Argyreia nervosa, referred to via a range of common names including elephant climber, elephant creeper, elephant vine and silver morning glory, is a member of the Convolvulaceae (morning glory) family. Native to India and Burma, it was once a popular landscaping candidate in Singapore.
This perennial vine is particularly valued for its rapid growth rate and large size that it can grow into. The young shoots of this plant can extend several centimeters daily and the plant can grow up to 15 m long. Hence, Argyreia nervosa is often used to quickly cover up an area, such as a trellis or a long series of railings of a boardwalk. The visitor to the coolhouse at the National Orchid Garden in Singapore would have noticed this plant.
Argyreia nervosa is a distinctively furry plant. Its mature leaves are heart-shaped and have a light velvety feel. New growth of this vine is densely covered with fine, silver hairs that it appears as if they have been silver-plated. It is no wonder that it is a plant that is featured in HortPark’s (Singapore’s gardening hub) Silver Garden.
A friend shared with me that one can actually pick a young leaf still adorned with its silvery coat and press it between the pages of a thick book. The silver colour of the leaf will be preserved and can be laminated with a piece of cardboard to make a nice bookmark or greeting card.
Argyreia nervosa is reported to be very well adapted to a dry tropical climate such as areas near rivers and creeks but with a distinct wet and dry season. It is not naturally found in the wet, humid tropics. The silvery hairs found on the new growth is perhaps an adaptive mechanism that the plant has evolved to reduce water loss in such a climate.
This vine also produces pretty flowers at the vine tips. Hence it is advisable to not frequently cut back the growth of this plant if one desires to see its flowers. Each flower is shaped like a trumpet and resembles those produced by the common morning glory. When in flower, the blossoms add interest by punctuating the largely green background of leaves with lavender.
Besides ornamental value, Argyreia nervosa possesses medicinal properties. The roots of this flowering vine are traditionally used to treat rheumatism and arthritis whereas its leaves are applied to wounds and abscesses. Its seeds possess psychedelic effects.