Convolvulaceae can be recognized by their funnel-shaped, radially symmetrical corolla; the floral formula for the family has five sepals, five fused petals, five epipetalous stamens (stamens fused to the petals), and a two-part syncarpous and superior gynoecium. The stems of these plants are usually winding, hence their Latin name (from convolvere, "to wind"). The leaves are simple and alternate, without stipules. The fruit can be a capsule, berry, or nut, all containing only two seeds per one locule (one ovule/ovary).
The leaves and starchy, tuberous roots of some species are used as foodstuffs (e.g. sweet potato and water spinach), and the seeds are exploited for their medicinal value as purgatives. Some species contain ergolinealkaloids that are likely responsible for the use of these species as ingredients in psychedelicdrugs (e.g. ololiuhqui). The presence of ergolines in some species of this family is due to infection by fungi related to the ergot fungi of the genus Claviceps. A recent study of Convolvulaceae species, Ipomoea asarifolia, and its associated fungi showed the presence of a fungus, identified by DNA sequencing of 18s and ITS ribosomal DNA and phylogenetic analysis to be closely related to fungi in the family Clavicipitaceae, was always associated with the presence of ergoline alkaloids in the plant. The identified fungus appears to be a seed-transmitted, obligate biotroph growing epiphytically on its host. This finding strongly suggests the unique presence of ergoline alkaloids in some species of the family Convolvulaceae is due to symbiosis with clavicipitaceous fungi. Moreover, another group of compounds, loline alkaloids, commonly produced by some members of the clavicipitaceous fungi (genus Neotyphodium), has been identified in a convolvulaceous species, but the origin of the loline alkaloids in this species is unknown.
Members of the family are well known as showy garden plants (e.g. morning glory) and as troublesome weeds (e.g. bindweed).
According to the study of D. F. Austin (see Reference) the family Convolvulaceae can be classified in the tribes Ericybeae, Cressea, Convolvuleae, merremioids, Ipomoeae, Argyreiae, Poraneae, Dichondreae and Cuscuteae (sometimes classified as a separate family Cuscutaceae).
Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD) Stats Specimen Records:1275 Specimens with Sequences:1582 Specimens with Barcodes:1144 Species:476 Species With Barcodes:462 Public Records:688 Public Species:346 Public BINs:0
The family Convolvulaceae is characterized by the common name Morning glories, within which there are approximately 55 to 60 genera, depending upon expert classification scheme invoked; correspondingly, there are somewhere between 1650 and 2000 species within the family.
Molecular phylogenics has provided considerable insight on the cladistic arrangement of the entire Solanales order, which is now known to have originated in the mid-Cretaceous era with a stem node date of approximately 106 million years before present. The closest family is also known to be the Solanaceae.
The family distribution is widespread across the globe, but individual species are often found in locales where they are alien species, acting as invasives to the local ecology or to productive agriculture. In many such cases herbicides are invoked to limit the propagation of some Convolvulaceae species.
Herbs or shrubs, sometimes with latex, usually twining or prostrate, less often erect, sometimes parasitic with leaves reduced to scales (Cuscuta). Stipules 0, but stipule-like structures sometimes present. Leaves alternate. Flowers often large and showy, usually bracteate, 5-merous, actinomorphic, bisexual. Sepals 5. Corolla fused, entire or slightly 4-5-lobed, usually campanulate or funnel-shaped, less often cylindric. Styles 1-2, mostly terminal; stigmas 1-4. Ovary superior, entire or 2-4-lobed. Fruit usually a dry loculicidal capsule, sometimes indehiscent and baccate or nut-like. Seeds 1-4 (rarely 6 or 10).