the plant to new locations.

It is difficult to believe that Coastal morning glories are invasive weeds in most parts of the world, but a singe plant is capable of spreading over a large area choking natural vegetation. But they are seen very commonly on wastelands, hillsides, roadsides, forest margins, and near railway stations in India, giving it the name Railway creeper. They grow rapidly and bloom profusely making them one of the best-looking wild plants.

Coastal morning glories are closely related to Common morning glory or Ipomoea purpurea and Ivy-leaved morning glory or Ipomoea hederaceae, but are distinguished by their hairless stems and lobed leaves. There is one more variant of the Coastal morning glory with white flowers as well.

Most parts of the plant are edible, the young leaves are eaten raw, while the roots are cooked and eaten. These plants have some antibiotic properties and is used in treatment of rashes, external infections and fever.

Propagation is through seeds and stem cuttings. Coastal morning glory is capable of rooting at the stem nodes, making them very hardy plants that are difficult to get rid of.

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