Thursday, June 21, 2012

Kangaroo Vine

Cissus antarctica
Now is fruiting time for Kangaroo vines. Probably our best-known local rainforest vines, they are potentially very large plants. Because they can grow high into rainforest canopies, we might only be aware of their presence because we find the fruits on the ground.

These can be distinguished from the similar-looking (but poisonous) fruits of the roundleaf vine Legnephora moorei  (see May 2010) by the shape of their seeds.(see May 2010) 

  Kangaroo vine’s seeds are recognisably shaped like seeds of the grapes we buy in the shops. These are true "native grapes" and can be eaten. They can irritate the throat, however, so are best not given to children.

Kangaroo vines are also common plants of rainforest edges, with foliage forming a screen right down to the ground. The leaves are very variable - sometimes toothed and sometimes not.

Note the tendrils which grow opposite a leaf - a distinguishing characteristic of plants of the grape family (Vitaceae).
The sculptural shape of the  new shoots is very beautiful indeed.
The strong stems of this vine were once used as ropes for climbing trees. The technique involved making a loop around the tree trunk and the waist of the climber, who leaned back into it and “walked” up the trunk, slipping the loop upwards with each step.
This fast-growing climber is often used in gardens for its handsome curtain of shiny leaves. It is not a small plant, however, and can easily gobble up a small garden. Where there is room, a vine can be used to cover a fences or convert a large pergola into a shady outdoor space, or left to scramble up a large tree. Kangaroo vines are also used as ground covers on large banks and road batters.
Their leaves are hardy to full sun, but the plants prefer their roots to be well-shaded or under a thick layer of mulch. They tolerate droughts and light frosts.
Confining small plants to pots does slow down their rapid growth rate, and they are very popular in America as indoor plants. Tip-pruning them turns them into bushy trailers, hanging gracefully from pots in high positions. Alternatively, they can be grown in troughs to create green screens, or trained as a green archway between rooms.


Tom said...

Hi Trish - nice plant to have in a larger garden. We have a plant that I thought was Cissus antarctica for many years but have since discovered it is Tetrastigma nitens or "native grape". It has never fruited - I wonder if it is a dioecious plant?

Patricia Gardner said...

Hi Tom.
Tetrastigma nitens is a lovely plant, isn't it? I wonder if your plant has ever flowered? I think they have to be quite old before they do.
You're on the right track, asking if they're dioecious. They are oddities, being "polygamo-dioecious" this means that some plants are sort of male, having a mixture of male flowers and bisexual ones - and other plants are sort of female in the same way. Potentially, both kinds should be able to set fertile fruit, but you're obviously going to get more from the mostly female plants.
I think they are by far the best-tasting of the native grapes.