Ipomoea macrantha

beach moonflower


Ipomoea macrantha

Roem. & Schult. 1819

pronounced: ip-oh-MEE-uh mack--RAN-thuh

(Convolvulaceae — the morning glory family)


common name: beach moonflower, Marpeļe

native 4Ipomoea comes from the Greek ιψ (ips), a worm, or rather from its genitive (possessive) form ιπος (ipos), and 'ομοιος (homoios), like; so it means ‘worm-like’, referring to the coiled flower bud. Macrantha is also Greek, from μακρος (macros), large and ανθος (anthos), a flower, anther.  Marpeļe is the Marshallese name for the plant.

This is the most widely-spread native morning glory species in the Pacific. It occurs in tropical America, tropical East Africa, Asia, Malesia and the Pacific islands.

In Australia it occurs right across the top end of the country, and right down the east coast of Queensland, at altitudes up to about 100 m. It is found growing as a low-lying vine on beaches, or as a semi-woody creeper in coastal forest. This plant is one of those collected in 1770 by Banks and Solander during the voyage of the Endeavour. It was collected at the Endeavour River (Cooktown).

The vine pictured is growing by the side of Gustav Creek as it enters the Nelly Bay Harbour.

The plant is twining, with stems growing to about 5 m in length, and stem diameters of up to 5 cm have been recorded; the bark, twigs and petioles produce a milky exudate.

The leaves are cordate or roundish, the blades about 5 – 14 cm by 7 – 13 cm, with petioles about 3 – 10 cm long. There are 2 flat reddish glands visible on the underside of the leaf blade on the petiole close to its junction with the blade.

The white flowers occur singly or in small bunches, are tube-shaped at their base, and up to about 10 cm long. They open at night, hence the common name Moonflower. There are 4 sepals about 3.5 cm by 1.5 – 2 cm, tightly clasping the base of the flower. The corolla tube is about 6 – 8 mm long and 6 – 10 cm diameter at the apex. The corolla is white, with a pink centre near the base; the stamens are inserted near the base of the corolla tube, and the stigma is bilobed.

The globular fruit capsules, about 2.5 cm in diameter, contain 4 (occasionally 5 or 6) seeds roughly 1 cm in diameter, which are slightly depressed globose in shape. They are densely clothed in short dark hairs, except for a ring of white hairs about 5 mm long around the equator. Originally a yellowish green, the capsules turn brown on drying out and become rather papery, and the calyx lobes persist, spreading like the petals of a rose.

On the Marshall Islands the leaves of this plant are fed to pigs, as it is believed that the meat obtained from such pigs will not be greasy. The leaves are also used to wrap some of the foods that are cooked in the um (earth oven), especially bōb (Pandanus) and fish.

A medicinal bath and a drink are produced from the leaves, and juices extracted from the fruits are used to treat burns.


Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.


Photographs taken in Nelly Bay, 2013, 2014
Page last updated 19th January 2019