Akebia is a plant genus that is part of the Lardizabalaceae family. It consists of five species of deciduous climbing vines that are native to Japan, Korea and China. They can grow up to 40 feet (about 12 m) in length and typically feature fragrant reddish-purple flowers. Cylindrical shaped fruits that are 3-5 inches (about 7-13 cm) long grow after the flowers shed. The roots, vines and fruits of certain akebia species have been used in Asia to make wine and treat certain ailments.
A. quinata, also known as chocolate vine, is one of the species in the akebia genus that is used for medicinal purposes. It has a characteristic five leaflet structure, and black seeds that are embedded in white pulp. The oil extracted from the seeds is typically used to make soap.
Another species, A. trifoliata, features a three leaflet structure and fruits which grow in groups of three. It contains a number of triterpenes and triterpene saponins, which are molecules that are precursors to steroids. Their medical applications are the subject of several scientific inquiries.
Growing an akebia vine is not that difficult. The vines typically require well-draining soil that is light and a location that is partially shaded. The flowers bloom with warm spring temperatures, and the fruits require hot temperatures throughout the summer to develop. In moderate climates, the vines may become invasive and generally require pruning at the end of fall or the beginning of spring.
Akebia plants are propagated by seeds, cuttings and layering. Cuttings are usually placed in pots filled with sandy soil until they develop roots, which typically occurs in two weeks. Layering involves embedding the ends of akebia shoots in the ground with sticks until the roots become established in the ground. Seeds can be sown in sandy soil, usually in shallow boxes or pots that are placed in a cold frame or greenhouse.
A common pest of the akebia species is the fruit-sucking moth, which has red eyes and a pale brown to yellow body. They usually burrow into the fruit and lay their eggs during the night time. Installing an outdoor light designed to zap insects and wrapping the fruits in brown bags until they are ripe can help reduce infestation.
Another concern with growing akebia is a fungal disease called powdery mildew, which is characterized by white powdery spots and patches on the leaves, flowers or fruits. Usually, a fungicide spray can save the plant and prevent future infections. To reduce the chances of infection, dead leaves and plant debris from the previous growing season should be removed from the garden.