Wild Potato Vine (Man-of-the-Earth)

Family: 
Convolvulaceae (morning glories)
Description: 

Perennial, trailing or climbing vine. Flowers 1-7 in terminal clusters, each flower on a long peduncle, funnel-shaped, to 3 inches long, white with a dark crimson or purple center. Blooms May–September. Leaves on long stems, heart-shaped, pointed, to 6 inches long. Root a tuber to 2 feet long and weighing 20 pounds or more, often branched, leglike.

Size: 
Stems can grow to 16 feet in length.
Habitat and conservation: 
Occurs on banks of rivers and streams, margins of lakes and ponds, ditches, roadsides and railroads, and other disturbed areas; also crop fields, fallow fields, and old fields. This plant is in the same genus as cultivated sweet potato (I. batatas), which, like most others in the genus, is a tropical plant. The genus also includes cultivated morning glory flowers as well as many serious agricultural weeds, such as bindweed.
Distribution in Missouri: 
Statewide.
Human connections: 
The large, fleshy, vertical roots are difficult to excavate but are edible. Native Americans cooked and ate it as a starchy vegetable. The rootstock is also said to have mild purgative properties. As a garden plant, it can grow rapidly, smothering nearby plants, and often needs support.
Ecosystem connections: 
Long-tongued insects—bees, butterflies, moths—visit the flowers. Several types of beetles and moth larvae eat the foliage; others feed on the rootstock. Caterpillars eating the leaves acquire the plants' toxicity as a predator deterrent. The tangled foliage creates a refuge for many animals.