Friday, April 23, 2010

Chocolate vine

Above, chocolate vine in flower in Cobble Hill.

I have once seen a fruit on a chocolate vine, in a protected garden in New Jersey. It smelled like pineapples and passion fruit, had split a little, and looked a bit like a pale aubergine. It was all I could do to restrain myself from taking a bite.

Imagine a plant collector's delight, finding this vine on an exotic continent, bringing it back home, growing it in a greenhouse, watching it make fruit. Serving that fruit - or sending it to the closest blue-blooded house as a gift - to be eaten with bone handled silverware from fragile China plates after dinner.


Tsk tsk tsk. No chocolate vine allowed. Akebia quinata is invasive. Native to China, Japan and Korea, it takes off in Eastern woods and smothers the vines and small shrubs that got here first. Which means less food and habitat for local animal life. I used it back in the day before I knew (how's that for a title?: Before I Knew...). But then I learned (that could be the sequel).

I see the attraction. The leaves are pretty, the curious flowers are compelling, smell good, and might one day make that strange, headily-scented fruit.

Temptation. It all started with a snake. And he offered fruit.

He knew what he was doing.

Call me Eve.

What are your forbidden plant obsessions?


  1. My forbidden plant is the ornamental ginger that grows from rhyzomes, loves damp places and river beds and is a really serious invader here in South Africa. I think its botanical name is Hedychium coronarium and the flowers, which come in late summer, early autumn have the most fantastic perfume, which permeate throughout my garden and even inside the house on still hot evenings.
    I have had it growing in my garden for many years, the rhyzomes move around, but my thinking is that it cannot get out of my garden and anyway I am not near a river or wetland. Birds do not spread this plant, so I indulge myself by keeping and enjoying it.
    Marie, your mom will know this plant its all over the greenbelt in Constantia, near her house.

  2. I must admit that I love the Burning Bush I planted in my back yard. I had no idea it was invasive when I bought it, though I haven't seen any baby Burning Bushes popping up in either the yard or surrounding woods.

    I would also love to have some bamboo, though that I will most certainly constrain to a giant pot or planter on the back deck.

  3. buddleia. i planted one Before I Knew, and one After I Learned (hey, it was free). i am still very ambivalent about tearing them out. (i live bird-close to a water way.)

    as penance, i kill japanese knot weed & black swallow-wort in my neighborhood.

  4. Whatever grows on my urban rooftop has to be tough. So let's face it, invasive species do best. My dwarf scotch brooms (cytisus something ...) remind me of the south of France and home ... but I know it is considered to be nuisance shrubs by most.

  5. I planted an akebia vine in my Carroll Gardens garden. It certainly did not seem especially rampant -- in fact, it seemed very tentative in its growth. It has a few wan flowers and never any fruit. Then I planted dicentra scandens in that area, which really took off (though I can't think it hurt the akebia since the bleeding heart vine is so delicate and did not survive the winter).

  6. A neighbor (Sunset park) gave me some akebia quinata pods when the garden was brand new. First year barely anything. Second a bit of something. Then it took off and I was happy at how well it covered the ugly chain link fence. But now, four years later it grows up over the fence, doubling back on itself, I feel like all I do is cut it back and try to keep the runners. The roots don't leave room for anything else I'm trying to plant in that spot. This year lots of flowers and I almost want to weep; no more! no more!

  7. I have so many. Almost everything I plant spreads out of control in my garden, and most of those are natives! Of course, native or not is not the issue.

    I planted a lot of red barberry when I was a teenager.
    Its still nice to look at and the birds love it. Now I see it every where upstate, CT in the woods- although in green.

    Still have my wife's fave dames rocket in the garden. It is of course, everywhere- but not so in the garden. I'm taking the advice to one one who must keep their forbidden plant: cut off the fading flowers to limit the seed production- no problem, we do that anyway for even the non-invasives!

    Oh that bitter pill, doing the rational over the instinctual.

  8. Lyn, yes, I saw it in bloom in the greenbelt early in the year. The flowers were stupendous! If I lived there I think I would organize a Greenbelt Watch to hack some stuff out. Big job. And install dog poo bins. It's a much abused green strip. Hm: that's pretty good motivation to move back :-)

    m.heart - yes, I've used and loved Burning Bush (Euonymous alatus) too. But after I saw it wild in the Catskills (and beautiful, too - in the shade they turn pale pink and cream in the fall, and are more sprawling in habit), in the understoreys of the woods, I was quite shocked. Rampant. So that made me resolve Not to Do it Again :-)

    Donna...ooooh, buddleia. I know!!! It smells wonderful. I am tempted myself. I know it as invasive by reputation and have not seen it in action. I do wonder about specific species' invasive tendencies in highly urban areas. It depends on how they are dispersed, I imagine. Seed, underground rhizomes, runners, fruit. I'd say seeds and fruit that attract birds might be dangerous, as the birds fly off and deposit them. Though how long does it take seed to go through a bird? If the bird is migrating, maybe bad news? Can burning bush in a city be a problem? Can windblown seed? It must disperse to an arable patch of land. Tricky in the NY metropolitan area. Then we do have woods and wetlands...sigh.

    The rule seems to be as Frank says, don't let them go to seed...

    Lambert - yes, tough is key. I am finding more and more local Toughs, though, which is encouraging. Cytisus smells wonderful.

    Anonymouse - Dicentra scandens, now that's interesting. Where did you come by it? Akebia might be too shady, too damp, who knows. But see green light's comment :-)

    green light - I see a rampant one near me in Cobble Hill and also wondered about the roots. Maybe it's time to declare war.

    Frank! I'd never heard the name Dame's Rocket before and googled it, recognizing the flower as one Jen from Last Night's Dinner just used in a green pea pasta dish :-). Nor did I know it as gilliflowers, but I've read about them in books (fiction). Yes, you're right: snipsnipsnip.

  9. PS Donna

    For knotweed, look at Ellen Zachos' blog. It's edible and delicious - yeah, - know I made you eat day lilies :-). The post links have a gremlin at the moment but this archive link takes you there if you scroll down.

  10. The Weed Police have been chasing me forever, I think!
    But I'm with Frank on the practical steps we can take.It's usually the "accidents of ignorance" that get out of hand.Mind you, some nurseries are still selling problem plants.

    "Dear Mr Tradescant...we love the Moscow Rose, the lily of the ruby hue. For many lovely garden plants we're deep in dept to you. But please, Mr. Tradescant - TAKE BACK THAT BLOODY WANDERING JEW!"

    Quote it if you like, I'm the author.

  11. Hi - regarding dicentra scandens, I can't recall exactly where I ordered it from, but I order a lot online. I had tried dicentra scandens the year before under a purple plum that preceded me in that garden. I thought the yellow lockets would look nice in the summer and fall against the purple. Unfoturnately, the dicentra wasn't very adept at climbing into the tree, so the effect was wan. The next year, I tried it against a chain link fence where I had planted akebia the previous year. I had three dicentra plants (they may have been dicentra macrocarpos as well as scandens, but the difference is too technical for me to see with a naked eye). In any case they all 3 plants took off and covered the chain link fence and akebia but in a light and frilly way. This was the back of the garden, and they really lit up that dark back corner when seen from the back door or kitchen windows. I would have ordered them from either Annie's Annuals (which I adore because they sell lots of unusual and heirloom things - also lots of South African stuff) or Lazy S Nursery (which sell 3 types of climbing yellow dicentras). I also tried to get adlumia fungosa (a native relative of the dicentra) to climb into a rose of sharon, but the adlumia sort of disappeared -- maybe the mature rose of sharon sucked up all the moisture. My policy was to never irrigate except to get things established. Though supposedly hardy to zone 7 (which going by the winter low temps in recent years Brooklyn is) the dicentra vines neither returned nor self sowed (as far as I know). Still, awfully charming frilly flouncy things for a dark corner.


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