Akebia quinata, also known as the chocolate vine or simply the akebia, is a very popular, decorative climbing plant. Here is everything you need to know about planting and caring for the perennial chocolate vine.
Ever heard of the chocolate vine? Behind this curious name lies a fascinating climbing plant, with enchanting, aromatic flowers. Read on to find out how you can grow the Akebia quinata at home.
Origin and properties of akebia
The chocolate vine (Akebia quinata) is part of the genus Akebia. A five leaf species, this vine comes from East Asia’s mountain forests. It is widespread in China and Japan and an ornamental in Europe. It’s sweet scented flowers smell like vanilla and chocolate, while its dark green leaves only fall off in harsh winters. If that wasn’t enough, you can pick the plant’s cucumber-shaped fruits in autumn – they’re edible!
However, it is worth noting that Akebia quinata is a slow grower. It takes about three years for its dense foliage to form, and another two before you can enjoy the scent of its flowers in April to May. To sum up: be patient, and you will be rewarded! Akebia quinata is a rare plant and a real eye-catcher. With a support, like a pergola or fence, it can grow up to ten metres tall, and makes for a wonderful façade, should you want one.
Fact: Unlike many flowering plants, it is possible to tell the difference between the chocolate vine’s male and female flowers. For most varieties, they are different colours.
The most beautiful varieties of Akebia quinata
You can distinguish between the different varieties of Akebia quinata by looking at the colours of their flowers and leaves. For instance, Akebia quinata ‘Silver Bells’ has creamy-white male flowers with dark purple stamens, and pink female flowers. Meanwhile, Akebia quinata ‘Alba’ has white female and male flowers, and Akebia quinata ‘Variegata’ has white spots on its leaves.
Where, when and how to plant the chocolate vine
Because it is a climbing plant, the chocolate vine must be planted outside. Choose a sunny to semi-shady location that is sheltered from the wind. Although the chocolate vine comes from the subtropics, it is hardy. However, if the temperature drops below -10°C, it is important to cover the root area with foliage.
The chocolate vine grows well in sandy to loamy soil. However, to flower, the plant needs plenty of nutrients, so do use humus-rich soil. Plant your Akebia plant in spring to ensure that it grows throughout summer and autumn; a little sun and a little rain is perfect.
If you plan to use your chocolate vine as a façade, make sure you dig a hole about half a metre from your wall so that the roots have enough room to grow. To reproduce, Akebia plants form underground shoots called rhizomes. As such, it is a good idea to install a root barrier to prevent this. To build a root barrier at home, remove the bottom of a one metre wide bucket or plastic pot, and place this bucket-ring in your hole. The bucket should be about the same height as the hole, but do make sure that the upper edge of the bucket remains above the soil surface.
To thrive, your chocolate vine will need nutrients. Mix into the hole some peat-free potting soil, such as our Plantura Organic Flower Compost, and some of the earth you dug up. Place your Akebia quinata in the centre of the hole, press down and water generously. During the next three weeks, water the vine well, and guide it to its support or pergola by stringing it with several ropes.
How to plant a chocolate vine?
- Sunny and sheltered location, free of wind
- Humus-rich soil for good nutrient supply; use peat-free potting soil, like our Plantura Organic Flower Compost
- Dig a hole about 1 metre in diameter
- Install a root barrier
- Ensure a good water supply for the first three weeks
Pruning, watering and fertilising
The chocolate vine is a woody climber that tends to become bald at its base. To prevent this, be sure to prune back individual shoots vigorously. However, avoid pruning back all the shoots at the same time, as this can weaken the plant. Instead, remove unwanted shoots immediately after they have flowered.
When it is first planted, the chocolate vine will not have very deep roots. As such, it is important to water it well in its first three weeks, and its second summer. Later, your plant should manage without additional watering, however, you can promote flowering by using a fertiliser. Our Plantura Liquid Flower Food is ideal. It is packed with potassium and vital nutrients, which fortifies Akebia quinata against pests and diseases.
Tip: Fortunately, Akebia quinata is not very susceptible to pests and diseases, which makes it a low-maintenance, eye-catching plant!
How to propagate the chocolate vine
To propagate Akebia plants, you will need to either sow Akebia quinata seeds, which are about five millimetres wide, or use cuttings. Because the seedlings grow so slowly, we recommend the latter. Offshoots of the chocolate vine often form by themselves. And, as soon as they touch the ground, they start to take root. As such, you can either actively weigh down a shoot with a stone, or continually check whether a shoot has taken root by itself. In both cases, once a shoot takes root, you can cut it from the mother plant, and, after a few weeks, dig it up and plant it in another location.
Is akebia bee-friendly?
Akebia quinata flowers do not contain any nectar, so they are not attractive to bees. Therefore, it is a good idea to sow a variety of flowers around your Akebia that are attractive to bees and other beneficial insects.
Are Akebia quinata fruits edible or poisonous?
The fruits of the chocolate vine are not poisonous. In fact, they are edible and considered a delicacy in Asia. The plant’s leaves, meanwhile, are used as a tea in some regions of Asia.
For those in the south of Britain, in areas where, for example, grapes can be grown, chocolate vine fruits should be ready for harvest in October. These cucumber-shaped fruits are 5 to 12 centimetres long, depending on the variety, dark brown and covered with a layer of wax. When fully ripe, the fruits burst open on their own and reveal a whitish, slightly sweet flesh.
There are plenty of other exciting, insect-friendly climbers for your pergola or walls. Read our article to discover more!