Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The entwining climbing plant

Morning glory Ipomea purpurea
The common morning glory is a familiar garden plant. It requires a moist rich soil and when seeds from cultivated plants reach the countryside they survive only in valleys with water courses which remain humid throughout most of the year.

This species is native to Mexico and Central America but it has become established in many countries outside its normal range. In some countries it is considered a pest but in Malta it does not grow in large numbers as in the summer months few places have enough water to support it.

The plant entwines itself around branches and other structures and can climb up to three metres high.

The large flowers are usually blue to purple but white, pink and red cultivars have been developed by gardeners with some varieties having more than one colour.

The seeds contain a substance similar to lysergic acid diethylamide known in short as LSD and have been used in the past as psychedelic agents.

The morning glory forms part of the genus Ipomea which belongs to the bindweed family. Several species of bindweed known in Maltese as leblieb are indigenous to the Maltese islands.

At least four species of morning glory have been found growing in the Maltese countryside. None of them is indigenous to the Maltese islands and all have been introduced to Malta as garden plants.

The Ipomea is a large genus. The members of the genus are native to the tropical and subtropical parts of the world. Most species are annual twining climbing plants but some are perennials that can take the shape of small trees. The large flowers of Ipomeas are often pollinated by hawk moths and in the Americas by hummingbirds.

Many members of the genus have medicinal value and some are used as food.  The seeds of some South American species were used by the Aztecs in religious, shamanic and spiritual rituals. 

This article was published in The Times of Malta on 24 July 2013

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