Chocolate Vine Plant Profile

Chocolate vine (Akebia quinata) climbing over metal fence

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The five-leaf akebia vine, or chocolate vine, is a perennial vine that is sometimes vigorous to a fault. The chocolate vine gets its moniker from the rich purplish-brown blooms that smother the vine and from the delicate chocolate scent of the flowers. Chocolate-scented flowers are unusual among hardy perennials, so this one attribute may endear this flowering vine to you, despite its ill-behaved growth habits.

The vine produces glossy dark green leaves that are oval-shaped and grow in clusters of five. The vines produce many dangling purple flowers with three petals in the spring (March to May), sometimes followed by fruits that resemble eggplants late in the summer. Fruits are edible, but not very palatable. If you choose to harvest the fruit, you may recognize that the akebia is related to the kiwi, and has tiny black seeds embedded in the pulp.

This plant has no serious pest or disease issues, which is one reason for its reputation as a rampant grower.

Botanical Name Akebia quinata 
Common Names Chocolate vine, raisin vine, five-leafed akebia
Plant Type  Perennial flowering vine
Mature Size 15 to 40 feet long
Sun Exposure Full sun, but will tolerate shade
Soil Type Sandy loam
Soil pH Neutral, but tolerates both acidic and alkaline soil
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color  Purple
Hardiness Zones 4 to 8, USDA; remains evergreen in zones 6 and warmer
Native Areas  China, Japan, Korea; has naturalized in many areas of North America

How to Grow Chocolate Vine

Plant the chocolate vine in the spring or fall, in average well-drained soil. Unless you are growing it as a ground cover, it will need a sturdy support structure to support it as it climbs. If you wish to grow the fruits, plant at least two vines to increase the chances of pollination and fruiting. The plant grows very quickly and can smother out shrubs and other vegetation unless you assertively prune it back at regular intervals.

Light

Flowers and fruits are best in full sun, but the vine is very shade tolerant and will grow in woodland settings.

Soil

The ideal soil for growing chocolate vine should be sandy loam with a high percentage of organic matter. The soil needs to have proper drainage.

Water

Provide weekly watering until vines are established, then water during periods of drought so that plants get at least 1 inch of water per week.

Temperature and Humidity

The chocolate vine will do best in temperatures between 55 to 85 degrees F. In the harsh winter weather, it may lose its leaves but will regrow in the spring.

Fertilizer

The chocolate vine is a light feeder and doesn’t require supplemental flower fertilizer. You can provide trace nutrients for vines growing in poor soil by mulching with compost or well-rotted manure.

Propagating Chocolate Vine

You can propagate the vine through softwood cuttings if you only have one plant. Use cuttings that are at least 6 inches long and from the new spring growth. Plant the cuttings in fine compost or a lightweight planting medium. Place them in a humid and warm spot until the cuttings roots.

If you want to harvest the seeds, do so once the pods are ripe. Plant them in a greenhouse right away.

Pruning

The chocolate vine will climb on supports or scramble up to 40 feet. Because of its vigorous growth habit, many gardeners prune chocolate vine back to ground level in late winter to keep it in check. You can also lightly prune the vine to help it look tidy after flowering.

Landscape Uses

Consider the mature size of the chocolate vine when incorporating this plant into your landscape design. This isn’t a specimen that will daintily clamber up your mailbox. Although the vine doesn’t cling, you can train it up a drain spout or across a privacy fence with the help of some heavy-duty twine or plastic bird exclusion netting. This vine would also be an attractive drape to hide an unsightly chain-link fence. Include this vine in the rural garden, as browsing deer usually avoid the plant.

Some gardeners appreciate the rampant growth of this vine when used as a groundcover to disguise eyesores like rock piles, tree stumps, or manhole covers but the delicate flowers tend to get lost in the mass of foliage on the ground.

Practice good stewardship of the land by not allowing Akebia quinata to escape your landscape into neighboring woodland areas. In some areas, the chocolate vine has displaced native plants with its dense vegetation. The vines have the potential to choke out small trees when left untended in wild areas. Check with your local authorities to make sure the chocolate vine is allowed in your area. If it's considered invasive, it may be banned.

Varieties of Chocolate Vine

  • Alba: Vigorous with white flowers
  • Leucantha: White flowers, similar to Alba
  • Purple Bouquet: Most common in the trade, it is desirable for its compact size, growing about half the height of other varieties.
  • Rosea: Flowers are paler than the unnamed species, helping them to stand out against the dark foliage.
  • Variegata: Showy splashes of white on foliage make an attractive backdrop for pink blossoms.