858 Ipomoea pes-capraeCommon Names: railroad vine, goat's foot vine Family: Convolvulaceae (morning glory Family)
Railroad vine can cover 100 ft (30.5 m) as it races along the beach, but it never gets more than a few inches high. This is an evergreen perennial with a large, thick root that can be 10 ft (3.1 m) long and 2 in (5.1 cm) in diameter. The stem is flexible, 0.5 in (1.3 cm) in diameter, branches freely and roots at the nodes. The fleshy leathery leaves are about 4 in (10.2 cm) long and carried on petioles 6 in (15.2 m) long. The leaves are notched at the apex, creating two equal lobes which must have looked like the imprint of a goat's foot to Professor Linnaeus who named the plant. The flowers are very showy, pink to lavender purple funnels about 2 in (5.1 m) long. Each flower opens only once, in the morning, but they keep coming almost all year long, peaking from May through November.
Railroad vine, Ipomoea pes-caprae, grows on sand dunes and beaches above the high tide line in tropical and subtropical regions throughout the world. In the U.S. it occurs on the coast from Texas to Georgia. Railroad vine is a pioneer plant, often associated with sea oats, defending the beach against erosion.
CultureRailroad vine is very fast growing, and thrives in some of the the worst soils imaginable. It will have to be pruned to be kept in bounds. Light: Full sun. Moisture: Once it is established, railroad vine is highly tolerant of drought. Hardiness: USDA Zones 8 - 11. Railroad vine may be marginal in Zone 8A. Propagation: Railroad vine is easy to start from cuttings, and it also is easy to grow from seed.
Like sea oats, railroad vine is highly resistant to heat, salt and wind. Railroad vine is a robust ground cover where few other plants can even survive. It helps to stabilize sand dunes by rooting at nodes all along its length, and is often planted for that purpose. Use railroad vine for a groundcover on excessively dry soils. Railroad vine grows to great lengths to please.
The Carib Indians used railroad vine in ritual baths to alleviate evil spells. The juice from the succulent leaves has been used as a first aid to treat jellyfish stings.
There are about 500 species of morning glories. Some, like cypress vine (I. quamoclit) and moonflower (I. alba) are pretty ornamentals. Some like garden morning glory (I. tricolor) which is also a popular ornamental, are hallucinogenic. The sweet potato (I. batatus) is an important and delicious food crop. The name, "beach morning glory", usually refers to a species with white flowers that also grows on the beach, I. imperati (or I. stolonifera, as it used to be called).
Steve Christman 11/10/00