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Origin and Habitat: Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Mocambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa (KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga ), Swaziland and in other drier parts of tropical Africa and Madagascar and is only absent in a few countries of West and Central Africa where rainfall is too high. It also extends through Arabia, India, Ceylon, Malaya and as far east as the Philippines, and it is naturalized in Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia. In temperate regions it is grown as a potplant.
Altitude range: 0 - 2000 metres above sea level.
Habitat and ecology: Cissus cactiformis is widespread in a variety of habitats but always in areas of low rainfall range usually in stony places, rock domes, etc.; also on sand. It flowers during the rainy season. During the dry season the leaves are shed. It can grow vigorously and cover trees and shrubs entirely.
- Cissus cactiformis Gilg
Cissus cactiformis Gilg
Pflanzenw. Ost-Afrikas C: 258 (1895)
- Cissus cactiformis Gilg
- Cissus succulenta (Galpin) Burtt Davy
- Vitis succulenta Galpin
- Cissus tetragona Harv.
ENGLISH: Edible stemmed vine, adamant creeper, winged treebine, veld grape, succulent-stemmed wild grape, kangaroo vine, cactus-like grape, cactus vine, bone setter, climbing cactus
FRENCH (Français): Vigne de Bakel, raisin de Galam, vanille du Docteur Burke, cissus de Galam
SWAHILI ( Kiswahili): Mbugu-nyama
Description: Cissus cactiformis is a deciduous perennial, climber, with succulent stems up to 5 m long sprouting from a large tuberous rootstocks, almost caudex. The stems have 4 angles that bear a continuous, sharp, horny margin, rather wavy wings, and are not unlike a segmented cactus, especially since the small leaves in the constricted places are extraordinarily deciduous and are visible only on new shoots. Cissus cactiformis is similar to Cissus quadrangularis (a smaller plant) and often put in synonymy under this species, however the two are quite distinct in the field, but it seems possible that spontaneous hybrids can be encountered in S Africa. This two species are very interesting and especially so in view of the resemblance to a species of succulent geranium, Pelargonium tetragonum.
Altitude range: 30-1500 metres above sea level.
Stems: Climbing or scrambling, stout, 1-5(-8) m long, succulent, often leafless, quadrangular with massive wings at the angles, constricted at the nodes, the internodes (5–)10–17 cm long. Glabrous or pubescent or pubescent only at the angles, grey-green or green and liver-coloured, striate and wrinkled in dry state; faces between the angles 1-5(-8) cm wide, excluding wings; wings 2-15(-30) mm wide with a reddish brown, horny, marginal line and usually markedly crinkled. Tendrils present, leaf-opposed, imple, unbranched15–40 cm long with whose help the plant climbs into the crowns of surrounding trees. .
Leaves: Simple, alternate, fleshy, glabrous or sparingly pubescent, only present in young shoots. Petiole 1-10(-30) mm long. Leaf-lamina somewhat fleshy, 1.5-10 cm long, 1-11 cm wide, very broadly ovate, sometimes palmately 3-5-lobed or deeply dissected, dentate at the margin, apex obtuse, base truncate to cordate. Stipules ovate, 7 x 5 mm.
Inflorescences (cymes): Leaf-opposed , subumbellate, primary branches 2-5, one sometimes further branched, each branch few to 15 flowered, more or less asymmetrical, glabrous, 2-10(-15) cm in length x 5-6 cm; peduncle 1- 10(-35) mm long, glabrous or pubescent. Pedicels 3-7 mm long lengthening to 9 mm in fruit.
Flower: Bisexual, 4-merous, sweetly-scented, 2–3 mm long, oblong-ovate, glabrous. Calyx 1-1.5 mm long, entire, glabrous purplish outside. Petals greenish-yellow or greenish-white often flushed purplish outside, 2–2.5 mm long, glabrous, recurved at anthesis, quickly caducous. Ovary glabrous; style up to 1-5 mm long.
Fruits (berries): Subglobose to ellipsoid, fleshy, green turning yellow, red or purple-violet when ripe, 8-14 mm long, 6-10 mm thick, glabrous, calyx and style persistent. The fruits have one seed, are black, and because of their bitter taste are not edible.
Seeds: Ovoid, compressed, 5-9 mm long, 4-6 mm thick, smooth with single dorsal crest.
Seedling: With epigeal germination.
Chromosome number: 2n = 24
Bibliography: Major references and further lectures
1) H. Wild and R. B. Drummond “Flora Zambesiaca” Vol 2, Part 2, page 439, 1966
2) Fl. Trop. E. Africa Vitaceae: 38 1993.
3) Checklist Flow. Pl. Sub-Saharan Africa : 677 2006.
4) Kamundi, D.A. & Victor, J.E. 2005. “Cissus cactiformis” Gilg. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version 2015.1. Accessed on 2015/12/08
5) Urs Eggli “Illustrated Handbook of Succulent Plants: Dicotyledons” Springer Science & Business Media, 2002
6) M. Thulin “Flora Somalia”, Vol 2, 1999 [updated by M. Thulin 2008]
7) Brink, M. & Achigan-Dako, E.G. “Fibres” PROTA, 2012
8) Werner Rauh “The Wonderful World of Succulents: Cultivation and Description of Selected Succulent Plants Other Than Cacti” Smithsonian Institution Press, 1984
9) Clive Innes “Complete Handbook of Cacti and Succulents” Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 01 December 1981
Cultivation and Propagation: Cissus cactiformis is a good climbing succulent in frost free zones and also a great container plant for full sun to partial shade. Easily grown from cuttings. When grown as an ornamental potplant in temperate regions, lowering the temperature to 8-15°C and stopping watering for a few months is beneficial.
Growth rate: It will grow best when provided with warmer temperatures, long daylight hours, adequate moisture and a rich soil. Given these conditions, this species will grow rapidly, with the annual vines growing to 50 cm and possibly to as much as 5 metres.
Exposure: Full sun to filtered light.
Soil: Give the plant a well drained, airy, growing medium which mainly consists of non organic material such us clay, pumice, lava grit, and only a little peat or leaf-mould.
Watering: Water regularly from spring to autumn. Keep the drier and cooler in winter, to induce dormancy. But others suggest to water it moderately all year round as it tends to be an opportunistic plant that tend to grow in each time of the year whenever it has enough water in fair weather and rest when temperatures are too hot or too cool and may have several or sometimes no growth cycles in a year. No water should ever be allowed to stand around the roots. But it adapts to different growing conditions from extreme heat and drought, to high moisture as it has a low rot potential.
Fertilization: The plants should be fed regularly with a fertilizer suitable for succulent plants.
Hardiness: The optimal temperature is 16-30°C (USDA Zones: 10 -12 ).
Spring: When winter ends and they begin to grow again, they will require much water and soaking the pots will no longer put the plants at risk for rot. In the spring they will grow well in partial shade and leaving them out in the rain may provide them with the water they need.
Summer: In the summer months they will tolerate heavy rain, but will be just as happy if the season is dry. They will tolerate hot weather outdoors as long as they are kept in strongly filtered light and this will encourage them to flower. They also enjoy some fertiliser. Moving the plants as they are developing buds may cause them to spontaneously abort the flowers all together.
Autumn: In the fall keep them outdoors until the night time temperatures drop below the 10°C.
Winter: Winter care presents no problems at 8° to 15° C with plenty of light. In winter be sure to take extra precautions to keep them dry, because damp cool conditions when the plants are resting is an invitation to fungal infections, but - according to temperatures –some occasional lit watering may be useful.
Maintenance:In cultivation, these vines can be clipped to much shorter lengths to control rampant growth. This species do tend to get sort of leggy, which is particularly a problem if grown as a potted plant, and yearly pruning is often necessary to shape. Like quite small pots, repot in very later winter, early spring.
Garden uses: It is often grown in containers and trained to grow on trellises on verandahs, fences and in glasshouses.
Other uses: Cissus cactiformis produces strong fibres that are extracted from the stems in Kenya and India. The fibres from the roots are even stronger. The fibres are used in East Africa for wound dressing. The young shoots and leaves are pleasantly acid in taste and eaten as a vegetable, often mixed with other vegetables. Young stems are eaten in Guinea, Sudan and Madagascar. In India, Sri Lanka and Malaysia the green stems are fried or curried and the ash of the plant is used as a baking powder. In Cote d'Ivoire the seeds are eaten cooked. It is also used as a live fence and in Somalia it is planted to stabilize dunes.
Pest and diseases: Cissus are generally fairly easy to grow, especially if kept pest-free. They are susceptible to stem and root mealy bugs, and damage from these may well initiate fungal attack. Any time when there is a dead or dying stem in the pot it is important to remove it immediately and completely before other healthy stems can become ill too, isolate the healthy parts, dry them off, and re-root them in new compost.
Propagation: It do not need to be propagated from seed as it can be easily propagated with stem cuttings. Most plants in cultivation have been propagated by this means alone. Cuttings are made of 3 internodes, in late spring to summer, just take a cutting of the plant let it dry for 1 or 2 weeks and stuff it in the ground (preferably dry, loose, extremely well draining soil)
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