When it comes to trailing and twining plants I’m most familiar with riverbank grape, Virginia creeper, wild cucumber, and poison ivy. These vines are common in the southeast Michigan forests I frequent. There are other vines in my region, however, that are abundant in open areas. Some of the most common are those in the morning-glory family (Convolvulaceae). On Sunday I hiked through the sunny meadows of Side Cut Metropark near Maumee, Ohio, and came upon many of these man-of-the-earth plants (Ipomoea pandurata, Convolvulaceae).
Man-of-the-earth has a number of features that set it apart from other morning-glories. The flowers are big and showy, predominantly white with purple centers and white anthers. The five large petals are united into a trumpet shape. The leaves are heart shaped, and the young shoots, petioles, and leaf veins often have a reddish tint:
Man-of-the-earth grows a large, starchy root that can weigh up to 30 pounds. Some Native Americans used them as food. Because of that, this plant is also known as big-root morning-glory, wild potato-vine, and wild sweet potato. It isn’t closely related to the cultivated potato, which is in the nightshade family (Solanaceae). It is, however, closely related to the sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas, Convolvulaceae). The flowers look very similar.