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Plant Profile: Akebia Quinata

March 25, 2016

One of our favorite vines for PacNW gardens is Akebia quinata, also commonly known as the chocolate vine or vanilla vine. This beautiful, hardy plant won’t serve up your favorite ice cream flavors, but does provide solutions to a number of garden challenges. Plus, when it blooms, it fills the garden with tasty scents — more like nutmeg than chocolate or vanilla to our olfactory senses, but hey, that’s sweet too! And, it might just offer up some sugary-sweet fruit as well.

Akebia flowers in bloom

Akebia quinata flowers form in grape-like clusters, dripping from a tall arbor in early spring.

This plant is a great climber for sunny or shady spots. Not only will it tolerate shade, but it will bloom beautifully in even darker garden corners. For your darkest nooks, Akebia ‘Alba’ might be your better choice as the lemony-white blooms will help brighten things up.

Akebia 'Alba' in bloom

Akebia ‘Alba’ can brighten up darker corners in the garden.

This vine is (mostly) evergreen in the PacNW. If you’re relying on it for privacy, be forewarned that cold snaps can defoliate it — partially or even completely — in winter. And, if the cold snap hits in late winter/early spring, it may put a damper on the blooms that break forth as early as February. But, it’s tough to keep a good vine down! Even if the cold knocks it back, it’s unlikely an established plant will completely die off. Most just lose a few buds and bounce back fast.

Female Akebia quinata flower

The larger bloom in each Akebia flower cluster is a female, which is what will potentially become edible fruit.

Akebia climbs by twining, so except for training, you probably won’t need to tie it to your climbing structure. Those succulent, winding stems will later take a woody form that fattens up into stiff, hard stems and trunks — like a shrub or tree. And, they will wrap around themselves and anything else they encounter, so plan to prune it regularly, and be on the lookout for tendrils making their way into nearby trees.

Akebia 'Alba' woody stem

As Akebia stems mature, they become woody.

Cut those babies out while they’re young and small, or you’ll be in for a tough job with a saw. If vines form into dense thickets when interior stems are overgrown by new growth, songbirds may use those spots for cover or nesting locations. Larger birds, like crows, may harvest older dead wood to use in their nests.

Akebia quinata male flowers

Akebia forms clusters of flowers. Here, many male flowers dangle below the larger female bloom.

And, while it won’t taste like a vanilla shake or chocolate cake, Akebia does sometimes produce an edible fruit. Fruit is formed on the female flowers of the purple Akebia quinata. The white Akebia, however, is more likely to be sterile. So, if eating sugary-sweet, gelatinous fruit wrapped in a casing reminiscent of a hard sunglasses case isn’t your thing, plant Akebia quinata ‘Alba’ instead of the purple. That being said, in the decade we’ve grown Akebia, our voracious vine has only produced fruit once, and the squirrels ate most of it.

6 Comments

  1. Martine says:

    Please do not promote this invasive plant! It is a beautiful, hardy but difficult plant to manage. It sends runners over the ground as well as up any structures it can find. It roots anywhere it can. And if it is invasive here in New England, I am guessing it will be the same on the West Coast.

  2. I’m sorry to hear you have invasive issues with it in New England. Thanks for letting readers know it is problematic for your location unlike in the PacNW. It does take pruning, training & watching like almost any woody perennial vine.

  3. Nandini says:

    I love to have one in my garden. Do they need protection from snails and slug? (As my garden has too many snails and I am struggled to control them)
    If they thrive well in a darker corner, can I put them in-door?

  4. Nandini,

    Thanks for your questions. In our experience slugs aren’t a problem for Akebia, and we haven’t experienced snails going after them. Once Akebia starts forming woody trunks, they probably aren’t terribly desirable to these pesky creatures. Akebia will work in some shade, but it will want some sunlight too. We’ve never considered trying them as houseplants. Odds are, they’ll grow like mad indoors. If you try them inside, please let us know how that goes.

  5. Tara says:

    I love my akebia. But they keep dying on me…the leaves turn speckled brown and the vines turn brown and get a white mildew like film over them. Any idea what could be happening? Only one of my four is doing somewhat well.

  6. Tara, Under stress we’ve seen them spot & defoliate, but they tend to bounce back after. The “film” you’re experiencing is a new one to us. You might try bringing in a local consultant to help you on site, or take a sample and photos to a master gardener consultation, nursery or your local extension office for help. Good luck!

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