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Bush Morning-Glory

Bush Morning Glory
All photos by Jim Mason

Common Name:
Bush Morning-glory

Scientific Name:
Ipomoea leptophylla

A.K.A.:
Man Root

A person travelling through the high plains in summer might notice a large spreading wildflower up to four feet high - almost a shrub - with huge pink/purple flowers on it growing on a roadside embankment.  The flowers are funnel-shaped and up to 3 1/2 inches long.  The leaves are quite skinny (length 2 - 8.5 cm, width 1 - 8 mm).   This is the Bush Morning-glory. 

It may be found west of the 97th meridian from the Black Hills of South Dakota to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado to the Texas panhandle.   It is the only member of its genus on the Great Plains that grows erect and bushy rather than by twining on its surroundings.

Bush Morning-glory is a member of the same family of plants that includes the Sweet Potato (Ipomoea batatas), the garden varieties of Morning-glory and Bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis).  The latter is one of our most pernicious weeds and should not be confused with Bush Morning-glory.  The flowers of Bindweed are white and only about an inch across, its leaves are shaped like an arrowhead and it twines instead of standing erect.

Aside from its flowers, the most startling thing about Bush Morning-glory is what is beneath the ground.    It draws its nickname of "Man Root" from the huge taproot it develops, which is nearly the size of a person.   Immediately below the ground surface and then for another foot or so, it will have a root about 1/2 inch in diameter.  Below that, it will abruptly swell into a huge turnip-shaped taproot as much as 2 feet thick and 5-6 feet long!  Lateral roots off this may extend out another 25 feet!  Obviously, this species expects to see hard times and prepares accordingly.

 

Bush Morning Glory blossoms

The root was used as a food source by Native Americans during winter.  It needs to be boiled or baked because it is bitter when raw.   Younger specimens were preferred to the gigantic older ones described above, both for reasons of taste and ease of digging them up!

Because of its hardiness and showy blossoms, Bush Morning-glory is a good candidate for a prairie garden.  It can be grown from seeds, although they require cold-stratification.  Plants grown from seed will not bloom until they are a few years old.  The plant is very cold-tender.  It begins growth in late spring and goes dormant with the first frost.  It can produce blooms all summer long.    After a few years, if you decide you don't like it in your garden, you can dig up the root and eat it!

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- This page was spun by Jim Mason -

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Great Plains Nature Center
6232 E. 29th Street North
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