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) soon after it is planted, sometimes followed by fruits that resemble eggplants late in the summer. The fruit it produces is 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.
Plant the chocolate vine in the spring or fall, in average well-drained soil. Expect this vine to grow quickly; as much as 20 feet a year is possible. 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|
|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
Unless you are growing chocolate vine 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.
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.
Provide weekly watering until vines are established, then water during periods of drought so that plants get at least one inch of water per week.
Temperature and Humidity
Chocolate vine does best in temperatures between 55 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. In the harsh winter weather, it may lose its leaves but will regrow in the spring. While not ideal for humid environments, the vine does tolerate some humidity in the air.
Propagating Chocolate Vine
You can propagate the vine through softwood cuttings if you only have one plant. Use cuttings that are at least six 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 root.
If you want to harvest the seeds, do so once the pods are ripe. Plant them in a greenhouse right away.
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.
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.