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Exotic ‘Elephant Creeper’ plant may bloom this weekend

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Posted at 10:43 AM, Sep 21, 2012
and last updated 2012-09-21 10:43:28-04

The Virginia Zoo’s Elephant Creeper (Virginia Zoo photo by Greg Bockheim).

An exotic plant and staple at the Virginia Zoo is expected to bloom this weekend, just in time for the first day of autumn.

Zoo officials describe the plant, Argyreia nervosa, commonly referred to as the ‘Elephant Creeper’ or ‘Woolly Morning Glory’ – as a rambunctious, high-climbing, woody, twining vine that flaunts lovely, bell-shaped, pink blossoms with light-purple throats. They say it blooms only once a year.

Unlike the American native creeper, the Elephant Creeper has heart-shaped leaves that are over a foot long. Native to India, it is a rare site to see in Hampton Roads and even a rarer site to see in bloom, experts say.

In India, the roots and seeds of the Elephant Creeper have frequently been used medicinally as a support of the nervous system, a geriatric tonic and mild aphrodisiac. The whole plant is reported to have purifying properties, and is also taken to help maintain healthy joints.

This vigorous twiner has been known to grow up to 45 feet in length, and can be trained over a post or stump.

The Zoo’s Elephant Creeper has grown to more than 30 feet in height on a lamppost off of the Zoo’s fountain plaza. Adding to the Zoo’s exotic collection of plants, the creeper is expected to bloom this weekend!