There is an interesting collection of vines growing on the chain link fence behind my house in Lakeland. On a walk in early June, I found a collection of three wild vines fighting for space. One is deadly toxic, one has medicinal value and one produces an edible fruit.
I always have my iPhone camera with me to take pictures of interesting plants I find. A little research on the internet and an occasional email to the local County Extension Agent helps me get a better understanding of the diversity of plants in Florida. Learning about the beneficial plants that grow wild around us helps in the design of better gardening systems that naturally take care of themselves.
Rosary pea is a small, high climbing vine with alternately compound leaves, 2-5 inches long, with 5 to 15 pairs of oblong leaflets. A key characteristic in identifying rosary pea is the lack of a terminal leaflet on the compound leaves. The flowers are small, pale, and violet to pink, clustered in leaf axils. The fruit is characteristic of a legume. The pod is oblong, flat and truncate shaped, roughly 1½ – 2 inches long. This seedpod curls back when it opens, revealing the seeds. The seeds are small, brilliant red with a black spot.
One of the most deadly plant toxins, abrin, is produced by rosary pea (Abrus precatorius). Studies have shown that as little as 0.00015% of toxin per body weight will cause fatality in humans (a single seed). Interestingly, birds appear to be unaffected by the deadly toxin as they have been shown to readily disperse rosary pea seed. DEADLY TOXIN / DO NOT EAT
Virginia creeper is a native, fast-growing, perennial, woody vine that may climb or trail along the ground. The leaves are compound, containing five leaflets. Leaflets range in size from 2-6 inches and have toothed margins. The leaflets are red when they first emerge but turn green as they mature. In the fall, leaves turn a bright red to maroon color. The inconspicuous green color flowers are borne in small clusters during the spring and followed by small clusters of fruit in early summer.
The vines adhere to surfaces by means of five to eight branched tendrils ending in cup-like adhesive tips. New stems are brownish-green and finely hairy but gradually acquire pale, raised dots and turn purplish-brown with age.
I have not tried any of these medicinal uses for Virginia creeper, but this is found on many sources when researching it: The bark has been has been used in domestic medicine as a tonic, expectorant, and remedy. The berries have been found serviceable in rheumatic complaints and are found to help cure dropsy. The roots are used for diarrhea and the bark and twigs are made into cough syrup.
Native to S. America this perennial, twining, climbing vine has greenish white flowers and produces large pods that split open at maturity, releasing hundreds of seeds with tiny silken hairs that aid in dispersal by the wind. Leaves are heart-shaped to spear-shaped, new growth and stems are grey-green in color and with soft, short and erect hairs. This vine is a pest in orange groves, in fact it was first found in a Florida orange grove in 1957, though how it got there remains a mystery.
I have eaten the young green fruit of the milkweed vine. It can be used as a vegetable and has a similarity to zuccinni when cooked. I prefer to pick the young fruit when they are about the size of a large hen egg for best tatse.
I hope the Virginia Creeper and the Milkweed vine overtake the Rosary pea on the fence this summer. I may give nature a helping hand with my clippers.
Always learning at the 40 acre woods.