Tetrastigma, or chestnut vine, is a sorely underutilized plant in North American collections, most likely because it's fairly hard to find. Native to Southeast Asia, including Malaysia, Laos, Indonesia, and other tropical regions, this is a rambunctious and vigorous vine that rapidly climbs anything available. The mature plant produces huge (sometimes a foot across) deeply compound leaves. In their native environment, or where they are grown outdoors, they are often used as a ground cover, a situation for which they are perfectly suited. Indoors, they are best used as cascading plants, where their leaves can be shown off to full effect.
The plant's attractiveness is enhanced by red stems, and new growth is covered in brown hairs. The leaves are also known to produce small drops of moisture on the underside. In terms of culture, like many vines, these are much more forgiving and tough than their tropical appearance would suggest. They can tolerate a wide range of indoor conditions and even survive cooler temperatures.
- Light: There are about 90 species of Tetrastigma in all. They mostly prefer dappled light but some will do tolerably well in shade. Indoors, it's best to provide morning sun at least.
- Water: Their water needs vary. They can handle tropical conditions, with ample and frequent water, or near-drought conditions. Do not let the plants sit in water, however, or root rot can occur.
- Soil: Any good, fast-draining potting soil will likely do.
- Fertilizer: Feed with a weak liquid fertilizer throughout the growing season.
- Propagation: Tetrastigma species will rarely flower or produce seeds in cultivation. When they do flower, the plants produce small yellow flowers (at least for the most commonly grown variety) that eventually yield to blackberries. These can be used for propagation. A much easier method, however, is to use a stem tip cutting at the beginning of the growing season. Like many vines, tetrastigma is relatively easy to propagate from cuttings, providing you give them enough warmth and humidity to start new growth.
- Repotting: Tetrastigma is easy enough to repot when they are young: simply move plants to a new container with fresh potting soil. These are rapid growers, however, and well-maintained plants can easily grow five feet or more in a single growing season, which complicates repotting. For larger plants, consider taking cuttings every spring to keep your collection going, then pruning back the mother plant, waiting a few weeks for the shock to wear off, then repotting the trimmed plant into a slightly larger container.
- Varieties: Of the many species of tetrastigma, only one is found in wide cultivation: the T. voinieranum. This plant is also sometimes called the Vitis voiniernum or Cissus voinieranum. It is commonly referred to as the chestnut vine. This is the plant with large, lobed leaves, yellow flowers, and dark berries. It is highly unlikely you'll find anything other than this species in cultivation.
These plants have some of the same excellent qualities as the ever-popular pothos vine. They are beautiful trailers with large, striking leaves, and they are tolerant of widely variable growing conditions. Perhaps they've been overlooked simply because they are strangers to most growers, or because no serious grower has moved into their cultivation. Nevertheless, they are excellent trailing plants for a ledge container and will thrive even in the less-than-perfect light. If your plant begins to develop brown leaf margins, try to raise the humidity. Tetrastigma is vulnerable to pests including aphids, mealy bugs, scale, and whitefly. If possible, identify the infestation as early as possible and treat with the least toxic option.