Field & Hedge Bindweed
Wild Potato Vine
I haven’t talked about plants for a while, so this post is overdue. In the summer, Ohio has some showy flowering vines- some of them abundant and easy to spot, either in your garden as a commercial variety or sometimes persistently invading your garden.
First of all- what is a vine?
A vine displays a growth form based on long stems. This has two purposes. A vine may use rock exposures, other plants, or other supports for growth rather than investing energy in a lot of supportive tissue, enabling the plant to reach sunlight with a minimum investment of energy. This has been a highly successful growth form for plants such as kudzu and Japanese honeysuckle, both of which are invasive exotics in parts of North America. There are some tropical vines that develop skototropism, and grow away from the light, a type of negative phototropism. Growth away from light allows the vine to reach a tree trunk, which it can then climb to brighter regions.
The vine growth form may also enable plants to colonize large areas quickly, even without climbing high. This is the case with periwinkle and ground ivy. It is also an adaptation to life in areas where small patches of fertile soil are adjacent to exposed areas with more sunlight but little or no soil. A vine can root in the soil but have most of its leaves in the brighter, exposed area, getting the best of both environments.
The evolution of a climbing habit has been implicated as a key innovation associated with the evolutionary success and diversification of a number of taxonomic groups of plants.
Now, back to our Ohio summer focus.
Bindweed can be found both out in the country and in the city. It is quite hardy and very numerous.
Bindweed comes in two basic varieties- Field and Hedge. It gets started in May, and is abundant throughout the summer months.
Field Bindweed grows in waste areas, especially dry soil. It is a short vine with small white flowers, often seen along paths or roads.
Hedge Bindweed is a longer vine that typically grows in thickets and upon fences and other plants, and produces a larger white flower. It can be mistaken for Morning Glory.
The easiest way to identify Bindweed is to look at the leaves- they are narrow and arrowhead-shaped:
These vines are very persistent and are often seen as a pest (though a pretty one).
This is an adaptable vine, preferring full to partial sun and moist to mesic conditions. It tolerates poor soil, often flourishing in areas that are gravelly or sandy. Hedge Bindweed readily climbs a trellis, fences, and neighboring plants, while in open areas it sprawls haphazardly across the ground. The climbing ability is the result of the stems twining tightly about slender objects. This vine can spread aggressively and become a nuisance in some locations. It is known to produce allelopathic chemicals that inhibit the growth of other plants.
Occasionally you will run across pink and white Bindweed flowers, such as the one pictured above. Otherwise, it is mostly a white flower.
Speaking of white flowers, there is another less-common vine seen in the summer that fits that description.
This is Wild Potato Vine, also known as Wild Sweet Potato. I usually see it along wood edges. Its vine is very long.
Two ways to identify this vine are evident in the above picture. It has heart-shaped leaves, and its white flower always has a purple throat. The name of this plant comes from its tuber-like roots, which Native Americans ate. Many varieties of insects pollinate its flowers.
Another vine that I don’t see much of is Virgin’s Bower. It has distinctive small white flowers. I’ve seen it in woody areas. I’d like to see it more often.
Lastly, Morning Glories are both abundant and well-known. They bloom in the last half of summer, and they are hard to miss out in the country.
Common Morning Glory was introduced into North America from South America as an ornamental plant. Plants with purple flowers appear to naturalize most often. Habitats include fields, roadsides, gravelly areas along railroads, fence rows, and waste areas. Relatively open areas with a history of disturbance are preferred. This plant is still widely cultivated in gardens and around yards. Depending on the habitat, a population of naturalized plants can be either fairly persistent or ephemeral.
Perhaps the best-known feature of Morning Glories are their beautiful vibrant colors. Sure, they come in white like the other vines we’ve seen, but they also have varying shades and combinations of violet, blue, red and pink.
Notice too that the leaves are more rounded.
One of my favorite things to do in late summer is to drive along agricultural fields and see all of the Morning Glories climbing through the corn. It is an impressive color show.