Blossom XXXVIII: Akebia quinata

Akebia quinata

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Chocolate vine, Akebia, grows joyfully in a corner of our garden.  It springs back to life early in the season, when many of our other woodies are still resting.  First, the delicate spring green leaves emerge, clothing the long and twisting stem with fresh growth.  Compound leaves emerge in groups of five leaflets, which is how it earned its species name, ‘quintata‘.  And then its beautiful rosy flower buds appear, opening over a long season of several weeks.

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I mail-ordered this ‘chocolate vine’ several years ago to clothe a new arbor we were installing.  I’d never grown it before, and never admired it growing in another’s garden.  But I’m always interested in trying new things; especially unusual fruits.    This vine is supposed to produce an edible pod that tastes like chocolate.

And I only ordered one, not the two necessary for pollination, to first determine whether it would grow well for us.  Does it like our climate?  Will the deer eat it?

Yes, and no.  And from that first bare root twig, it has taken off and begun to take over this corner of the yard!  Yes, I could prune it into better manners.  But I rather like its wild sprawl through the neighboring trees.

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But as much as the vine extends itself, it doesn’t appear to pollinate itself.  We’ve not yet found any edible pods to taste.  I could plant another vine to see if I can make them produce fruit, but that would be unwise. 

Akebia grows so robustly that it can smother out other nearby plants.  It is considered invasive in the mid-Atlantic region and has made the list of regulated invasive species in Kentucky, South Carolina and Georgia.

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We enjoy this vine for its flowers.  It is simply stunning in bloom, filling its real estate with bright flowers.  There are plenty of little dangling stems to cut to add to flower arrangements.

I’ve never noticed this vine growing in the wild in Virginia, and have not heard of it being a problem in native habitats in our area.  It is something of a novelty to us.

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In its native Asia, where both the pulp and the husk of the fruit are enjoyed in cooking, the vines are cut and woven into baskets.  The vines wrap themselves in neat spirals around their supports, laying themselves in parallel layers like a living sculpture.  Akebia was first imported to the United States as an ornamental vine around 1845.

Akebia is a beautiful plant, and you can find it from several good mail order nurseries in the United States and the UK. You will even find named cultivars.   It tolerates shade, is drought tolerant, and grows in a variety of soils.  This deciduous, woody vine is hardy in Zones 4-10.  The color of its flowers blends well with other springtime flowers in our garden.

Ironically, the more resilient and adaptable a plant, the more likely it will eventually make it on to a list of ‘invasive’ plants.   Although this spreads and roots at the nodes, I feel confident that the birds won’t spread it elsewhere, since our vine isn’t producing fruits and seeds.

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I would plant Akebia again, given the opportunity.  It is a useful  vine to cover a trellis, pergola, fence or wall.  But use it with caution, and do keep the secateurs handy.

I’ll need to give ours a trim this spring, when the flowers have faded, to keep it in bounds.  That said, some of those trimmings will be rooted and shared with gardening friends.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Blossom XXXVII: Daffodils, Variations On A Theme

Blossom XXXVI: Crocus

Blossom XXXV: In The Forest

About woodlandgnome

Lifelong teacher and gardener.

5 responses to “Blossom XXXVIII: Akebia quinata

  1. My husband saw this plant last year and wanted to try it in our own garden. It really was tiny still and seemed to struggle most of last year. I’d read that it can eventually be a problem – it can get unmanageable.
    After seeing how well yours has performed, I’m now a bit worried that it could over-power the area where I placed it. Since you’ve decided to forego pruning yours, what observations have you noticed as regards to keep it in check if it was growing more prominently and not in a woodland setting???

    • As with many vines, it is true with Akebia: ‘The first year it sleeps, the second it creeps, and the third year it leaps!’ Be ready for that third year, and thereafter. Treat it like a pet. Establish boundaries, and enforce them (with your shears, in this case.) It isn’t badly behaved at all… just vigorous and adventurous. If I’d been more mindful during the summer months when it isn’t so noticeable, it wouldn’t have escaped into the trees! Good luck, WG

  2. Sounds dangerous! With battling out-of-bounds invasive plants already taking over our woods, I’d be leery to introduce another. Be cautious! If one of your neighbors plants one, you will have fruit, which the birds will spread. There were Russian Olives in our yard when we moved here 28 years ago. I loved their fragrant flowers and fruit. Then I learned about invasive species and cut them down. Alas, too late, as I’ve noticed plants growing on neighbors land and I am powerless to stop their spread. 😦
    I’m reading Doug Tallamy again, so his words are fresh in my mind!

    • Funny you mention Tallamy. It occurred to me, Eliza, that I’ve not noticed bees or other insects visiting the Akebia flowers. Thousands of flowers, and no buzzing. Could it be that there are no fruits because the local insects don’t recognize or like the nectar and pollen from these Asian flowers? Tallamy discusses this in relation to introduced species- that the local ‘bugs’ don’t use them, and the native plants they want and need have been crowded out…. He makes a strong argument, and we make sure to have plenty of natives available to support the ecosystem.
      I remember seeing autumn olive sold as a wildlife friendly shrub/hedge in the 80s. One just appeared in our garden a few years ago, and it took me a year or two to ID it. It is a rangy thing, and more have sprouted in our wild areas. I like the fragrance when it blooms, and birds do eat its fruits. At some point our annual ‘hard pruning’ will evolve to ‘removal.’ But honestly, with the deer pressure here, I am really happy when things grow and don’t get gnawed on by ‘the herd.’ Seeing so many plants I’ve purchased destroyed by the critters here has changed my lens for choosing plants….
      Understanding the ecology of natives and invasive plants, I am also deeply aware that every plant sequesters carbon, provides O2, and filters the air. Every plant helps hold the soil against erosion and many provide cover and shelter for wildlife. I am pro-plant, and probably don’t ask enough questions about each plant’s provenance… 😉

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