The genus Mikania includes about 450 species that belong to the Asteraceae family. The genus consists of lianas and stem twiners, and hails from South America. Liana is a climbing vine that has fixed roots in the soil but uses other plants or trees for support, while stem twiners are very similar. These plants reach the sunlight after climbing a tree and form canopies. The canopies serve as paths for animals and join areas of a forest.
One species in the genus is Mikania micrantha, also known as the Mikania vine. As of 2010, it was officially considered a pest and banned in Queensland, Australia, with fines up to $80,000 Australian Dollars (AUD) for growing and selling the plants. A common name for this pest is mile-a-minute because it grows very quickly and invades its surrounding plants like a parasite. It kills or damages the host plant by blocking sunlight and overpowering the plant with its presence. This species is considered one of the world’s worst invaders and causes great damage to valuable crops, especially tea, coconut, and breadfruit trees.
Another common species, Mikania xordata, is a perennial shrub that has the potential to be a damaging and destructive weed. It is a native of the Asian and African tropical regions. The shrub flowers throughout the year, and it can destroy crops of rubber, coffee, and bananas. It is found 6,500 feet (2,000 m) above sea level.
Both species, Mikania xordata and Mikania micrantha, are very similar to each other. They are usually confused with each other as the difference is only visible upon detailed examination. One major difference among the two is is that M. cordata’s young shoots are about 0.7 inches (0.2 cm) longer than the ones of M. micrantha.
Mikania glomerata, also called guaco, is a medicinal plant belonging to the genus. This vine plant has heart-shaped leaves and climbs over fences and walls. The roots of this plant are used by some people in India to cure poisonous insect bites. It is also instrumental in making herbal medicines for illnesses like cholera, gout, and fever. Rich in saponins, flavonoids, and alkaloids, its leaves can be boiled in water and taken as a cough syrup to treat bronchitis, chronic cough, and common flu.
The plants in this genus grow fast, take over surrounding areas, and can cause irreparable damage to crops. It has been observed that they grow better in moist and rich earth as compared to dry soil. They grow in open places where there is ample room to spread about. As of 2010, almost all species in this genus were destructive weeds and have been officially banned in one country or another.