Yellow Spring 1: Cat's-claw Vine, Dolichandra unguis-cati.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

By Bob Thomas

April is the normal month for the appearance of one of our brightest yellow flowers, those of the Cat’s-claw Vine, Dolichandra (syn. Macfadyena) unguis-cati.  It is a woody vine that is drought tolerant, grows very quickly, tenaciously holds onto a wide variety of surfaces, and is either adored or hated – and nothing in between.

The species is native to the West Indies and from Mexico south to Argentina.  It has been introduced in the United States and is considered an invasive, although many people love its yellow beauty when in bloom in spring.

The flowers are a very showy, bright yellow, and trumpet-shaped with orange stripes in the throat.  They can reach a large size, being up to 3 inches long and 4 inches across.  They persist for only a few months, then disappear leaving only the tangled green-leafed vines.

Leaves are opposite and compound, each with two somewhat lanceolate leaflets.

It has three-pronged hooked tendrils that are sharp and somewhat resemble a cat’s claw (hence the specific epithet, unguis-cati, Latin for cat’s-claw).  They are extremely effective for grasping virtually all surfaces, even being reported to cling to glass (any local verification?).

Cat’s-claw Vine can climb over 50 feet on trees and buildings. 

The plant has large underground tubers that produce stolons (sometimes called a runner; stolons are stems that grow along the surface of the ground or just beneath its surface).  If its vine is running along the ground, it is capable of producing tubers and stolons from each node, part of its formula for rapid spreading.

Reproductively, the species produces pea-like seedpods 12-20 inches long that contain winged seeds that are dispersed by the wind.  It may propagate from seeds, cuttings, and the aforementioned stolons and nodal tubers.

Cat’s-claw Vine is considered an aggressive invasive that harms other plants by simply covering them, thus depriving them of light and nutrients.  They are disliked by those who have to remove them, as they are difficult to dig up and their claws are painful when they pierce the skin.

Beware:  NEVER plant them in your yard.  They are relentless in their growth and very difficult to control.  Even if placed in a container, they will eventually escape into the surrounding environment. 

 

 

The aggressive nature of Cat's-claw Vine allows it to overtake houses if the owner doesn't pay attention. This photo was taken on Tchoupitoulas Street on April 18, 2013.  Photo by Bob Thomas.

The reason for the name "cat's- claw."  The multi-pronged hold-fast claws are very effective as an aid to climbing and clinging. Photo by Shannon Fortenberry. 

Cat's-claw Vine is one of our showiest plants in spring. Unfortunately, it is an introduced, invasive species that is nearly impossible to control once established.  This photo was taken on the Palmetto Street-Airline overpass on April 16, 2013. Photo by Bob Thomas.

This Treme house, photographed from the I-10 on March 18, 2012, has been abandoned since Katrina.  Photo by Bob Thomas.

Cat's-claw Vine, Dolichandra unguis-cati, photographed along Leake Avenue, New Orleans, where the species is abundantly blooming in March-May. Photo by Bob Thomas.