Economic Botany

, Volume 55, Issue 4, pp 515–527 | Cite as

A putative tropical American plant,Ipomoea nil (Convolvulaceae), in pre-Columbian Japanese art

  • Daniel F. Austin
  • Kaoru Kitajima
  • Yoshiaki Yoneda
  • Llanfen Qian


The Heike Nôkyô, Japanese scrolls of Buddhist sutras created in 1164 AD, includes illustrations of anIpomoea that has long been identified by Japanese scholars asI. nil. What makes this occurrence ofI. nil in pre-Columbian Japan remarkable is that all of its closest relatives are American plants. We give a synopsis of the history of this economically important species. Then, using cladistic analysis, we show the relationships ofI. nil toI.eriocalyx,I. hederacea,I. indica,I. laeta,I. lindheimeri,I. meyeri, andI. pubescens. Six of these eight species inIpomoea seriesHeterophyllae are endemic to the New World.Ipomoea indica is pantropical, and may be carried by ocean currents. We offer four hypotheses as to how this putatively tropical American species may have arrived in Asia: 1)Ipomoea nil was introduced through long-distance dispersal by animals; 2)Ipomoea nil was introduced by humans in a pre-Columbian context; 3) TheIpomoea in theHeike Nôkyô scrolls does not representI. nil, but a different native Asian species; and 4)Ipomoea nil was introduced during post-Columbian times by Europeans. There are problems with accepting any of these possible alternatives.

Key Words

Ipomoea nil asagao qian niu Ipomoea seriesHeterophyllae cladistic analysis biogeography phylogeny 

Una planta aparentemente Americana tropical (Ipomoea nil, Convolvulaceae), representada en una pieza de arte Japonesa pre-Colombiana


LosHeike Nôkyô, pergaminos japoneses creados por sutras Budhistas en 1164 AD, incluyen ilustraciones de unaIpomoea que ha sido identificada por estudiosos japoneses comoI. nil. La presencia deI. nil en Japón pre-Colombino es notable porque todos sus parientes cercanos son nativos del continente Americano tropical. Aquí presentamos un resúmen de la historia de esta planta, que es de importancia económica. Luego, usando un análisis cladistico, mostramos las relaciones deI. nil conI. eriocalyx,I. hederacea,I. indica,I. laeta,I. lindheimeri,I. meyeri, eI. pubescens. Seis de estas ocho especies deIpomoea serieHeterophyllae son endémicas al Nuevo Mundo.Ipomoea indicaes pantropical, y tal vez sea traido por corrientes oceánicas. Ofrecemos cuatro hipótesis para explicar como esta especie, de origen aparentemente americano tropical, puede haber llegado a Asia: 1)Ipomoea nil fue introducida a troves de dispersión a larga distancia por animates; 2)Ipomoea nil fue intoducida por humanos en un contexto pre-Colombino; 3) LaIpomoea en los pergaminosHeike Nôkyô no representa aI. nil, sino a otra especie nativa de Asia; 4)Ipomoea nil fue introducida durante tiempos post-Colombinos por europeos. Hay problemas con la aceptación de todas estas alternativas.


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Copyright information

© The New York Botanical Garden 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel F. Austin
    • 1
  • Kaoru Kitajima
    • 1
    • 2
  • Yoshiaki Yoneda
    • 1
    • 3
  • Llanfen Qian
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesFlorida Atlantic UniversityBoca Raton
  2. 2.Department of BotanyUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA
  3. 3.Shizuoka UniversityShizuokaJapan
  4. 4.Department of MathematicsFlorida Atlantic UniversityBoca RatonUSA

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