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What is Muehlenbeckia?

Alex Tree
Alex Tree

A genus of plants belonging to Polygonaceae, or buckwheat, family, Muehlenbeckia was named after H.G. Muehlenbeck, a Swiss physician who lived in the early 1800s. These plants are better known under the common names maidenhair vine or wirevine. There are around 23 species ranging from tiny mat-forming shrubs to climber plants with vigorous vines. The climber plants range from the short M. axillaries, which measures 0.9 feet (0.30 m) in length, to M. australis, which can grow up to 33 feet (10 m) long. Climbers typically support themselves by twining into other plants, though the species M. complexa, also known as the mattress vine, can be free standing.

The dark reddish-brown stems of Muehlenbeckia plants can be prostrate, suberect, or scandent. Some species even have papillary protrusions on their stems. The foliage of these plants is either evergreen or deciduous, depending on the individual specie. They typically have cauline leaves with linear to orbiculate blades, with the leaves having a bronze tinge.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

Inflorescence of Muehlenbeckia plants can be both terminal and axillary. These plants have greenish white flowers that are bisexual and unisexual. In some species, both sexes can occur together with bisexual flowers on the same plant. The small red-purple to black fruits produced by some Muehlenbeckia plants are edible and can be eaten raw or made into stuffing for pies. Some species like M. adpressa have sour fruits, while others such as M. axillaries and M. australis have sweet and juicy fruits.

Native to regions in the southern hemisphere such as Australia, Papua New Guinea, and South America, Muehlenbeckia plants were introduced to temperate regions north of the equator by birds and cultivation. Abundant in montane forests, open grasslands, and coastlands, Muehlenbeckia plants can be easily cultivated through cuttings and seed. They can grow in gardens with any soil type as long as it is well drained and moist. These plants grow well in partially shaded areas but will also tolerate being fully exposed to the sun. They do not tolerate hard frosts, however.

Due to the mat-forming characteristics of Muehlenbeckia plants, they are usually grown to serve as ground cover or to make hedges. The species M. complexa in particular is very wind hardy and is thus used to make windbreak hedges. These plants can grow fast and require regular trimming. Without regular trimming, they have a tendency to be weedy and may swamp out smaller plants.

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