Chocolate VineAkebia quinata
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Outdoor Growing zone
Full Sun, Partial Sun, Shade
The Chocolate Vine is a vigorous twining climber, reaching as much as 40 feet tall and wide in a few years. It is the perfect thing to cover a large area of ugly fence, or a big dead tree. It is also suitable for larger pergolas, gazebos and trellis. Grow it in a tub or planter for use in a smaller area. The clusters of purple blooms are very attractive, and smell like vanilla or chocolate. Purple fruit like miniature eggplants are sometimes produced.
Full sun will produce the most flowers on the Chocolate Vine, which blooms on older stems. It also grows well in shade, even full shade, but with fewer blooms. It is deciduous in zones 4 and 5. Plant in any well-drained soil, and once established it is moderately drought resistant, free of pests or diseases and easy to grow. Prune if needed after flowering, or in late winter.
Climbing plants are among the easiest and most effective ways to cover unsightly features in your garden. This might be a chain-link fence, an ugly wall, or a dead tree. Even if you have nothing ugly to hide, climbing plants beautify pergolas, trellis, fences, gazebos and even the walls of your home. For larger objects and big areas, one of the most interesting and different climbing plants available is the Chocolate Vine. This is a vigorous climber, so don’t plant it in a small place, but for big areas, large dead trees, long fences, or anywhere you want green leaves and attractive flowers, this plant is a great choice. The unique leaves, beautiful clusters of red-purple flowers, and even the fruits, like miniature eggplants, bring an exotic look, even though this plant is very hardy. It’s a good choice for a fast-growing climbing plant, even in cold zones, as long as you have the space for it.
The Chocolate Vine is a vigorous, fast-growing twining plant that can, in warm areas, grow as much as 20 feet in a season, but normally grows 6 to 10 feet a year. It will soon cover an area 40 feet long, or climb high into a tree. The twining stems cling to anything they contact, and after perhaps some initial training you won’t need to tie it in regularly. The leaves have a stalk that is up to 4 inches long holding them away from the twining stems, and each stalk ends in 5 oval leaflets, about 2 inches long, with a small notch at the tip of each one. This vine is evergreen in warmer zones, but in zones 4 and 5 it loses its leaves in winter, re-sprouting the following spring.
Flowers are usually produced in spring and summer, as early as March in warm areas, or June in the coldest places. Sporadic flowering at other times is also possible. The flowers are small, perhaps ¾ of an inch across at most, with 3 or 4 petals, in hanging clusters of many blooms that can be up to 5 inches long. You will see there are two kinds of flowers – smaller male flowers with curved-back light purple petals, and larger female flowers that are dark purple, with cup-shaped petals. The flowers have a unique smell, between vanilla and chocolate, and they are often visited by pollinators. Sometimes fruits will be produced, but this depends on at least one other plant being nearby, and even then it isn’t guaranteed. The fruits are up to 4 inches long, in clusters, with purple skin and white flesh, containing many black seeds in the center. They are edible, but not interesting to eat.
For covering large fences and trees, few vines can match the Chocolate Vine for speed and the area covered. Don’t plant it in small spaces, or too near other plants, as it will grow over any plants it encounters. In some parts of the country this plant can be invasive. If this is true where you live, don’t allow your plant to produce fruit, by trimming after it has bloomed, and watch for stems running across the ground, which can root and spread. This plant can have ‘mixed reviews’, but if you need a vigorous climber for a large area in sun or shade, it’s a great choice. In smaller gardens it can be grown in a pot on a trellis panel, where it will be much more ‘well-behaved’.
For such an exotic looking plant, the Chocolate Vine is very cold-hardy, surviving well in zone 4, although it loses its leaves in winter in zones 4 and 5. Fruit is unlikely in colder zones, and growth is most vigorous in hotter areas.
For maximum flowering full sun is best, but this plant will also grow well in shady places, and the foliage is always attractive, even if flowers are scarce. It grows in most soils, as long as they are well-drained, and once established this plant has moderate resistance to drought.
The Chocolate Vine is usually free of pests or diseases. It can be pruned at any time – after flowering is probably the best time to cut it back as needed, and this also removes the fruits and prevents any potential spreading by seed. You can also cut it back to the ground periodically, in late winter, but flowering will be reduced in that year.
The Chocolate Vine, Akebia quinata, is native to eastern China, South Korea and southern Japan, where it grows in forests, across the ground and into trees. There are other related species, with different numbers of leaves in each cluster. It was introduced into European gardens in 1845 by the plant collector Robert Fortune, who found it on the island of Zhoushan (Chusan). American plants were probably separately introduced directly from Japan or China.
This vine is often in high demand, and production is low, so our supplies run out fast. Cover that ugly fence or dead tree in a season or two with the Chocolate Vine, but order now, as we won’t have these plants in stock for long.