Blossom XXXVIII: Akebia quinata

Akebia quinata

~

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.

~

~

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.

~

~

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.

~

~

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.

~

~

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.

~

~

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.

~

~

Woodland Gnome 2018

*

Blossom XXXVII: Daffodils, Variations On A Theme

Blossom XXXVI: Crocus

Blossom XXXV: In The Forest

Advertisements

Chocolate Vine

April 16, 2015 flowers 002

~

Do you plant vines in your garden?

I planted this chocolate vine, Akebia quinata, on a whim about four years ago.  It was one of those unusual plants in the winter catalogs which caught my eye, and so I ordered one.  It is one of the many flowers blooming in our garden this week.

Native to Japan, Korea, and China, this useful vine was smuggled out of China in 1845 by Scotsman Robert Fortune, who brought it to Britain.  Akebia quinata, so named because each leaf has five sections, was brought on to the United States some time after that.

~

April 16, 2015 flowers 003

~

Does Fortune’s name sound familiar?  He is famous for smuggling plants out of China and back to Britain.  He brought the first tea plants, and knowledge of how to cultivate them, out of China and to India in 1848, on behalf of the British East India Company.    He was responsible for the tea industry in India, where tea had not previously grown.

The Akebia quinata vine has been planted enough now in the United States that it has naturalized along the East coast and as far west as Oregon.

Each vine, which may grow to 40 feet, bears both male and female flowers. The female flowers will often form sweet fruits in autumn.  I say ‘often’ because our vine hasn’t yet borne fruit.  Not only are the fruits a sweet treat, but the woody vine may be used medicinally.  The leaves of this vine are sometimes used as a tea substitute, and the new tender growth of the vines may be eaten.

~

The larger flowers are female, and may eventually form fruits in late September and October.  The smaller flowers contain the pollen.  Some catalogs specify that two vines are needed for fruit production, and we have only one.

The larger flowers are female, and may eventually form fruits in late September and October. The smaller flowers contain the pollen. Some catalogs specify that two vines are needed for fruit production, and we have only one.

~

Some smell a chocolate fragrance in the vine’s flowers.  Others identify the fragrance as more like allspice, or lilac.  It may also be called a ‘chocolate vine’ because the flowers are such a dark and dusky purple color in some cultivars.  The fruit, which is also purpley brown, may be eaten raw or cooked.

The husk of the fruit may be stuffed and fried.  The fruit is high in both protein and Vitamin C.  The seeds are about a third oil, and the oil is rendered in Asia for making soap and for cooking.  The vines may be woven into baskets.

These vines may be grown on a trellis, up into a tree, or allowed to scamper as an attractive ground cover.

~

April 16, 2015 flowers 005

~

This plant was unknown to me when I ordered it, but I enjoy it in the garden.  It grows as a hardy woody perennial, hardy in zones 4-8, and keeps a few of its leaves each winter.  It has gotten scant attention beyond a little training and a dusting of Rose Tone each year.  It shares its trellis with roses, and so benefits whenever I feed them.

~

April 17, 2015 garden 010

~

I enjoy it for its spring flowers, its beautiful vines, and for the spectacle it has made in this part of the garden.  It has long since left its trellis to scamper up into nearby trees.  Now it is also branching out at the base and scrambling over the ground, which is fine.  It has never been grazed by deer or rabbits in our garden. Although it can grow in full sun, it prefers partial shade and moist soil.

~

April 16, 2015 flowers 007

~

Some areas consider this beautiful and useful Akebia quinata an invasive plant.  It isn’t considered invasive in Virginia, and in fact, I don’t recall ever seeing it growing here wild.  If you have been looking at it in the winter catalogs, and considering whether to buy it, it might be worth the money.  As with many plants which can grow quite large, you need either the space to let it have its way, or you need to stay after it with the pruners.

It is still cultivated in Asia as a food crop, for its fruits, seeds, and tender new growth.   When a plant is beautiful, edible, hardy and easy to grow; it gets high marks from me.

~

April 16, 2015 flowers 001~

Woodland Gnome 2015

 

WPC: Twist

Chocolate Vine, Akebia quinata, twisting and spiraling as it climbs.

Chocolate Vine, Akebia quinata, twisting and spiraling as it climbs.

Here Chocolate Vine, Akebia quinata, twists around itself and the arbor it shares with a climbing rose and the Clematis.

May 14, 2014 roses 029

“Twist” is its method of climbing up to the sun, staking out its own bit of real estate on the shared skeleton of the arbor as it also scampers across the body of the rose.

May 14, 2014 roses 028

Spiraling ever upwards from Earth to sky, its vines living sculpture; it perfectly expresses the exuberance of our garden in spring.

Two Clematis vines share the arbor with the rose and Chocolate Vine.

Clematis vines share the arbor with the rose and Chocolate Vine.

Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Twist

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 671 other followers

Follow Forest Garden on WordPress.com
Order Classic Caladiums

This Month’s Posts

Topics of Interest